2014 Jun 21

written by Sherri Joubert

freedomesummer1964A

Freedom Summer 1964 was a project to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi. It was sponsored by the Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition of the Mississippi branches of the SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC. Most blacks and poor whites had been disenfranchised during the Jim Crow period of 1890-1965.

Over 1000 students were recruited from out-of-state colleges to come to Mississippi and work with the local black civil rights organizations to build the grass roots movement. These students worked alongside thousands of black Mississippians. 90% of the out-of-state volunteers were white, and many were Jewish. This project brought a great deal of majority white resentment, and violence became prevalent.

Fifty years ago today, June 21, 1964, three young men disappeared after being arrested and released in Philadelphia, MS. Their names were James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. Chaney was black and from Mississippi. Schwerner and Goodman were white, from New York, and both were Jewish.

An FBI investigation found they had been murdered by members of the Philadelphia, MS, chapter of White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and led to the location of their bodies about 7 weeks after they disappeared. The 1989 movie, Mississippi Burning, is the story of the investigation.

MSthreemurdered1964

The disappearance of the civil rights workers started a firestorm of media coverage about the case. The press poured into Mississippi, and this news was a front-page newspaper and lead TV story throughout the U.S. J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director at the time, refused to investigate stating it was a local matter. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stepped in 36 hours later and ordered the FBI investigation.

When the FBI investigation was launched, federal agents and local Naval Base sailors swarmed into the Philadelphia, MS area, searching swamps and underbrush for the bodies of the three missing men. The bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were found in an earthen dam on August 4, 1964. They had been shot to death. The search turned up 8 additional bodies of black men. Five of them were never identified.

The detailed history of the Jim Crow south is widely available on the Internet, in tens of thousands of books and publications, and in many documentary films, movies, and television shows. I encourage you to learn more about it, especially if you have never lived in the U.S.’s former slave states.

Racism is still systemic and institutionalized today. Once something becomes deeply embedded in a culture, it takes generations to remove it and its mindset from all the people affected by it.

Why we must remember and stay vigilent

It is vitally important that we remember the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the voting rights laws that came out of it. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, specifically those covering heightened scrutiny, the part of the law that required states, counties, and cities with a history of discrimination and voter suppression to obtain federal permission prior to changing any voting laws.

The law was renewed by Congress 4 times since 1965, most recently in 2006 that extended the law to 2036 after months of comprehensive study of its provisions. Yet, a 5-4 decision of the Roberts Supreme Court overturned the part of the law with real teeth. The SCOTUS ruling requires Congress to go back to the table and update the map used to determine which areas require heightened scrutiny. This dysfunctional Congress is highly unlikely to attempt such a task with the House in the hands of a do-nothing leadership.

As soon as the ruling became effective, some states and several counties immediately passed new voting restrictions, requiring specific kinds of picture identification, and excluding other forms that were once accepted, like college student ID cards and military ID cards. Many made residency requirements much more strict, denying many citizens the right to vote who had just recently voted legally.

In Texas, for example, the new laws there prohibited more than a few married women from voting in the last election when they could not produce the paper trail of their identities from birth through marriage, perhaps divorce and remarriage, to the present, even if they had valid drivers licenses.

Many other areas started requiring a valid drivers license or ID issued by the department of motor vehicles. This prohibited tens of thousands of veterans, the elderly, the homeless, and those who don’t drive or no longer drive from voting.

The “fix” for this problem is the state issued ID is free of charge. The problem with the fix is you have to have a certified copy of your birth certificate, a social security card, perhaps a certified copy of your marriage license(s) and divorce decrees, a certified copy of your naturalization papers if you are a naturalized citizen, and a utility bill or household member to swear you live where you say you live to get that free ID.

Birth certificates cost on average $15 and take a few weeks to be printed, certified, and mailed to you. Fortunately, birth certificates are available by mail, but you have to send a check or money order with your request, so if you don’t have a checking account, you have to go and get a money order. If you don’t drive you have to get a ride to the social security office to apply for a copy of your card, and another ride to the DMV when you have all the necessary paperwork to obtain your ID.

If you have someone who can drive you to these offices, great. But if you have to take the bus or a taxi, that costs even more money. The average cost of getting a “free” ID can run $30 -$50 depending on your work schedule, the office hours of the offices you must visit, the bus schedule and routes, and the bus and/or taxi fairs.

What if you’re physically disabled and making these trips is extremely difficult? This issue has been swept under the national rug for the time being. It will resurface too late to help those who need to get an ID before the deadlines in their voting districts.

The new ID laws and rules present a significant and unacceptable barrier to the ballot that targets specific demographic groups of people. This is called discrimination, and it’s been re-institutionalized in many areas of the U.S., primarily in the deep south.

Other measures to restrict voting rights are drastic reductions in early voting hours and locations, and added restrictions on who is allowed to vote absentee.

We must remember how hard-won the right to vote was for so many citizens, and stop everyone who is pushing to change voting rules back so they systematically disenfranchise large groups of people who have great difficulty complying with the new voter ID laws and reduced number of voting locations and options. If you live where this is occurring, vote out the bigots who reenacted discrimination, no matter why.

Discrimination is wrong.

Photo Credit: Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement

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