Commentary
5:00 am
Wed June 25, 2014

New Exhibit Details Events of 'Freedom Summer'

Volunteers link arms and sing freedom songs before boarding the bus for Mississippi. Photograph by Ted Polumbaum.
Volunteers link arms and sing freedom songs before boarding the bus for Mississippi. Photograph by Ted Polumbaum.
Credit Image courtesy of The Kansas African American Museum

The Kansas African American Museum opened a new show this past weekend commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Their exhibition of the same name looks closely at the summer campaign organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Their goal was to recruit up to 1,000 college students – mostly white students from the North – and send them to Mississippi to help disenfranchised African American citizens register to vote. Mississippi was particularly targeted because less than 7% of registered voters there were African American.

The museum displays a detailed exhibition on this fateful summer. Prominently featured are the photographs of Ted Polumbaum, a photojournalist for Time magazine, and Herbert Randall, who was hired to document Freedom Summer by the organizers.

Each of their documentary photographs is accompanied by several plaques of wall text. Information on volunteer training, civil rights leaders, political reactions, official government documents, press coverage and more literally form the context around each photo.

Many narratives run through the exhibition, and I was impressed by the amount of comprehensive research that went into tracing the events of the 1964 summer. I was particularly taken with the documentation on the killing of three volunteers by the Ku Klux Klan that starts as an unexplained disappearance and concludes with a conviction 41 years later. Visitors will get a sense of the events as they unfolded, and learn an incredible amount – as I certainly did.