As We Celebrate The 50th Anniversary of ‘Freedom Summer,’ States Try to Roll Back Voting Rights


As We Celebrate The 50th Anniversary of ‘Freedom Summer,’ States Try to Roll Back Voting Rights


civilrightsAs the nation looks back on the “Freedom Summer” that transpired 50 years ago in Mississippi when volunteers risked their lives to help Blacks fight for voting rights, many observers are struck by the irony of the commemoration occurring just as several states are attempting to turn back the clock and once again deprive residents of the right to vote.

With new laws requiring citizens to show IDs before they can vote and limiting weekend and early voting, states like Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas have caused many of the volunteers who fought for voting rights during Freedom Summer to question whether the nation is trying to turn back the advances gained as a result of their efforts.

The brutality unveiled by the Freedom Summer and the murders of three civil rights workers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—exactly 50 years ago to this day, undoubtedly moved to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,.

But in addition to 14 states passing voter ID laws over the past three years—following Barack Obama’s election as president, which was fueled by a surge of Black voters—a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court last year voted to gut a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Stanley Nelson, director of the highly anticipated documentary “Freedom Summer” that premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS, told CNN that the brave volunteers who risked their lives during that long ago summer are deeply disturbed by these latest developments.

“Everyone feels horrible about it,” Nelson says. “Everyone is so upset.”

According to CNN, his film “captures the idealism that inspired an interracial group of college students to journey to Mississippi for 10 weeks in the summer of 1964 to register African-American voters. But it also reveals what happened when that idealism collided with the casual brutality of white Mississippians who saw Freedom Summer as a ‘n****r communist invasion.’”

While authorities searched for her still-missing husband, Rita Schwerner, wife of murdered civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, told reporters at the time, “It’s tragic, as far as I’m concerned that white Northerners have to be caught up in the machinery of injustice and indifference in the South before the American people register concern. I personally suspect that if Mr. Chaney, who is a native Mississippian Negro, had been alone at the time of the disappearance, that this case, like so many others that have come before, would have gone completely unnoticed.”

About Nick Chiles
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author. He has written or co-written 12 books and won over a dozen major journalism awards during a journalism career that brought him to the Dallas Morning News, the Star-Ledger of New Jersey and New York Newsday, in addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of Odyssey Couleur travel magazine.

theGrio’s 100: OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, Nina Turner

theGrio’s 100: Nina Turner, taking on voter suppression in Ohio

Senator Nina Turner ( Nina Turner (

Who is Nina Turner? 

The Ohio state senator emerged as one of the loudest voices in the country against controversial voting laws advanced by Republicans in her state, which was one of the most important battlegrounds in the 2012 campaign. Turner, 45, represents the Cleveland area, where she  grew up and and later served as a city councilman.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100? 

Ohio was one of the biggest flash points in the various controversies over voting laws and restrictions during the campaign. And Turner was a constant voice, insisting on making sure that it was as easy as possible for people both in Cleveland and throughout the state to vote. She made numerous appearances on MSNBC and other cable news outlets, as well as making her concerns known locally.

“Public officials at all levels have a moral obligation to make it easier to vote, but some of Ohio’s leaders have ignored this responsibility,” she said last year in the midst of the voting controversies.

Ohio state senator Nina Turner wears T-shirt: ‘GOP: Get out of my panties’

Her actions had impact. In the end, public attention and legal decisions forced Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to abandon many controversial ideas that could have depressed the Obama vote in the Buckeye State, which the president won.

What’s next for Turner? 

Turner could eventually consider a run for the U.S. House or Senate or as Cleveland mayor. But more immediately, she is likely to continue playing a role in elections in 2014 and 2016 in battling Republicans on voting laws.

In 2014, Democrats want to win back the statehouse in Ohio, and Turner could help rally the party’s base to ensure reelection. And in 2016, Ohio is very likely to remain in the spotlight as a battleground state.

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