Freedom Summer plus 50

Henry Louis Gates Jr. watched Freedom Summer on television from his hometown of Piedmont, West Virginia. He was thirteen years old that summer. I was, too, and I also watched Freedom Summer on television, from another rural community half a continent away.

As Gates wrote about Freedom Summer in The Root this week, “One thing was for sure: None of us would ever be the same. Nor would America.”

I don’t know about Gates, but I was still a little more than three years away from my first civil rights rallies, four years away from tear gas and tanks in the streets of Chicago. The commitment and courage of Freedom Summer, the oratory of heroes, the litany of martyrs, inspired me to join in a movement for change.

That movement continues. Gates wrote about Bob Moses, one of the geniuses of the movement, still teaching kids in the Algebra Project he founded back in the day:

“Let Moses’ genius be our guide: that the best and only way to effect meaningful, long-lasting change is to train and empower others to make their world anew. The traditional top-down model has a number of limits and has often been based on a condescending attitude of so-called leaders toward so-called followers. Change from the ground up is change that will last.”

The Freedom Summer documentary that aired on PBS this week is wonderful. Watch it here, read what Gates has to say about Freedom Summer, and get inspired to keep on going or jump into the still-flowing movement for change.

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