Freedom Summer for Young People: The Violent Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy

Written By: Bruce Watson

Adapted by: Rebecca Stefoff

For Ages: YA

Language: English

Topics Covered: Modern Black Freedom Struggle, History, Politics, Racism, Segregation, Civil Rights, Activism, Voting, White Supremacy.

Summary: This book is powerful, and it relies heavily on first-person accounts of events, which is ideal for a text that aims to discuss events of this magnitude. Freedom Summer reinforces time and time again, that “the volunteers knew that they had no been heroes like the local people, nor pioneers like the first civil rights workers. They had merely gone to a place where many outsiders feared to go. They had been witnesses and spotlights” (403). The book is not about white saviourism, it’s about accountability and a drive to do what’s right.

I’m finding it hard to put into words the necessity of knowing our colonized country’s violent struggle for Black freedom and basic human rights (which are still being fought for today). My mentor from graduate school is a longtime activist, and her friend was one of these volunteers during the Freedom Summer. Her friend joined us for the semester in one of the classes that my mentor taught, (“Narratives of Oppression, Resistance, and Resilience”) and focused the majority of the class on this time period. She brought in pictures and told stories as we read various memoirs and discussed the intricacies of social movements. We white people are shielded purposefully from so much due to the carefully constructed white supremacist society we live in. Freedom Summer has a plethora of photos, individuals are named, and there’s a bunch of annotations in the back which can lead a reader hungry for more (like myself) down a rabbit hole of newspaper articles and additional books. If you have a reader that is at a YA level, this book is an excellent primer for gathering more knowledge about a pivotal time in (what is now called) America’s history.

This book was kindly sent by Seven Stories Press, but all opinions are my own. I recommend reading Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s memoire afterwards, since she’s mentioned in this book as well!

Rebecca Stefoff

Rebecca Stefoff has written more than 50 books for young adults, specializing in geography and biography. She earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Bruce Watson

Bruce Watson is a Contributing Editor of American Heritage and the author of the critically-acclaimed books Freedom SummerSacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and The Judgment of Mankind, and Bread and Roses. He writes a history blog at https://www.theattic.space/.

Watson received a master’s degree in American history from the University of Massachusetts, and worked as a journalist, an elementary school teacher, and a Peace Corps volunteer. He lives in Western Massachusetts. 

“Bruce Watson interviewed dozens of those young volunteers decades later, gathering their stories of that frightening, hopeful season of blood, sweat, and tears. Freedom Summer for Young People is the story of a triple murder that riveted the nation, a vital piece of the Civil Rights movement–and the story of young people who made history, often told in their own words.” (quote from Rebecca Stefoff’s website about Freedom Summer)

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