Simmons notes importance of Freedom Summer
by Paisley Boston
Jul 06, 2014 | 2103 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sen. Willie Simmons said Freedom Summer helped to unite Mississippi and the nation.

In 1964 more than 700 student volunteers from around the country joined organizers and African Americans in a historic effort to eliminate racial barriers in segregated states.

"It has been 50 years since this remarkable event. Those who participated in Freedom Summer laid the foundation and opened the doors for individuals like myself. They enabled me to be ale to serve in the position as a public servant. Mississippi has progressed tremendously. It is the second state in the nation to have the most black elected officials," said Simmons.

Freedom Summer was a voter registration project in Mississippi that was part of a larger effort by civil rights groups such as the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to expand black voting in the South.

"We have seen more opportunities for education within the institution of higher learning. There were not places that African Americans attend college prior to Freedom Summer. When this program initiated, I was a freshman in college and the assassination of John F. Kennedy had just occurred," said Simmons.

"At this time, Blacks were restricted from going into certain places and doing certain things. Blacks could not go and stay in hotels or go to specific restaurants. In order to do things such as this Blacks had to travel to places such as Chicago or New York," he added.

Simmons said Mississippi and the nation were divided during this time.

"It was not only politically divided it was also divided because Blacks were not allowed to participate in the political process. We were not able to register to vote. This was also during the time when Fannie Lou Hammer was trying to increase the Democratic Party and have a seat at the Democratic National Convention," he continued.

Mississippi was chosen as the site of the Freedom Summer project due to its historically low levels of African-American voter registration; in 1962 less than 7 percent of the state's eligible black voters were registered to vote.

"We were left out and now 50 years later, to see an election take place … electing a Republican Senator and to see Democrats supporting him is a historical event that proves that our nation has come a long way," said Simmons.

"Some people take these opportunities for granted. Constitutionally, we were eligible but there were a lot of restrictions. Blacks were required to take a literacy test," he added.

"Today, we can go to any hotel and take out a credit card and be allowed to stay in a room. Before the Civil Rights movement, it did not matter how much money you had, if you were Black, you were still restricted from so many things," he continued.

He also said it is an honor to commemorate Freedom Summer because of its historical relevance.

"It is important for us to recognize the contributions that Freedom Summer volunteers made. We should stand on their shoulders and try to give back by encouraging young people to have the same kind of vision and commitment that those individuals had 50 years ago," said Simmons.

He also said that as a public servant, he tries to build upon the foundation that has been laid.

"I try to create opportunities for others by ensuring our young people know the work that those before them have done. The contributions that I have made are very small compared to what others have done. Some of them even lost their lives," he continued.