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Oxford and Beyond Excellence and Expertise

TRAINING FOR FREEDOM documentary, which will air on PBS in northeast Ohio this month, features many Miami ties

Next fall, the Miami University Art Museum will present an exhibition of photographs by the late, acclaimed photographer Steve Schapiro, who documented Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights era.

A Black activist calls on the telephone during Freedom Summer of 1964
Steve Schapiro's photograph "We Shall Overcome, 1964" captures Freedom Summer volunteers in Mississippi, hand in hand singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Oxford and Beyond Excellence and Expertise

TRAINING FOR FREEDOM documentary, which will air on PBS in northeast Ohio this month, features many Miami ties

#Steve Schapiro's photograph "We Shall Overcome, 1964" captures Freedom Summer volunteers in Mississippi, hand in hand singing “We Shall Overcome.” ()

By Margo Kissell, university news and communications

A Freedom Summer documentary produced in partnership with Miami University about how idealistic college students and Black activists came together in 1964 on a civil rights mission will air exclusively on PBS channels in northeast Ohio later this month. 

TRAINING FOR FREEDOM shares the story about training that occurred at the Western College for Women, now part of Miami’s Western campus. Several people tied to Miami and the university’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film (MJF) were involved in production of the film. Richard Campell, former chair of MJF and professor emeritus, was executive producer and University Archivist Jacqueline “Jacky” Johnson was co-producer.

Freedom Summer is a living lesson in the positive difference people can make in the lives of others, said Bruce Drushel, professor and chair of Media, Journalism & Film.

“The documentary itself is extremely impressive, complete with television news footage from a time when the Western Campus was the center of world attention, aerial shots of the campus today, and firsthand accounts of what happened that summer from the people who were there,” Drushel said.

Prominent among the interviewees is Miami Emeritus Professor Rick Momeyer, who was among the 800 volunteers — many of them college students — who trained in Oxford before heading to the South to register Black voters and set up Freedom Schools and community centers in Mississippi and elsewhere.

Produced by Kathy Conkwright (former producer at MJF) in partnership with Miami, the half-hour documentary “weaves intimate personal stories from participants and area residents with critical historical analysis from noted historians and scholars. It explores how people from dramatically different worlds broke down barriers of race, class and gender to organize the most comprehensive campaign of the civil rights movement,” PBS Western Reserve (WNEO/WEAO) said in a news release.

Others involved in the documentary’s production were cinematographer De'Niel Phipps (formerly of Miami's University Communications and Marketing), David Sholle (associate professor, MJF), Ringo Jones (former engineering supervisor, MJF), and Mary Makley (Conkwright’s business partner at MakeWright Productions.)

Johnson worked with Carla Myers, coordinator of Scholarly Communications, and John Woodard, senior associate in the Office of General Counsel, to get necessary approvals. “The work of these colleagues was instrumental in all phases in production, copyright clearances and television production,” she said.

Johnson, who edited Finding Freedom: Memorializing the Voices of Freedom Summer (Miami University Press), called it an honor to be associated with the documentary.

“It is important for young people to know that they can make a difference in their communities. The Freedom Summer Project is still relevant. The right to vote and civic engagement will always be important,” she said.

Drushel echoed that sentiment.

“It’s at once inspiring and chilling to be that close to history,” Drushel said.  “At a time when the right to vote and access to voting seems to be under assault, I think we need to remember what personal sacrifices and risks people were willing to take to help others exercise that right.”

Miami honored the lives of three slain Freedom Summer activists — Michael Schwerner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Goodman, 20 — by dedicating residence hall lobbies after them near the grounds where they trained.

The documentary premiered earlier in Leonard Theatre in Peabody Hall – the very space where the volunteers trained. 

PBS stations in Cleveland and Youngstown will be the only ones airing the documentary, first showing at 9 p.m. on Feb. 14. However, the program will be posted immediately following the program and will be searchable on PBSWesternReserve.org.

“It is an honor for PBS Western Reserve to be the presenting station for TRAINING FOR FREEDOM because it tells a civil rights story that I would venture to say is not taught in the classroom,” said Trina Cutter, president and CEO. “This important documentary shows that when Blacks and whites walk across the divide, reach out and take the time to understand each other, positive change can happen. I am truly inspired by this program and hope that our viewers are equally inspired to do their part to end the racial divide.”

PBS Western Reserve will host a free virtual event on PBSWesternReserve.org on Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. that is open to all and includes a streamed presentation of TRAINING FOR FREEDOM followed by a one-half-hour prerecorded panel discussion that addresses race-related voter registration issues that persist to this day.

Panelists will be Bruce Watson, author of Freedom Summer; Nishani Frazier, formerly an associate professor History at Miami and currently associate professor of American Studies and History at the University of Kansas; and James Brown, president of the Youngstown branch of NAACP.

Art Museum to present exhibition by acclaimed photographer

Next fall, the Miami University Art Museum will present an exhibition of photographs by the acclaimed photographer Steve Schapiro, who captured the Civil Rights era and Freedom Summer. Shapiro died in January.

A Black activist talks on a pay phone during Freedom Summer.A Lens for Freedom: Civil Rights Photographs by Steve Schapiro is developed in conjunction with the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial, a Cincinnati-based celebration of photographic arts.

Here in Oxford, Schapiro photographed the first week of training for the historic Freedom Summer of 1964 that supported voter registration drives and the creation of Freedom Schools in Mississippi. The image at right —  "Freedom Now" — shows a volunteer in Clawson Hall.

Schapiro gave a virtual lecture in October 2020 at the Miami University Art Museum titled Freedom in Black and White: The Making of a Photographer-Activist: Steve Schapiro co-sponsored by the Contemporary Art Forum.

The Miami University Art Museum has 17 of Schapiro’s photographs in its permanent collections, a partial gift of Stephen Schapiro and Miami University Art Museum purchase with contributions from the Kezur Endowment Fund. – Jeni Barton, marketing and communications director for academic programs, College of Creative Arts