In the summer of 1964, with the civil rights movement stalled, seven hundred college students descended on Mississippi to register black voters, teach in Freedom Schools, and live in sharecroppers' shacks. But by the time their first night in the state had ended, three volunteers were dead, black churches had burned, and America had a new definition of freedom. This remarkable chapter in American history, the basis for the controversial film Mississippi Burning, is now the subject of Bruce Watson's thoughtful and riveting historical narrative. Using in-depth interviews with participants and residents, Watson brilliantly captures the tottering legacy of Jim Crow in Mississippi and the chaos that brought such national figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pete Seeger to the state. Freedom Summer presents finely rendered portraits of the courageous black citizens and Northern volunteers who refused to be intimidated in their struggle for justice, as well as the white Mississippians who would kill to protect a dying way of life. Few books have provided such an intimate look at race relations during the deadliest days of the civil rights movement.More
In Freedom Summer, Bruce Watson’s amazing attention to detail vividly brings to life the dramatic events that took place in Mississippi in 1964. Watson’s account of the murder of three civil rights workers that summer and the ensuing aftermath told in David Drummond’s deep, baritone voice makes for a very powerful listen. Thanks to numerous interviews with eyewitnesses to this striking moment in American history, Watson fills Freedom Summer with precise details like the midnight runs one civil rights worker would take to relieve his stress and the first terrifying night another spent half awake in her new office in Mississippi. It’s these telling details that give the book a sweeping, novelistic quality.
There’s also a sense of immediacy that stems from Watson’s precise writing and Drummond’s performance. Drummond wisely takes a matter-of-fact approach to narrating the book. There’s no reason to add extra drama to Freedom Summer. What happened that year in Mississippi needs no embellishment.
Freedom Summer should be heard in every 20th-century American history class, as it zeros in on a specific time and place and reminds us exactly what happened so we will never forget this dramatic turning point in American history. Ken Ross
"Bruce Watson captures, with skill and sensitivity, the drama of that historic summer in Mississippi.... This is the best account I have seen of Freedom Summer." (Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States)
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The Long Hot Summer
Change had to come.
- David Hamilton