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As it was - 1964 Mississippi
on June 23, 2010
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.