During the summer of 1964, poll taxes, voter ID laws and death threats prevented people from exercising their right to vote.
The Freedom Summer Campaign, a group made up mostly of students, traveled to Mississippi in 1964 to register as many African American voters as possible.
The campaign resulted in seven deaths, 80 beaten workers, more than 1,000 arrests and the loss of many African American homes.
That historic period, known as Freedom Summer, inspired the theme for this year’s annual UW-Whitewater Diversity Forum, “Student Leadership and Inclusive Excellence.”
According to Mark McPhail, Dean of the College of Arts and Communication, despite the destruction that occurred, the most important thing to come out of the Freedom Summer Campaign was a legacy of civil rights and social justice.
“Many people felt lost and disconnected,” McPhail said. “Freedom Summer was a way people found themselves and the core values that make us Americans.”
Events for the Diversity Forum will take place tomorrow and Friday around campus, including various speakers visiting classrooms, sharing their stories and providing diversity education. Professors will also be integrating Freedom Summer and diversity education into the curriculum.
The keynote speaker for the event is Charles Neblett. Neblett is one of the original Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers, a quartet formed in 1962 that raised money to help take on Jim Crow laws in some of the most dangerous areas of the South.
McPhail said he’s done extensive research on Freedom Summer, and most of these individuals were students who could relate to UW-Whitewater’s campus.
“The Freedom Summer members risked their lives to change history,” McPhail said. “Hopefully, the forum will inspire students to think beyond just getting a degree and a job to changing the world.”
Along with first-hand accounts of Freedom Summer, students will have the chance to see “Sweet Honey In The Rock,” an all-women, African American a cappella ensemble, perform at 7:30 p.m. on Sep. 27 in the Young Auditorium. The Grammy Award-winning performers express their history as women of color through song, dance and sign language.
Warhawk Ambassador Michael Mifflin said events like these are opportunities for college students to become educated and to educate others.
“Being a UW-Whitewater student, I believe diversity education is important,” Mifflin said. “We learn from an early age that people are different than us in many ways and these differences should be viewed as a way that brings us together.”
As a member of the Chancellor’s Committee of Inclusive Excellence, McPhail said he has helped plan the forum as well as strived to educate students on diversity during his years at UW-Whitewater.
“Diversity education is important on every campus,” McPhail said. “But in the past, UW-Whitewater has had specific issues that make people more aware.”