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Collection Title: Kwanguvu (Umoja) Freedom Summer Collection

Collection Number: M366

Dates: 1964, 1999

Volume: .25 cu. ft.

Provenance: The majority of materials in this collection were donated by Umoja Kwanguvu in 1999. Several items were added in 2002 and 2003.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Umoja Kwanguvu was born in 1925, as William DeVaughn Jones, in Birmingham , Alabama . He grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Miles College with a major in English. During World War II, in 1944, he was drafted into the Army. During his service, he was a cargo checker on U. S. ships in England and the Philippines . He was honorably discharged in 1945, and returned to Birmingham for a brief time and attended a business college there.

As an African American, Kwanguvu could not find work in accord with his abilities, and he was unable to accept the designation by others that he should know his "place" as a second class citizen, so he enlisted in the Air Force in 1947. During his tenure, he graduated from military dental technician school and served as a dental technician. He was honorably discharged in 1952. Once again, he returned briefly to Birmingham and then moved to Georgia , where he taught English and French for two years. While in Georgia , he provoked his students to question the long-accepted attitude of racial "untouchability." Subsequently, Kwanguvu was advised by the parents of his students to leave town before he encountered the ire of fervent white supremacists. So, he returned to Birmingham and taught high school English and French.

Kwanguvu spent much of his life as a civil rights activist. He actively protested and defied segregation while in the military, conducted protest activities against the prevailing Jim Crow attitudes and laws in the 1950s, and was arrested in 1953 for drinking from a water fountain in Birmingham labeled "white."

In 1961 Kwanguvu relocated to New York City and taught at an elementary school in Bellmore , Long Island for three years. In April of 1964, he was arrested along with James Farmer, founder of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), while picketing the New York World's Fair because of inadequate and demeaning employment of non-white people.

In the summer of 1964, Kwanguvu turned down a scholarship from Columbia University in order to participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer activities. He was so determined to play an active part in Freedom Summer that he neglected to inform his mother that he was going to Mississippi rather than attending Columbia University .

Kwanguvu volunteered as a Freedom School teacher. He was assigned to the city of Hattiesburg and became a very respected and well-liked figure among his Freedom School students. He also had the distinction of being one of the few African American volunteers assigned to the Hattiesburg area project.

He was arrested on August 17, 1964 for attempting to desegregate the Hattiesburg Public Library. In addition, he was in the company of two other Freedom School teachers, Peter Werner and Susan B. Patterson, when Werner was attacked outside a Hattiesburg drug store.

Kwanguvu taught English in New York from 1967 to 1972 in one of President Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programs, Job Opportunities in Neighborhoods (JOIN). From 1972 until his retirement in 1994, he served as Coordinator of Student Affairs and College-Wide Events at LaGuardia Community College , a unit of the City University of New York. After his retirement, he served as recording secretary of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and in the late 1990s he served as a volunteer with City Harvest of New York, an organization that gathers and distributes food for homeless people who occupy shelters within the city. At various points in his career, Kwanguvu found time to take classes at Wayne State University , Southern University, and the University of Connecticut .

Umoja Kwanguvu died March 19, 2001 in Detroit , following a struggle with cancer. A memorial service was held in his honor on may 24 at LaGuardia Community College , where he was a staff member for more than twenty years.


Contents of the Collection

An Oral History with Umoja Kwanguvu. Mississippi Oral History Program, Vol. 738.

University of Southern Mississippi . June 8, 1999.

Scope and Content:

The Umoja Kwanguvu Freedom Summer Collection consists of five folders containing photographs and personal reminiscences of Kwanguvu's experiences as a Freedom School teacher in 1964, as well as photographs taken during the 35th anniversary of Freedom Summer celebration that took place at The University of Southern Mississippi, June 5 - 7, 1999 .

Folder 1 contains 14 prints of black and white photographs taken by Umoja Kwanguvu during the summer of 1964, in Hattiesburg , Mississippi .

Folder 2 contains four sheets of black and white contact prints of photos taken during the summer of 1964. Kwanguvu noted that the photos in which he does not appear were taken by him. According to Kwanguvu, all other images were taken by various Freedom School students and volunteers.

Folder 3 contains a photocopy of a Hattiesburg American newspaper article that tells of Kwanguvu's arrest during an attempt to desegregate the Hattiesburg Public Library, as well as a copy of his arrest receipt. Both items are dated August 17, 1964 . Also in this folder are copies of two student newsletters: Voice of the Movement (July 21, 1964) and Student Voice Truelight (July 24, 1964)

Folder 4 contains personal accounts of three different incidents that occurred during the summer of 1964, written by Kwanguvu in 1999:

  • "Picnic at Vernon Dahmer's" (April 22, 1999)
  • "Violent Incident in Downtown Hattiesburg " (April 1999)
  • "Refusal at Owl's Drugstore" (April 1999)

Folder 5 contains six color photographs taken during the 35th anniversary reunion of Freedom Summer in Hattiesburg , Mississippi , June 1999.

Other Finding Aids:

Photograph Log

Related Collections:

M322 Adickes (Sandra) papers
M323 Ellin (Joseph and Nancy) Freedom Summer Collection
M350 Owen (David) Freedom Summer Collection
M351 Randall (Herbert) Freedom Summer Photographs
M326 Shaw (Terri) Freedom Summer Collection

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