From the Western College Memorial Archives

August 25 - December 12, 2014

Exhibit poster

When the administration of the Western College for Women, now a part of Miami University, opened its campus to civil rights activists in 1964, an estimated 700 young and idealistic college students from across the north arrived in Oxford, Ohio for voter registration training.

Sponsored by a coalition including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Council of Churches, this event is considered by scholars to be one of the pivotal events in civil rights history; one that would eventually reshape the electoral landscape of the United States.

Andy Goodman & James Forman

In Fall 2014, Special Collections presented Stories of Freedom Summer: from the Western College Memorial Archives. The exhibit featured many of the items now available on this webpage. On October 10th, the 2nd Annual Special Collections Lecture featured a panel of the three volunteers who were featured in the exhibit: Carole Gross Colca, Roland Duerksen, and Mark Levy. All three volunteered in Mississippi that summer and this exhibit serves as a narrative of their dedication to civil rights and social justice. In addition to the photographs, letters, and memorabilia, the exhibit includes audiovisual and interactive media. While in the exhibit room, visitors will be able to hear the voices of Freedom Summer's volunteers and supporters. Taken from the Freedom Summer Digital Archive, samples of participants' oral histories play in the background of the exhibit and a screen displays information about each speaker. On one wall of the room stands an interactive map of Mississippi, with significant sites of Freedom Summer highlighted. When touched, each site displays an image, a quote, or an article about events in that city. Like the oral histories, all the items in the interactive map can be found in the Freedom Summer Digital Archive.

Curtis Austin discussing dissent now and then at the Freedom Summer Reunion and Conference, 2009. Full video.


Volunteers in training at Western College

The college students were recruited nationally to serve in Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote and assist with local community projects, like Freedom schools and the building of community centers.

It was from Oxford that three young civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner, departed before being brutally murdered in Mississippi. The legacy of Freedom Summer goes beyond that particular and tragic moment, though, because Oxford served as the training ground for numerous politicians, educators, and leaders who continued a life of social activism and social justice and have influenced our country significantly. Representative John Lewis (GA), Representative Barney Frank (MA), Howard Zinn (educator, Boston University), Robert Moses (educator, The Algebra Project), Charles Cobb (journalist and educator), and Fannie Lou Hamer (political activist) are but a few of such individuals who were here that summer.

Pamphlet by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Today, the story of Freedom Summer has the power to evoke important questions about American identity, public life, engagement, and commitment. Freedom Summer was an experiment in "deliberative democracy," which can be used to model democratic processes, social change, community service, political process, civic engagement, and ethical decision making. History is often written from the national perspective, but it is important to acknowledge how local histories shape national movements. In fact, members of the Oxford community established the Friends of the Mississippi Summer Project. In addition to holding several fund raisers to support the movement, they also raised money to help support individual students while they were in Mississippi.

A Call for Volunteers

Robert Moses, Don Winkleman and Roland Duerksen

Always considered to be independent and forerunners during the summer of 1964, the administration of Western College for Women, opened its campus to civil rights activists. Many of them college students from the north, descended on Oxford, Ohio for training to assist with registering African Americans in southern states to vote and work in Freedom Schools.

It is important to note that Western College merged with Miami University in 1964. This training, now known as the Mississippi Summer Project, was organized by a coalition including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Students for Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Considered to be one of the pivotal events in civil rights history, it centered national attention on the brutality of segregation.

Charred remains of the car used by Chaney, Goodman, & SchwernerSNCC worker James Chaney and student volunteers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were the first to leave Oxford for Mississippi. Within 24 hours of their arrival they had disappeared. The last place they were seen was at a local church where they had gone to investigate a bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. That was the last time they were seen alive.

It took six weeks and an aggressive federal investigation to find their bodies. It was later reported that after leaving the church, they'd been pulled over and detained by the sheriff for a traffic violation. That evening they were released late and night, then beaten and killed. The murders made headlines all over the country, and provoked an outpouring of national support for the Civil Rights Movement.

Zoya Zeman discussing her training for Freedom Summer. Full video.

Carole Gross Colca

Carole Gross Colca standing with group

"...a representative of S.N.C.C. came to campus to speak about the plans for the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project (later known as Freedom Summer) and to recruit volunteers. I did not hesitate to apply."—Carole Gross Colca

Carole Gross Colca grew up in Davenport, Iowa. After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1964, she volunteered for Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. From Mississippi, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a social services caseworker. There she met her husband, Louis. They have three children and eight grandchildren. They were also foster parents for twenty years for older hard to place youth. After obtaining an MSW degree Carole worked for twenty five years in child welfare in Buffalo, NY. Now retired, she teaches social work part time at Buffalo State College.

Carole Gross Colca in a field with children in Mississippi

"During orientation I was assigned to be a Community Center Worker, which meant being responsible to set up programs for the community, such as literacy classes for adults, activities for children too young for the freedom school program, set up a library with donated books, help with registering people for the Freedom Democratic Party. As it turned out, the city officials ended up banning us from the abandoned building that the community had intended we use for community activities and freedom school classes, so the community leaders decided we would build a community center. I ended up spending a great deal of time helping in the construction of the building along with everyone else in the community." – Carole Gross Colca

Roland Duerksen

Roland Duerksen

"During orientation I was assigned to be a Community Center Worker, which meant being responsible to set up programs for the community, such as literacy classes for adults, activities for children too young for the freedom school program, set up a library with donated books, help with registering people for the Freedom Democratic Party..."

Roland Duerksen with Freedom School teacher and students

Having been an outspoken civil rights advocate, Roland Duerksen, an English professor at Purdue University in 1964, felt compelled to put his words into action. In August of 1964, having consulted the Friends of Freedom Summer in Oxford, he committed himself to the Mississippi project. Traveling with a Purdue colleague to Jackson, Mississippi, he helped with voter registration and taught in a local freedom school. His involvement included overseeing a student-directed play-writing project as well as helping with a mock political convention organized by Robert Moses. With the hope of aiding further advancement of civil rights, he has turned over to the Freedom Summer archives pictures and other memorabilia from that summer.

Mark Levy

Mark Levy speaking

"Several reasons led me to say Yes when Dottie Zellner recruited me and my wife to participate. First and foremost was that it was local people and a local movement asking for help. Second, my own beliefs and values said that discrimination against any group was not only morally wrong but was also a threat to Jews and other ethnic and religious groups and to American democracy, in general..."

Mark Levy, born and raised in New York, worked at two careers. First he taught social studies in a Harlem junior high and third world studies and community organizing at Queens College/CUNY. Next he moved to the labor movement as an organizer and administrator for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the electrical manufacturing and healthcare industries. After retiring, he initiated the Queen’s College Civil Rights Archive and assists with the Meridian, Mississippi, civil rights preservation and educational project. During Freedom Summer 1964, he was the coordinator of the Meridian Freedom School. In 1965 he worked on an NAACP-sponsored school desegregation project in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mark Levy with volunteers and Mississippi residents

"...Next, I saw that the cultural conformity and political conservatism of the McCarthy period was dissipating and that the country was changing in other good ways -- much of it thanks to the ongoing struggles of the civil rights movement. I wanted to be part of those changes. Last but not least, I was aware of how much Congressional power was held by southern Dixiecrats, how that impacted on me and others around the country, and how such disproportionate influence was sustained via segregationist Jim Crow and voter suppression practices and policies." – Mark Levy

The Western College Memorial Archives

Western College logo

Founded in 1998, the Western College Memorial Archives is dedicated to acquiring and preserving any and all materials related to the Western College for Women.

The opportunity to collect materials about the events of Freedom Summer were realized when volunteers began to contact the archivist requesting materials about their experiences in 1964. Miami University Libraries has continued communicating and building relationships with volunteers and activists by hosting conferences on the topic of Freedom Summer in 2004, 2009 and 2014, collecting oral history interviews, and through various activities and educational opportunities throughout the years. Volunteers and activists have been asked to donate materials from their personal collections and their collections help introduce this important moment in national and local history to instructors, students, and scholars.

Engraved stones of the Freedom Summer Memorial

The University Libraries understand the importance of collecting primary documents and the need to make the Mississippi Freedom Summer Collection a dynamic collection for students and researchers. Digitization of the collection began in 2009 with the Freedom Summer Digital Archive, with a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council, the Miami University Libraries, and the generous support of Catherine Ross-Loveland, a 1952 graduate of Western College for Women. The collection impacts disciplines such as history, architecture, anthropology, jurisprudence, ethics, photography, print journalism, religion, media studies, social studies, psychology, women’s studies, African-American studies, music, and education. It intersects with events of national historical significance and commemorates both Oxford and Ohio’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

J. Charles Jones discussing going back to Dawson, GA, in 2009 and the changes there since Freedom Summer. Click here for the full video.