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The Voices of Freedom Summer

Note: This piece of the lesson generally requires an additional class session. To re-orient students to the focus on Freedom Summer, ask students to go around and repeat what they had said in the previous class about why they were/were not participating in Freedom Summer. If this is the first time your students are learning about Freedom Summer, use the introductory essay to provide them with background.

  1. Explain that because Freedom Summer volunteers were predominantly young students, the project sparked some generational tensions. Many of the volunteers' parents, even if they supported the civil rights movement in general, were concerned about the violence that their children faced and discouraged them from participating. Some parents disagreed with the radical tactics of the project, believing that more traditional routes to change – legislative, judicial, etc. – should remain the focus of the civil rights movement. Others were inspired by their children's commitment to civil rights and even learned from them. The letters volunteers wrote home testify to the varied responses that they faced from family.
  2. Distribute copies of Voices of Freedom Summer Document Study.
  3. Have a different student read each letter out loud. As the students read the letters stop them if you think a term, phrase, or idea needs some additional explanation. You may also want to let them know that the letter by Heather was written by Heather Booth, whom they learned about earlier.
  4. Review who wrote these letters and when (young people during Freedom Summer, in 1964), and for what audience (generally loved ones). Encourage your students to consider the purpose of these letters as they read them again.
  5. Have your students find a partner and choose a letter that they find interesting. Distribute paper and pencils to each pair.
  6. Once your students have chosen a letter, explain that first they are to take on the role of the person the letter was written to. In that role, they should write a response to the letter writer. Then they should take on the role of the letter writer and respond to their new letter. As your students are writing, you may want to walk around the classroom and check on their progress. Make sure that they are addressing the issues included in the original text and are seriously considering how friends and family may have felt about the writer's participation in Freedom Summer.
  7. If there is time, have a few of your students share their original letter and their two responses. You may also want to include these letters as part of a bulletin board in your classroom or in a hallway.
  8. The letter-writing exercise has the potential for rich learning, but also will come at the end of a long lesson, so be sure to consider how you will use the letters and what follow-up might be meaningful (or if the letter writing should take place in a separate class session). The letters may prove a useful tool for evaluation, in that they will demonstrate your students' understanding of the letter they chose, as well as demonstrate how easily your students were able to apply what they learned earlier in the lesson. By observing patterns among your students' letters, you can gauge which concepts to re-address in subsequent class periods and which aspects of the lesson your students found most compelling. Especially if you are teaching multiple lessons on the Civil Rights Movement or on social justice more generally, this activity can be an opportunity for you to provide your students with ongoing feedback. If you create a bulletin board of the letters, you can write your (positive) feedback and questions on post-it notes. (You may even want to encourage other students and teachers to write their positive comments and questions as well.) Or you can hand back the letters at a later class period with short comments and questions that will help students recall what they learned through this exercise, and provide them with new questions to consider.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "The Voices of Freedom Summer." (Viewed on July 29, 2014) <http://jwa.org/node/11856>.

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