Looking Back at Freedom Summer (continued)

Singing in the rain. Students protest outside the 1964 Democratic Party National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, asking for color-blind voting laws for delegates and voters alike.  Bob Adelman/Corbis

Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, left, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, right, disappeared near Philadelphia, Miss., June 21, 1964.

Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, left, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, right, disappeared near Philadelphia, Miss., June 21, 1964. They were abducted, killed, and buried in an earthen dam in rural Neshoba County. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of three counts of manslaughter for orchestrating the killings.

Murder and Intimidation

When the lights of the Texaco Station winked out and the doors were bolted shut, David Goodyear and his two companions knew they were in for trouble. The ‘Freedom House’ they had been working on to serve as a center for the registration drive in Jones County had stirred up a lot of resentment in the community.

Within moments, a group of men confronted them, threw them to the ground, and attacked them. Luckily, someone called the police. “We ourselves would never call the police for any reason, of course,” says Goodyear. “I will never know who that good citizen was or how long the beating with clubs and hob-nailed boots would have continued without the cops rolling by. We were pretty much unconscious by then.”

When the case went to court, Goodyear was represented by a lawyer by the name of Ed Koch—who would later become Mayor of New York City. Koch jotted down some notes on the case in the September 1964 issue of The Mississippi Front:

“...On Friday, I returned to Laurel to assist in the trial of two more cases. This time they involved two white COFO workers, a young man and woman who had been engaged in voter registration. They had been assaulted—thrown to the ground, kicked and beaten—at a gas station while buying cokes. Their alleged assailant appeared in court with witnesses who testified that he had been at home during the time of the assault watching Bonanza on TV. The cases were dismissed.” 
Ray Raphael

Freedom Summer was a pivotal experience for Ray Raphael ’65.

The alleged assailant was also the nephew of the judge for the case. During the trial, Goodyear was spat on and told “You’re dead!” by KKK members. Goodyear recounted how even Koch bore his share of spit and RC cola bottles thrown at them in court.

“We got out as fast as we could, but the next morning the Laurel newspaper blasted my picture on the front page so everybody in town would know who to look for,” he wrote. “The FBI had given the paper one of the photos they had taken during their ‘investigation.’ A fellow worker named Ulysses and I drove straight back to L.A. the next day without stopping.”

Two months later the Freedom House that Goodyear had been building in Laurel was blown up with dynamite. The FBI didn’t solve that case. Goodyear continued to be persecuted by the FBI, who interrogated him for hours. 

“They were more interested in my political affiliations and the plans of the COFO project than the beating,” says Goodyear, now an artist living in San Francisco. “They opened a file on me and followed my activities for several years after that summer.”

The Aftermath

Coming back to Reed after the summer was almost surreal for some volunteers. “I think going to Mississippi was a bit like going to war,” says Wasow. “One returned having experienced so much, finding it so difficult to make it real to others, who had just had another ordinary summer.”

Winyard resumed his studies at Reed, wrote his economics thesis on the status of minorities in the postwar American economy, and later became a systems analyst. “Just an unglamorous guy doing unglamorous things,” he says modestly.

Other returning activists were irked by their classmates’ disengagement with civil-rights issues. “There was very little action at Reed other than collecting for the summer; there were only a handful of activists,” Raphael laments. “I remember trying to organize at Reed felt a little bit like pushing uphill. When I would try to coordinate people toward some action, I would hear replies like ‘I’m working on my thesis,’ or ‘I’m working on the qual.’” 

“It seemed like people were putting more emphasis on their personal careers—for me that was a point of frustration. I was more motivated by something that was larger than our academic careers. It felt like swimming against the tide.”

Wasow agrees. In terms of advocating for civil rights, “there was nothing serious on campus as far as I remember,” he says. “I felt Reed was an inward looking world. It made no effort to be inclusive of black culture. It felt itself little responsible for bearing the change that the whole country had to bear.”

Portland may have a progressive reputation today, but it was a different city in the 1960s. “Portland was very backward on these issues. When we had the first peace demonstrations in ’64-65, small ones, we had stuff thrown at us,” says Raphael. 

“I drove around a very noticeable black ‘54 Pontiac hearse that could carry a lot of people in the back, going to demonstrations and such,” he says. “This right-wing group called Young Americans for Freedom put sugar in my gas tank at one of the demonstrations. I had to redo the entire fuel system one at a time to get that stuff out of there. Now (Portland) has a great liberal reputation; then it was not hospitable at all to the peace movement. It wasn’t until much later that Portland liberalized.”

Against this conservative backdrop, the Reed activists kept a high profile. “Portland-wide peace movements probably had a third of the demonstrators from Reed,” says Raphael. “We were known as being radical, although in my mind we were not radical enough. When we had demonstrations, the local (Portland) papers, which were very conservative, would make a point of saying it was just a bunch of Reed students, even though two-thirds of the crowd were not from Reed.”

Considering the perils of being involved in Freedom Summer, hazards that could continue long after the summer was over, what compelled these Reedies to put their lives at risk? 

Wasow, who got his PhD in economics from Stanford and was a college professor for thirty years, puts it simply. 

“Somebody had to do it,” he says. “Why somebody else?” 

Fifty years later, the legacy of Freedom Summer is still coming into focus. While it did not succeed in registering many black voters, it galvanized national support for ending segregation and dismantling Jim Crow laws, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It paved the way for young people across the country to get involved with political issues, and provided an organizational template for student opposition to the war in Vietnam. 

But Freedom Summer was not only a historical event. It had a profound impact on the volunteers who took part in it. “It was pivotal for me, and my personal development as a citizen and a human being,” says Raphael, who is now a historian and author in Northern California. “It was a compelling, driving interest that really still shapes me.”

The volunteers took part in the campaign because they wanted to change America. What they didn’t realize at the time was that they would also change themselves.