ionFreedom Summer comparisons with Era of Reconstruction
With the end of the Civil war, many blacks felt that they would start reaping the benefits that had been denied from them for years. Being able to vote, own land, have a voice in political affairs were all goals that they felt were reachable. The era of Reconstruction was the “miracle” they had been searching for. But the South wasn’t going down without a fight and blacks would have to wait at least 100 years for Freedom Summer to arrive to receive the “miracle” they wanted. 100 years it took for equality to become more than just a word but a way of life for blacks. But they did enjoy some privileges that weren’t available to them.
Voting is one thing that was still around when Freedom Summer came; and when I say around I mean available. Let me explain during the Reconstruction era blacks were able to vote. But most of them didn’t due to a number of factors. A couple of these being: poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, etc. And if that weren’t enough you still had the Klan that would destroy any black polling booth and/or shoot, intimidate, and kill any black person trying to vote; especially in Mississippi. In the months leading to Freedom Summer the same thing was going on except the rules had changed. These new rules, to keep the black community from voting, were the same as the old except very vague. In document 2 it details these new requirements to become a registered voter. Some of these requirements included being able to read and write a section of the new Constitution, are able to demonstrate a reasonable understanding of citizenship, make a sworn written application for registration. So as you can see just like in Reconstruction, the voting power shifts back to the white race. Even if every black could read and write, who’s to say what a “reasonable” understanding of citizenship is.
Civil rights is another aspect that didn’t change. During Reconstruction, blacks were often seen not heard. It was usually the white man’s word over the black man’s word. Even if there was a crowd of people that saw what happened, unless they were black, they sided with the white man. But if these actions involved a white man getting hurt or killed for supporting the black community, that’s when the government stepped in to put and end to it. The KKK killed hundreds of blacks and destroyed many more lives and the government did nothing. It wasn’t until whites ending up on the death toll that the government decided that enough was enough. 100 years later during Freedom Summer not much had changed. Blacks were still being treated the same. It wasn’t until white supporters joined the movement that America and the government began to take notice. Document 5 has a list of news reports on the incidents of Freedom Summer. Some of these reports portray civil leaders as being pessimistic. One article from the Chicago Daily News has some of these civil leaders telling students that they “should expect beating, going to jail, and the possibility of death.” Even when it came to reporting death, the racism still was strong. When President Lyndon B Johnson ordered a manhunt for three missing civil rights workers in Mississippi, the Senator, James O Eastland, stated that the disappearance was a hoax. When they found the bodies the article reported that the two white bodies were identified and that the third probably belonged to the black guy. Probably? The description was two white males and one black male. If you found and identified the two white bodies then the other body belonged to the black male; not probably.
There are mixed views on Freedom Summer. Some say it served its purpose while others disagree. To me Freedom Summer and the Era of Reconstruction are two parts of the same story: white superiority over any race they felt was inferior. Would Freedom Summer have been as big as it was had it been three black guys instead of two white and one black? One could agree with that. The fact of the matter is this: the South wasn’t going to change for nobody. If it meant dragging the entire country down with them, so be it. They were not going to change hundreds of years of history and a way of life just because the federal government and civil rights protesters said otherwise. So what if they killed hundreds of people and destroyed thousands of lives, to them it was well worth it. The Era of Reconstruction and Freedom Summer paved the way for other blacks and minorities to continue fighting the fight for equality; a fight that we are still fighting amongst ourselves today.