"Non-violence as a way of life was stressed over and over again in lectures, discussions, and demonstrations… Violence only begets more violence and hatred. Mississippi has enough of both already." — Richard Gould, Council of Federated Organizations volunteer
Thinking about the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, the actions of significant individuals, such as Rosa Parks, or the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often come to our minds. The actions of these and other leaders deserve our recognition, but in our focus on these individuals, we can lose sight of the reality that it was thousands of ordinary individuals like ourselves who formed one voice that challenged and changed our nation. Richard Gould, whose words appear above, wrote in his diary about his volunteer experiences with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). The activities of Gould, like many other volunteers, were critical to the civil rights movement.
The exhibit appearing on our campus this October, “Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Exhibit for Students,” provides an opportunity to explore one aspect of the civil rights movement. The Mississippi Summer Project — also known as Freedom Summer — was organized by the COFO and brought together several major civil rights organizations. At the core of this project was a voter registration drive, but the program also planned Freedom Schools for children, community centers and the creation of a new political party focused on opposing the racism present in Mississippi. The exhibit provides an opportunity to understand 1964’s Mississippi Summer Project while highlighting the actions of the volunteers — the ordinary people who made an extraordinary impact.
The exhibit tells this powerful story using images and documents drawn from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society. McIntyre Library’s Special Collections and Archives department, an affiliate of the Wisconsin Historical Society through their Area Research Center network, provides the opportunity to engage with and explore these documents through the lending opportunities of this network. Engaging students with the resources of the Wisconsin Historical Society provides an unparalleled opportunity to connect students to collections that tell powerful stories. In the mid-1960s the Wisconsin Historical Society assumed leadership by collecting these documents and building a collection focused on the social movements of the 1960s. Archives continue these activities today, collecting materials that tell powerful stories about the past and that help us to better understand the present.
While the exhibit provides the unique opportunity to understand one pivotal episode of the civil rights movement, the programming that accompanies the exhibit this October brings those conversations into the present. Using history as the foundation allows us to engage our campus and our community with conversations about equality, diversity and inclusivity in modern society.