The following article was written by Evelyn Tran and Jordan Knight, students in Dr. Margaret Fletcher’s Fall 2016 ENGL 1101 PACE class and is the 2nd in a 3 part series of collaborative posts. See the first post here. To learn more about PACE, visit http://clayton.edu/PACE.
Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle
by: Evelyn Tran, Jordan Knight
Throughout the course of several decades, we, as a nation, have become disconnected from the history of our national consciousness/national identity. In order for our country to progress and strive to achieve true equality for all, it is extremely necessary that we learn to accept our past history, seek to gain a better understanding of others, and challenge ourselves to engage in open, honest conversations among our fellow peers. In the Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle program hosted by Clayton State University Library, the main focus was to analyze the adversities that African Americans had to endure. The final program in the series, Freedom Summer, dealt with the struggle for minorities to gain the freedom to vote.
The Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle program has spanned to encompass over 130 years of American History through their community programs. In the five-part film series, the Freedom Summer event specifically focused on the importance of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project and the immediate effects of Freedom Summer. The program, which consisted of panelists Dr. Jelani Favors, Mr. David Peña (in lieu of Dr. Joshua Meddaugh), and hostess Ms. Erin Nagel, showcased the Freedom Summer film as an opening, followed by a panel discussion between the students and panelists. The Freedom Summer film displayed the harsh reality of racial violence that African Americans had to endure across the United States.
Dr. Favors, Assistant Professor of History at Clayton State University, focused on the long legacy of education, democracy, and citizenship from Black Colleges to Freedom Schools through his interpretation of several civil rights activists, such as Herbert Lee and Fannie Lou Hamer. Dr. Favors’ initial goal concentrated on inspiring young activists to challenge themselves to learn about the “missing pages of American History and to have dialogue around American history. This dialogue, in turn, could lead to enlightenment and hopefully to civic engagement as well.” From this, he was able to inspire the audience to want to gain a voice within their local communities as well as a sense of appreciation for the impact that voter registration drive in Freedom Summer left on American history.
Another panelist of the evening was Mr. Peña, Lecturer in Political Science, who exhibited Dr. Meddaugh’s (Professor and Coordinator of the Political Science program at Clayton State University) presentation, which concentrated on the State and Supreme Court’s reactions and decisions to the voting movements. It was through the Supreme Court’s decisions such as the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the true struggles in the fight for basic human rights were highlighted. Additionally, Mr. Peña’s focus on the legal and political reaction to the African American movement allowed for students and professors to educate themselves from a different perspective. This scholarly approach allowed the attending individuals to understand and observe how the American educational system was manipulated in order to favor a white majority. On the other hand, for Dr. Meddaugh the Clayton State University event was key for students to comprehend and be aware of how America has become a more inclusive society. He stated that it was “a multitiered event that allows for the dissemination of information on the Civil Rights Struggle throughout the campus and throughout the community.” This was the key: Freedom Summer and the panel’s presentations provided the individuals who attended the opportunity to enhance their views on the historical events as well as focusing their attention on current day racism and discrimination.
Following the panelists’ presentation, the audience was given three questions to spark discussions among both the students and the panelists. One of the questions raised was the objective of the Freedom Summer organizers’ motive in prioritizing education and voting. The Freedom Summer Movement played a key role in addressing the racially segregated school systems through the creation of Freedom Schools. The main purpose of the creation of the Freedom Schools was to educate the black community on the idea of black empowerment which in turn led to a greater voice in political participation. From this, these individuals were able to gain political liberation by breaking the barriers imposed upon them by Jim Crow laws. Overall, the 1964 Freedom Summer Project was a stepping stone in expanding not only African Americans’ right to vote but also their education, a fundamental right which they had been deprived of throughout history.
In the Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle program, the panelists brought awareness to the concerns that modern society may face today, and the significant role that American history has played in defining equality in America. Education is the key to moving away from a racially profiled society. Even though the panelists had different approaches and tendencies towards activism and change, they all had one common goal: to end racism.
Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle was made possible through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of its Bridging Cultures Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. For more information about the Created Equal program, visit http://createdequal.neh.gov.