Fifty years after young adults and youths led a campaign to bring political self-determination and educational empowerment to black residents of the South, African-Americans in Columbia honored the dedication of the generations that came before them.
Dozens of people gathered Saturday to celebrate the half-century anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign.
The Freedom Summer, or Mississippi Summer Project, was a movement in the summer of 1964 led mostly by college- and high-school aged youths to attempt to register as many black voters as possible in Mississippi, specifically, and throughout the South.
“They had the audacity to change the world,” said Dr. Ahmad Washington, a professor at S.C. State University, who spoke at the celebration. “They did it because they didn’t know any better.”
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Former longtime S.C. Sen. Kay Patterson spoke to the crowd at the North Main Street Public Library, acknowledging the impact made by youths in the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of rearing a new generation of active youth.
“Let’s raise up our children, raise them up the way we’re supposed to raise them up ... to be somebody,” he said. “And you children, don’t let anybody tell you you ain’t nothing. Go on about your business and be something.”
As 16-year-old Brock Jackson beat a drum and lifted up his young, soulful voice, the crowd joined him in a multi-generational chorus singing “Wade in the Water.” It was a celebration of the history and culture and a remembrance of the generations before them who dedicated themselves to fight for their modern-day freedoms.
But in the moment, they also recognized that the journey toward freedom never ends.
“While we celebrate and triumph the tremendous accomplishments that we’ve made, the unbelievable strides that we’ve made, if you take a very critical look, what you find is we are no safer collectively as a people than we were in 1964,” Washington said. “Are we conveying that sense of urgency to our children?”
He stressed the importance of passing on cultural beliefs and values to the next generation – “Because failure to do so walks us one step closer to our demise,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Kierra Ishmal understands those values and the sacrifices that came before her. It’s important, she said, to celebrate and share the African-American cultural history with the community.
“We as young people today celebrate these acts today because it’s our job to honor those who dedicated their lives for our freedom,” she said. “And we celebrate because we must continue to fight war against racism, poverty, illiteracy and injustice.”