Freedom Summer Memorial, Ohio University
In response to the continued violence and fraud perpetrated against Southern African Americans who were denied their right to vote, white and black students enrolled at Northern colleges volunteered to teach in Freedom Schools throughout the South in the summer of 1964. These schools taught basic literacy skills and also prepared black women and men for the literacy tests that Southern states required prospective black voters to pass. Before students went South, they attended training sessions at Western College for Women, now Miami University. During the summer of 1964, a thousand students trained at Western before heading to Mississippi. Even after the murder of three students, volunteers continued to attend these training sessions and travel to Mississippi to support African Americans who wished to attend the schools and register to vote.
Backstory and Context
Students who attended the training sessions at Western College for Women were trained to teach adult literacy, basic math, and African American history. They were also taught the philosophy of nonviolent protest from civil rights veterans. The National Council of Churches sponsored two training sessions which took place in mid-June of that year. The trainees were also taught strategies for assisting African Americans who chose to challenge the voter registration tests.
Volunteers from Western College for Women, various Northern civil rights organizations, and religious leaders worked with leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the and the Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party (MFDP) which offered an alternative and a challenge to the all-white Democrats of Mississippi. The groups helped African Americans challenge their exclusion from the polls in addition to supporting educational programs and a variety of civil rights initiatives.
The response of Southerners who defended white supremacy was swift and violent. On June 22nd, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by local members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three students had been part of the first wave of volunteers to complete training at Western College for Women and had only been in Mississippi for a handful of days when they were murdered. Word of these deaths spread to the student volunteers training in preparation for entering Mississippi. Despite knowing they would face the same violence and possibly lose their lives as well, the vast majority of students continued to attend training sessions and departed the safety of Ohio to risk their lives on behalf of the civil rights movement.
Western College for Women was established in 1853. The school was designed to provide a religious education similar to what was offered at all-male seminaries. The institution changed names several times first to the Western, a college and Seminary for women to Western College for Women. The curriculum had a strong leaning towards liberal arts and education. In 1974 the college was absorbed into the Miami University.