Mississippi Freedom Summer Photograph By Herbert Randall
In the photograph above, legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger meets with students in a Freedom School class at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on August 4, 1964, as part of Freedom Summer program. It is part of a large collection held at McCain Library & Archives: the Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs.
Hattiesburg and Palmer's Crossing were important centers of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, especially during Freedom Summer 1964. Hattiesburg was the largest Freedom Summer site in Mississippi, with over ninety volunteers from out of state, 3,000 local participants, and nearly 700 Freedom School students. Out-of-state volunteers were housed by prominent African American businessman Vernon Dahmer, who lost his life in 1966 when his home was fire-bombed by KKK members.
In July and August 1964, Freedom Schools were established in seven African American churches -- Bentley Chapel United Methodist Church, Morning Star Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Priest Creek Missionary Baptist Church, St. John's United Methodist Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and Truelight Baptist Church. Mass meetings were held at these churches and at St. James Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Church members opened their homes to the volunteers, housing and feeding them at the risk of violence and economic reprisal.
The Freedom Schools offered classes in subjects like civics and African American history which were not permitted to be taught in the black public schools. Palmer's Crossing Freedom School students authored the "Declaration of Independence" that was adopted at the statewide convention of Mississippi Freedom Schools held in Meridian in August 1964 and was included in the platform of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that same year. There were so many students enrolled in local Freedom Schools that the state Freedom School director, Dr. Staughton Lynd, professor of history at Yale University, called Hattiesburg "the Mecca of the Freedom School world."
Herbert Randall was living in New York when he was awarded the John Hay Whitney Fellowship for Creative Photography in the spring of 1964. Shortly after, he met "Sandy" Leigh, a Field Secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and director of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg. Leigh convinced Randall to use his fellowship to photograph Freedom Summer activities in Hattiesburg. During the summer of 1964, Randall not only documented the social and political efforts of the Hattiesburg Project, but also vividly depicted the hardships of Negro life in a racially discriminating Mississippi. Following Freedom Summer, Randall returned to New York to continue his career in photography.
Randall is an award-winning photographer. His photographs have appeared in exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and other notable museums. His photographs are permanently represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and The University of Southern Mississippi.
In 1999, Herbert Randall returned to Hattiesburg to attend "Faces of Freedom Summer: The Photographs of Herbert Randall," an exhibit of selected images from Randall's Freedom Summer photographs. In 2001, The University of Alabama Press published a book entitled Faces of Freedom Summer, which featured the photographs included in the exhibit. Most recently, Randall returned to Hattiesburg earlier this month to give a gallery talk at the opening of another exhibit of his photographs from USM's collection. The exhibit, Hattiesburg Remembers the Freedom Summer of 1964, ran through February 2009 at the Historic Train Depot downtown.
For more information:
University of Southern Mississippi Libraries holds many materials related to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.
Civil Rights Collections in Special Collections at the University of Southern Mississippi
The Mississippi Digital Library contains materials related to the Civil Rights Movement from several institutions in the state.
Text for this "Item of the Month" prepared by Diane DeCesare Ross.