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Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy Hardcover – June 10, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (June 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021703
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this mesmerizing history, Watson (Sacco and Vanzetti) revisits the blistering summer of 1964 when about 700 volunteers arrived in Mississippi to agitate for civil rights and endured horrific harassment, intimidation, and persecution from racist state and private forces. The largely white, college student volunteers and the largely black trainers and organizers, SNCC veterans of previous campaigns, were fed and sheltered by the impoverished black community members they had come to serve and secure suffrage for. Their path was two-pronged: the Freedom School's challenge to a power structure... that confined Negro education to 'learning to stay in your place' and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's challenge to Mississippi's all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Familiar figures (e.g., Lyndon B. Johnson, Stokely Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer) take the stage, but Watson's dramatic center belongs to four ordinary volunteers, whose experiences he portrays with resonant detail. The murdered Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner cast shadows over all, haunting Watson's account of how the volunteers, organizers, and the black Mississippians who dared seek political expression lifted and revived the trampled dream of democracy. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Even those familiar with the history will want to read this gripping narrative, which combines a political overview of the Mississippi civil rights struggle in the summer of 1964 with more than 50 personal accounts from those who were there, both the famous (including Sidney Poitier, Pete Seeger, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael) and the lesser known, including the more than 200 volunteer students from the North who lived and worked with local residents and taught in the Freedom Schools in converted shacks and church basements. The lengthy bibliography testifies as to how much has been written on the topic, but the personal interviews, some from people telling their stories for the first time, make gripping drama, as they recount the standoffs, the struggle for voter registration, the reign of terror that encompassed church burnings and murders. Ordinary people are the focus here, and the close-up details about the shocking violence and economic oppression show that even at the time of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, sharecroppers earning $500 a year could not afford to eat at lunch counters. --Hazel Rochman

More About the Author

I am the author of three books on American history, each illuminating troubled periods when the nation's values were tested. My most recent book is an e-book, "Jon Stewart: Beyond the Moments of Zen," which traces Stewart's rise from Jersey comic to "the most trusted man on television."
My previous book, "Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy" (Viking 2010) captured the turning point summer of 1964 when 700 college students headed for the racial cauldron of Mississippi. On the first day of that summer, three volunteers vanished in central Mississippi. The disappearance of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman sparked national alarm and an exhaustive manhunt. But while the FBI dragged rivers and scoured swamps, Freedom Summer volunteers taught in Freedom Schools, registered voters, and built a human bridge, black and white, across the chasms of Jim Crow. In a starred review, Publisher's Weekly called "Freedom Summer" a "mesmerizing history." The New York Times called it "the literary equivalent of a hot light bulb dangling from a low ceiling."
"Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and The Judgment of Mankind" shed new light on the cause célèbre that tore America apart in the 1920s. "Sacco and Vanzetti" was favorably reviewed in publications ranging from the New York Times ("spirited history") to the New Yorker ("unusually even-handed") to The Nation ("The most thorough and readable plumbing yet of the case record.") The Mystery Writers of America nominated "Sacco and Vanzetti" for its Edgar Award in the category of True Fact/Crime. The Washington Post Book World named "Sacco and Vanzetti" one of its Top 10 non-fiction books of 2007.
My 2005 book "Bread and Roses - Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream," was the first full-length narrative of the notorious "Bread and Roses" textile strike of 1912. The New York Times called Bread and Roses "fast paced, well researched. . . an exciting read." The New York Public Library chose "Bread and Roses" as one of "25 Books to Remember for 2005."
I have also written more than three dozen feature articles for Smithsonian on topics ranging from the history of Coney Island to Ferraris and eels. My work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, American Heritage, The History Channel Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Best American Science and Nature Writing 2003.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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That distinction goes to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Bill Emblom
I highly recommend this book as a must-read to any teacher or student wanting to understand the civil rights movement of the sixties.
This was a well written book that I read in pieces as there was so much to comprehend.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Ira Landess on June 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Freedom Summer" is likely to be recognized as the definitive account of a seemingly all-but-forgotten but nevertheless enduringly transformative episode in American history. That I myself was a volunteer in the Mississippi Summer Project necessarily colors my perception, but I little doubt that a reader more objective of mind will draw the same conclusion. Bruce Watson, a meticulous journalist, takes you into every nook and cranny of Mississippi with an abundance of crackling anecdotage recounting the actualities that transpired during this unprecedented surge into a higher level of American democracy, and he does so with an imagination suggestive of the gift one expects of a novelist; so much so that, on the one hand, I found myself reading his compelling narrative as if I were entering Mississippi for the very first time, while on the other I was able to locate myself in the there-and-then of my actual experience as I was never able to do heretofore. He tells his story so empathically that, did I not know otherwise, I'd be thinking he himself was a Mississippi volunteer.

Watson gives his tale luminous specificity by threading it through the experiences of four particular volunteers. We find out why they came to Mississippi, what they were thinking and feeling as they were either teaching in a freedom school or canvassing door-to-door for voter registrants, and how their Freedom Summer experience impacted their lives thereafter.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Steven R. Brody on June 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bruce Watson talks about my teen years, in his "Freedom Summer." He talks about my people, as he describes one of the most significant years of the country's civil rights struggle. In the summer of 1964 I was a 14 year old Mississippi boy; actually, a Mississippi good-ol'-boy-in-training. The three civil rights workers were killed in my regional neighborhood. They were communist agitators, invading my land, stirring things up.

Watson wasn't there, that hot, hot Mississippi summer; he really wasn't. But the reader of his "Freedom Summer" wouldn't know that, as they are transported in his narrative to that time and place.

As I read Watson, it was, for me, mostly a poignant and painful reminder of my past, as he narrates my 1964 summer. I was there, and he will put you there, with me, as social forces transform the cultural landscape -- not just in Mississippi, but the very consciousness of the nation. "Freedom Summer" is that good.

In a most compelling manner, Watson describes the hundreds of civil rights activists as they arrive in Mississippi, having no real idea as to the world they were entering, settling into towns and communities throughout the state. He puts the reader into the lives of the activists, as they help invigorate and support the black population to register to vote; as they are all spit upon, cursed, beaten, jailed, terrorized, and killed.

In addition to the terror, Watson describes, in an equally compelling manner, the forever-kindled hope and commitment of both the outsider civil rights workers and the local black communities. One small victory after another, and another, he describes the joy of the movement from within.

As in insider of that Freedom Summer, I know that Watson's description is more than fair. It is an accurate depiction of that time and place; as accurate a description as I have known. It will become an important contribution to the history of civil rights.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on July 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a powerful book, and reminds me of the excellent book written a few years ago entitled We Are Not Afraid. If you are a volunteer in any capacity don't ever say you are JUST a volunteer. The fact that you are working without pay aptly illustrates you are dedicated to doing a good job. The individuals involved in this 1964 Freedom Summer program in Mississippi are not widely remembered today for their efforts. That distinction goes to Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. However, these young individuals, many of them college students, who chose to spend their summer helping those who never had others who thought of them as anything worthy of a human being left their positive mark on history in an environment that looked upon them as interlopers to say the least.

Mississippi was filled with domestic terrorists with names such as Rainey, Price, Killen, Roberts, and several others who would stop at nothing, including murder, to preserve their bigoted way of life. Judges and juries were such that justice was a farce in regard to matters regarding civil rights. Even though he masterminded the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, Edgar Ray Killen enjoyed several years of freedom because one of the jurors in his trial stated she could "never convict a preacher." You have to wonder why she was on the jury in the first place with that attitude. Several others eventually got off with light sentences several years later with some of them still out and about.

These volunteers literally took their lives in their hands to correct the indignities that were taking place in the police state that was Mississippi.
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