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Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive:

The Significance of Oxford, Ohio, in the
Civil Rights Movement

Pete Seeger and a Freedom School class in 1964

Perhaps Oxford, Ohio is not the first city one thinks of when researching Civil Rights in Mississippi. In actuality, Oxford impacted civil rights history as a training location for many advocates who played large roles in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.

Western College for Women (now Miami University) in Oxford, Ohio, hosted training sessions for civil rights workers. Approximately 1,000 students were trained during the Summer of 1964 before going on to Mississippi. Berea College in Kentucky was originally planning to host the training of the civil rights workers but opted not to do so. Two orientation sessions took place. The first was on June 14-20, 1964 (McAdam, 67). The second orientation session occurred the week after that. The sessions were sponsored by the National Council of Churches and covered voter registration techniques, non-violent philosophy, and rules for survival in the segregated South. Orientation for student volunteers included non-violent postures and demonstration techniques. The training sessions also covered workshops on non-violence and how to teach children basic math, reading, and black history. Some of the white volunteers needed to be taught black history too, since that was not part of their educational experience.

Many organizations planned the Mississippi Freedom Summer program together. These organizations included the National Council of Churches (NCC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an organization compiled of members of SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC, was also involved. The purpose of Mississippi Freedom Summer was to end political disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the Deep South.

Several people had large roles in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project of 1964, but few as large as Bob Moses. Robert Parris Moses, known as Bob, left his teaching job to work full-time in the Civil Rights Movement. Originally a field secretary for SNCC, he became Director of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project. Moses believed that an onslaught of white college students would draw the world's attention to the plight of the African American citizens of Mississippi.

The disappearance and deaths of three civil rights volunteers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, greatly impacted the orientation sessions and the shared fate of these men brought a lot of media attention to the movement. Goodman was native to New York and a Queen's College student when he an active participant in CORE. James Chaney was a resident of Meridian, Mississippi, who became a CORE member in October of 1963. Goodman was head of the CORE office in Meridian at the time. He was so impressed with Chaney's work that he recommended Chaney work with CORE on a full-time basis. Michael Schwerner, a Cornell University graduate, was also a native of New York. He left his job as a social worker to join CORE with his wife, Rita, in 1963. Schwerner came to Mississippi to work in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner all left together from Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi and then disappeared.

When Bob Moses was informed of the disappearance of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, he gathered everyone together at the Kumler Chapel at Western College for Women. Moses told those in attendance to assume the three were dead. The following week held a new sense of purpose for everyone as they waited for some word on their colleagues. Then came the news that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner had been killed in Mississippi the day after they left Oxford, Ohio.

Sources:

McAdam, Doug. Freedom Summer. New York: Oxford University Press. 1988.



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