Freedom Summer '64, Part 1

Fifty years ago this June marks the golden anniversary for the start of a major period in Mississippi history. That's when Freedom Summer '64 took place.

It was a time when hundreds of volunteers, who were mostly between 18 and 24-years-old, from all over the nation and from all races, converged on Mississippi to help register blacks to vote, and among other things, set up Freedom Schools. These were schools that taught subjects such as Black History and Civics, which were not otherwise taught to black students in Mississippi.

One of the participants was Dave Dennis. At the time he worked out of Meridian as the Southern Regional Director for the Congress of Racial Equality, also known as CORE.

"It was a commitment," says Dennis. "I can't say that we weren't afraid at times, but I can say that we didn't have that fear that paralyzed us. So, we lived every day as if it was the last day."

Freedom Summer 1964 is actually recognized as being the most violent period in Mississippi since Reconstruction. During that time 65 buildings, including churches, were bombed or burned, and hundreds of people were beaten.

After many of his friends such as Medgar Evers were murdered, Dennis, who gave the eulogy at James Chaney's funeral, says at one point he did seriously contemplate turning to violence.

"It was just something in my head that was saying that you know that that strategy is not working. For people to understand what you're saying you have to speak their language, and at this time, it seemed like the only language that these people knew about was violence," Dennis said.

Dennis says that feeling lasted for a few days, but he's so glad that he didn't give in to his emotions. Because of that and the efforts of so many who practiced non-violence, he says major changes were made.

In Part 2 Wednesday Newscenter 11 will talk with a local woman who surprised many by her involvement in Freedom Summer.