Volunteers at Freedom Summer at the then Western College for Women in Oxford
Volunteers at Freedom Summer at the then Western College for Women in Oxford Photo: By George R. Hoxie; courtesy of Smith Library of Regional History

Freedom Summer –Then, Now and the Future

Mini-conference Nov. 1-2 on the 55th anniversary of Freedom Summer

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is at 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati.

By Claire Wagner, university news and communications

The public is invited to Freedom 55, a mini-conference exploring the local history of Freedom Summer in 1964, and also current lessons and ideas to continue to address voting rights and social inequalities. The events will be Nov. 1-2 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati and are co-sponsored by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Miami University.

Sessions will be led by local and national speakers, and several arts events are included. The mini-conference is free: Participants should enter at the Rosa Parks St. (west) entrance. Visitors are encouraged to tour the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which requires an admission fee.

Friday, Nov. 1, the event opens with the Miami University Gospel Choir performing at 6 p.m. and Dion Brown, president and chief operating officer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, giving opening remarks at 6:50 p.m.

The plenary session, Freedom 55: The Legacy of the Movement discussion, follows. Among speakers is Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Joyce Ladner

Joyce Ladner in the 1960s and now. Photos with permission from Ms. Ladner.

Saturday, Nov. 2, Miami President Gregory Crawford and Rodney Coates, professor of global and intercultural studies at Miami, will give the day’s opening remarks. Among the speakers are Joyce Ladner and John Frazier, participants in Freedom Summer. Miami faculty, students and alumni are also presenting. The full itinerary is online at https://freedomcenter.org/freedom55-mini-conf.  

Among members of an alumni panel speaking on Freedom Summer Now is Miami alumna Yvette Simpson, former Cincinnati City Council member, CEO of Democracy for America and ABC News political contributor.

Miami students and youth docents from the Freedom Center will perform a play directed by Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, associate professor of theatre at Miami, "Choosing Freedom: The Mississippi Summer Project of 1964" at 4 p.m.

The closing plenary session – reception at 6 p.m., discussion at 7 p.m. Saturday – features Reena Evers-Everette (daughter of Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams) and Lisa McNair (sister of Denise McNair, a victim of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama). Jacqueline K. Dace, deputy director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, will moderate.

The Oxford League of Women Voters will register voters during the weekend.

The history of Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer project, was coordinated to end the prevailing discriminatory and segregated voting system in the South through increased voter registration of African Americans. In preparation, hundreds of student volunteers gathered for training sessions in June 1964 at Western College for Women (now part of Miami University) in Oxford.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has been hosting a Freedom 55 series that includes lectures, music and films, through 2019.

The opening plenary Friday and closing plenary Saturday require (free) registration. Tickets may be reserved by clicking on the plenary titles at https://freedomcenter.org/freedom55-mini-conf.

Free ride offered from Oxford

While members of the Miami community are welcome to the attend the Freedom 55 mini-conference Nov. 1-2, a bus ride is offered for Saturday, Nov. 2

The mini-conference and lunch are free of charge to all; the bus ride is also offered for free to Miamians from all campuses. Buses will leave from in front of Armstrong Student Center on the Oxford campus at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2. Please arrive early.

To ride the bus, please register on this sign-up page for bus transportation by 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct.30.

The bus ride is not available for the Friday evening portion of the mini-conference.