Living the Legacy


Community Organizing I: Freedom Summer

Unit 2 , Lesson 4

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Community Organizing I: Freedom Summer

Lesson plan:
  1. Advance Preparation

    1. Prior to class, review the Freedom Summer introductory essay.
    2. Invite 2-3 counselors, volunteers, or aids to help lead the round robin activities. Each counselor, volunteer, or aid will stay at one station and lead that activity for each group. Provide each counselor, volunteer, or aid with the appropriate information about the station s/he will be leading. (See note to teachers above if you are teaching on your own.)
    3. Create separate signs/posters for each of the following, to post around the room:
      • "Welcome to Freedom Summer" in large print. Under the heading you may want to include
      • "Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney" in large print. You may also want to include an image of the iconic Missing poster.
      • "Jewish Participation" in large print (for station 1).
      • "Goals and Purposes" in large print (for station 2).
      • "Community Organizing" in large print (for station 3).
    4. Set up 3 stations in different places around your classroom or meeting space. See directions in III "Freedom Summer Round Robin" for station set-ups.
    5. Hang the "Welcome to Freedom Summer" poster and "Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney" poster in the front of the classroom/meeting space. Then hang the three remaining posters in the designated area for each of the corresponding stations.
  2. Introduction - Freedom Summer Information Session (fictional)

    1. When students arrive, welcome them to an information session about Freedom Summer with the following introduction:

      Welcome to your information session about Mississippi Freedom Summer. You are all here because you care about civil rights and the situation in the South and are considering going to Mississippi to participate in Freedom Summer. I want to thank each of you for applying to be part of this important project sponsored by the Council of Federated Organizations. Our application process is thorough because we want to be sure that we have the best volunteers with the clearest of goals for this project. As you know, Freedom Summer volunteers will be leaving shortly for Mississippi (point to the map and show your students where they will be going) and other southern communities. While there, some of you will be teaching black literature, constitutional rights, reading, and math in our newly organized Freedom Schools. These schools will provide a strong educational foundation for Southern Negro children. Others of you will be registering southern Negroes to vote. Still others will be helping to organize an integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, since as you know the Mississippi Democratic Party is currently all white. We're hoping that your work will help motivate the National Democratic Party to seat a new integrated delegation at the National Convention coming up later this year. All of our efforts will be towards a goal of improving the situation for the Negro community in the South.

      We know that many of you have already heard of the recent tragedy that took place when Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney disappeared on their first day in Mississippi. Their bodies have not been found, but they are likely dead. These three young men (point to their pictures on the poster) who were civil rights activists, just like some of you, had gone to investigate a church bombing when they were arrested. After nightfall, they were released from jail only to disappear on the backroads of Mississippi. We have heard rumors that they were ambushed by the KKK. As you know, if James Chaney had been alone, it is unlikely his disappearance would have been investigated, but because Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were white, and because Schwerner's young wife – a fellow activist who was preparing to return to the South as a Freedom Summer volunteer – has kept the pressure on local and national authorities, federal officials are now searching for these men. We understand that this event may have made some of you think twice about volunteering to go south as a volunteer with Freedom Summer, but it also shows just how important our work is in changing the current situation in Mississippi and other parts of the South. You have until the end of today's orientation to decide if you're coming with us.

    2. Help students understand that today they are each taking on the role of a college student in 1964, and then divide them into three groups:

      We are going to divide into 3 groups or corps for today's information session and you will visit 3 different stations relating to our work. Take a moment to think about where you're from, where you go to school, who the members of your family are, who your friends are, and why you are thinking about volunteering for Freedom Summer. Keep in mind that at each station you will be asked to consider three questions:

    • Why are you here?

    • What is motivating you to go or not go?

    • Based on your skills and talents, which of the three main projects (Freedom Schools, Voting Registration, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) could you contribute to the most?

    1. Freedom Summer Round Robin

      Your students will spend approximately 15 minutes at each station. You may want to sound a bell or buzzer when it is time for the groups to change stations.

      1. Station #1 – Jewish Participation
        Set-up: Post the Jewish Participation Poster at this station. Have enough space for the students to sit on the floor or ground and also to spread out. Place a small table or desk at this station. Place copies of the Jewish Participation Document StudyJewish Participation Document StudyJewish Participation Document Study (enough for each student in the group) on it.
        1. Explain to your group: Over 1000 volunteers will participate in Mississippi Freedom Summer. Of these, approximately 1/2 of the white volunteers are Jewish, which is a very large percentage, especially given that Jews are approximately 1% of the American population at this time in 1964. Have your students think of some hypotheses as to why Jews might have gotten involved in Freedom Summer, keeping the ideas to themselves. With your students in character, ask them to reflect on their own reasons for participating in Freedom Summer, and to think about why other Jews like them might have been motivated to get involved with the Civil Rights Movement.
        2. Point out four corners (or areas) at your station, and have your students, with their character in mind:
          • go to corner 1 if you think Jewish participation in Freedom Summer was motivated primarily by the Holocaust
          • go to corner 2 if you think Jewish participation in Freedom Summer was motivated primarily by Jews feeling like outsiders themselves and empathizing with southern African-Americans
          • go to corner 3 if you think Jewish participation in Freedom Summer was motivated primarily by Jewish values of social justice
          • go to corner 4 if you think Jewish participation in Freedom Summer was motivated primarily by some other experience or values.
        3. Once all the students have chosen a corner, ask one or two people from each corner to share why they chose their corner (staying in character). For the group in corner 4, ask what experience or values they think were motivators for other Jews participating in Freedom Summer.
        4. Have your students come back together as a group and sit on the floor together. Distribute copies of the Jewish Participation Document StudyJewish Participation Document StudyJewish Participation Document Study.
        5. Have a couple of students read the texts out loud. Provide some brief biographical information about Vicki Gabriner and Heather Booth.
        6. Discuss the following questions
          • What values or experiences do Vicki Gabriner and Heather Booth identify as influencing them?
          • Where/how did they learn these values?
          • Where did they have these experiences?
          • What are some things you have learned within your family that shape the way you see the world and/or act in the world?
          • Do you think Vicki Gabriner and Heather Booth were conscious of their motivations at the time? Do you think it matters if you know why you're doing something to help others or just that you do it? Why?
          • Now that you've read these documents, would you change your 4 corner choice? Why or why not?
        7. If you have time, you can reinforce what students just learned and experienced by asking them to get back into pairs and discuss their answers to the three questions at the bottom of the Jewish Participation Document Study (Why am I here? etc.) Remind them to stay in character as prospective volunteers who have come to this information session to decide whether or not to participate in Freedom Summer.
      2. Station #2 – Goals and Purposes
        Set-up: Post the Goals and Purposes Poster at this station. Set up an easel with a pad of chart paper and a marker. Have enough space for the students to sit on the floor or ground around the easel. Place a small table or desk at this station. Place fine tip color markers and copies of the Goals and Purposes Document Study (enough for each student in the group) on it. You also may want to display the "Missing" poster for Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney.
        1. Provide each student with a copy of the Goals and Purposes Document StudyGoals and Purposes Document StudyGoals and Purposes Document StudyGoals and Purposes Document StudyGoals and Purposes Document Study. Explain that these sources provide some insight into why some other individuals got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Have your students take turns reading the four pieces of text out loud. If necessary, stop them occasionally to clarify terms or phrases, or provide context.
        2. Have each student find a partner. With their partner, students should answer the questions below the "Why are you here?" heading at the end of their document study packet (Why am I here? etc.). Each pair should then choose one text that especially speaks to the reasons they decided to get involved and then underline the section(s) that they believe explain this author's goals or purpose in participating in Freedom Summer.
        3. When the pairs are finished, have them share the document they chose and what they underlined. If more than one pair chose the same document, have each pair share one thing they underlined so that all the pairs can contribute something. With the students' help, synthesize the specific ideas described in the documents down to more general ideas about goals/purposes and have students write them on the chart paper. If there is a document that none of the pairs chose, go through the same process with this document as a group.
        4. Ask your group: Which goals and purposes on our list did you expect? Why? Which goals and purposes on our list didn't you expect? Why?
      3. Station #3 – Community Organizing
        Set-up: Post the Community Organizing Poster at this station. Place two long masking tape lines on the ground or floor parallel to each other and about three feet apart. Label one line, #1, and the other line, #2. Make sure there is also enough space for the group to sit on the ground or floor. Place a small table or desk at this station, and place copies of the Community Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document Study (enough for each student in the group) on it.
        1. When a group arrives at your station, have them play the following game:
          Have half the students stand on line #1 and half the students stand on line #2 so that each line of students is facing each other. Once they are standing there, tell the students on line #1 that they need to rearrange the students on the other line so that they form a pattern (could be based on height or color of their shirts or length of their hair…something that is easier for them to see from a distance than it is for the students on the line to see). The only rules are that the students on line #1 can't get off their line and move the students on line #2 and the students on line #2 can't step off their line. (They will need to be creative, communicate, and work together.)
          If your group is smaller than 8-10 students, it may be easier to communicate the challenges of community organizing by playing "blind fetch." You'll need a floor space with some obstacles but free of serious injury hazards, a blindfold, and an object to be "hidden." The object is for the blindfolded student to retrieve the object from the "field" with the assistance of the group. Instruct the students to line up facing the wall of the classroom, their backs to the "field" of play. Choose one student to be blindfolded. Make sure the student is comfortable being blindfolded. Choose a second person to be the "seer." This person will face the group rather than stand in the line. This student is the only person who will be allowed to see the "field." The seer is not allowed to talk at any point during the game. They must communicate with the group non-verbally. Place an object (a small stuffed animal, ball, or deck of playing cards) somewhere in the "field." To make it more challenging, place chairs, desks, or other obstacles in the "field." You may even choose to place the object under or inside of a box or bucket. Be sure the seer watches you place the object. Now give the students the following directions: I have hidden an object somewhere in the classroom/field. [The blindfolded person] is the only one allowed off the line to go and retrieve it. [The seer] is the only one allowed to look at the classroom/field. The rest of you on the line must follow [the seer]'s directions to tell [the blindfolded person] where to go to retrieve the object. Any questions? (Answer questions if there are any.) Begin! Once the students have completed the task and the blindfolded person has retrieved the item, you can continue with the discussion questions for the line activity. Tip: Be sure to shadow the student wearing the blindfold to be sure they feel safe and are not at risk of tripping, bumping their head, or running into anything.
        2. Have your group sit down and discuss the following questions together:
          • Could you have accomplished your goal with only one person?
          • What challenges did you face in accomplishing your goal?
          • At what point in the process did it become easier to accomplish your goal? What do you think made it easier? What did different people in the group bring to the process?
        3. Explain to students:
          Some jobs require a community, and sometimes a community provides the support for getting a job done.This exercise was meant to give you a sense of the first step in the process of working with communities: realizing that you often can do more when different groups of people work together. The work we will be doing in the South will be a lot more complicated than this activity and will involve building relationships across difficult divides – sometimes with people who don't think you should be there interfering with their business. The Mississippi Freedom Summer project you are considering being part of is an example of "grassroots community organizing." (It's called "grassroots" because it is a process of change from the bottom up.) We're using community organizing as a strategy to empower people to make changes in their own community. It's called community organizing because it takes place in the community, but as we will probably find, new "communities" among all of us involved—the activists and the people living in Mississippi—may be built as well.
        4. Hand out copies of the Community Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document StudyCommunity Organizing Document Study. Direct your students' attention to the photograph at the top of the page. Discuss the following questions:
          • Ask your students to objectively describe what they see in the photograph. (Possible responses might include: a white woman and two African American women, three women sitting in front of a house, one woman has a guitar, etc.).
          • Based on what you see, what do you think is happening in this photograph? (Possible responses might include: the women are singing together, the women are getting read to sing, one woman is leading a song session, etc.)
          • Based on what you see, what do you think the relationship is between the women? What evidence do you have?
          • While doing your best to maintain the overall premise that your students are thinking about participating in Freedom Summer, identify Heather Booth and Fannie Lou Hamer in the photograph and provide some brief biographical information.

            Heather Booth went to Mississippi with the Freedom Summer project after her first semester of college at the University of Chicago. She had already been involved with SNCC, as well as with anti-war activism on campus. Her experience in Mississippi confirmed her commitment to justice and set her off on a lifetime of activism. Among the organizations she has founded or co-founded are the Chicago Women's Liberation Union; JANE, one of the country's first abortion counseling services; Midwest Academy, a national center that trains leaders building citizen-based organizations; and the NAACP National Voter Fund.

            Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an African American civil rights activist from Mississippi. She was an important organizer of Freedom Summer and became the Vice Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Known for her powerful singing and speaking skills, she testified before the 1964 Democratic Convention and later went on to serve as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention. Explain that Freedom Music was a kind of community singing that was popular during the Civil Rights Movement. The songs were simple, usually versions of old African American spirituals, and people could easily pick up the melodies and sing along.

          • Ask: how do you think music helps to build community? (Possible responses might include: it's something that a group can do together, people feel a connection when they sing together, etc.)
          • Ask: what do you think can be learned about music and community from looking at a photograph?
          • Explain: we'll now hear about another person's experience during Freedom Summer—and to do so, we're temporarily jumping ahead in time to imagine that all of us are older now, and reflecting back on our experience as freedom workers. (Or otherwise encourage your students to go along with this process of at once imagining themselves as Freedom Summer activists and adequately evaluating primary source documents.)
        5. Play the recording of Vicki Gabriner describing the challenges she faced doing civil rights work or have someone in the group read the Vicki Gabriner text out loud. Give some biographical background on Gabriner:

          Vicki Gabriner, born in Brooklyn, became an activist during her college years at Cornell, where she was involved in the civil rights movement and nascent antiwar activities. She spent three summers—1964, 1965, and 1966—in Fayette County, Tennessee, with a Cornell-affiliated group, living with the black community, teaching at Freedom Schools, and working on local elections, voter registration, and integration of public facilities.

          Discuss the following questions:
          • In the audio/at the end of the paragraph, Vicki describes being in a church while another group is waiting outside. These two groups are divided by color, space, and values. With which community do you think Vicki Gabriner most identifies?
          • What do you think she has in common with the community with which she usually identifies?
          • What do you think she has in common with the other community?
          • Based on these similarities and differences, what do you think are some things that are important in connecting people and forming communities during the Civil Rights Movement?
          • The excerpt we read/heard is from an oral history interview for the Jewish Women's Archive's project on activists. Vicki Gabriner is reflecting back on her experience of Freedom Summer. How, if at all, does this context affect your response to the story she told?
          • What connections stand out between the photograph we looked at and the story we read/heard? What differences between them seem important to you?
          • Jumping back into the "present" in 1964: If you decide to come with us for Freedom Summer, how do you imagine your experience will be similar to and different from theirs?
          • Consider the questions at the bottom of the Document Study. (Why am I here? etc.)
      4. Once all the groups have finished each of the 3 round robin stations, have them come back together as a group. Explain that now that they all know more about Freedom Summer, you would like to hear from each of them. Ask each student to share his/her responses to the following questions:
        • Are you coming with us to Mississippi?
        • What is motivating you to want to go? OR Why did you decide not to go?
        • Which of the three areas (Freedom Schools, voter registration, and building the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) could we best use you in? Why?
      5. Reflect:
        Now ask students to come out of character and reflect on their experience during this lesson. What conclusions did they draw about Freedom Summer and the young people who participated? Invite any clarifying questions about the history of Freedom Summer and share relevant information from the introductory essay.
      6. Ask students to think back to the four corners activity. Ask:
        • If you think about Jews who are involved in social justice movements today, do you think their reasons for getting involved would fit into the same four corners? What would you add or take away?
        • If you had to generalize, do you imagine Jews are more or less likely today to connect their involvement to being Jewish?
      7. If you do not have time to do Part IV of this lesson (The Voices of Freedom Summer) you may want to share the following quote from Carolyn Goodman (Andrew Goodman's mother and lifelong activist), which appeared in the New York Times in June 1965:

        "I still feel that I would let Andy go to Mississippi again. Even after this terrible thing happened to Andy, I couldn't make a turnabout of everything I believe in."

        Ask your students to respond to this quote, in light of the discussion you have been having and their experience imagining themselves as Freedom Summer participants. You also may want to pair this quote with the first paragraph of the letter Freedom Summer participant Bonnie sent to her parents.
    2. 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 StudyVoices of Freedom Summer Document StudyVoices of Freedom Summer Document StudyVoices of Freedom Summer Document StudyVoices 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.
    3. OPTIONAL: Extension Activity

      1. After your students have written their letters, share them with your school/camp's drama teacher and have him/her create a short play from the material, or stage a dramatic reading. The drama teacher may also want to include an introduction that provides some historical context to the letters.
      2. Have your students perform this short play for parents or another class.

    How to cite this page

    Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Community Organizing I: Freedom Summer." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <>.