On the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, Vermonter Gail Falk recounts her work as a civil rights volunteer in Mississippi in 1964 teaching in Freedom Schools, registering African American voters, dealing with violence, being jailed, and the historic legacy of that summer.
Ms. Falk, I just listened to your interview with David Goodman about your experiences teaching at the Freedom School in Meridan, Mississippi and while listening, it brought back memories of my experience as a 12 or 13 year old attending the Freedom School in St. Augustine, FL during the summer of 1964 or 1965 (I can’t remember which year). Last week I read the Fog Machine and half way through reading the “Freedom School” chapter, I had to pause once or twice remembering how things were then. We also were taught how to protect ourselves when marching if it became violent. After our ten weeks that summer, at least 10 students were chosen to travel to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and spend two weeks with a white family. My family lived in Darien, Connecticut. During that two weeks, I remember touring New York (my first time in New York), we went to the World’s Fair in New York and we went to a stage play (The Taming of the Shrew w/Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee) in New York. I also spent a lot of time at home with my host family who I really, really liked. We stayed in touch with each other via US mail until after I finished high school.
I’m sure the time I spent in Freedom School helped me scholastically but I was always diligent about studying and making good grades. However, I do know that being a part of the Freedom School gave me the opportunity to actually see how much better people lived outside of St. Augustine and allowed me to feel that it was not in vain for me to dream of a better life for myself that an education would allow me to have. I did not attend a four-year college because I had two babies as soon as I finished high school. However, I got a job with Legal Aid while attending business school and later I attended a one year program to become a paralegal. My entire work experience has been that of a paralegal.
Lastly, please allow me to thank you for caring enough to volunteer your time in the Civil Rights movement. Now, I need to apologize for the length of my comment. Smile.
Dear Ms. Reed, Thank you so much for your comment and memories of Freedom School. I know how much I learned from my students and from being a Freedom School teacher, and it is always wonderful to hear what happened to Freedom School students later in life. It is a shame the Freedom Schools died out. You may know that they are being revived in some places with the support of the Children’s Defense Fund and the Sunflower Project. I visited one that has just started up in Meridian, the town where I worked.