For the next five days, you, the reader, will be given excerpts from my latest nonfiction book, Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation, which will be published May 5th by Pegasus. The excerpts could have come from five, ad hoc selections, which illustrate the major components of my book; still, at the end of that exercise, you may know a little about the arc of Damaged Heritage, but you would know neither the degree of depth of the areas evaluated in the book nor much more about any particular subject area that the book explores than you did beforehand. For excerpts to employ from Damaged Heritage, I settled on a part of the book that dwells with Freedom Summer of 1964, a major, effective catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement, 1950-1970. When I now mention Freedom Summer, I frequently receive blank stares in return, but hopefully, these few excerpts, provided for the next five days, will help refresh corroded memories and appreciation for a significant moment in time, which continues to influence, even today, American political and racial life.
Most of the first eighteen years of my life were spent in southeast Arkansas along the Mississippi River Delta. In the fall of 1964, immediately following Freedom Summer, I departed Harvard College, as a member of the Class of 1966, to experience, for the next three and a half years, the Racial Revolution occurring in the American South.
From Chapter 6, “After Freedom Summer”:
During the summer of 1964, known among civil rights workers as Freedom Summer, I sat in Quincy House along the Charles River at Harvard University. I frequently sat that summer in the same place re-reading newspaper articles about the remarkable events, remarkable in their turbulence and impact for anyone participating or observing near and far the Racial Revolution of the American South. I watched the unfolding from a Massachusetts perch.
In June and July that summer, hundreds of mostly white northern students descended on the State of Mississippi to register black voters, to upset the State’s racial norms, to open schools and political operations – all this cumulatively designated as Freedom Summer. While the target of this northern advance was the institutionalized racism arrogated by the State as a whole, the geographic area holding the most promise, northwest Mississippi, would be given most attention, where freedom workers expected staunch resistance, the area of the State conventionally known as the Mississippi River Delta, where blacks often outnumbered whites, the sister locale across the Great Muddy from the counties of Phillips, Desha, Drew, and all the rest in southeast Arkansas. No wonder, then, that I dwelt repeatedly on reported newspaper accounts originating some 1,500 miles away.
Shortly after this initiative began, three civil rights workers associated with Freedom Summer were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi in Neshoba County; as a result, over two hundred federal investigators and other personnel flooded the county and surrounding area to find the bodies of the three: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – a search that the nation followed with intensity and sympathetic anger.
Then, toward the end of July, seminal civil rights legislation was enacted into law by Congress and the president around the same time that the Harlem race riots erupted as a harbinger of internal combustions and infernos for succeeding summers when ghetto riots spread like viral wildfires through American cities, one after another. In the summer of 1964, the United States embarked on a racial reckoning, a battle beginning with the South as the target but flaring into a national outrage for racial grievances everywhere. With black and white players frequently bearing a Southern accent, one heard ancient outcries for – and against – rectitude.