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'Hot summer' survivors revisit voting movement

By James Steinbauer
On February 28, 2014

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of "Freedom Summer" in 1964, the meeting of more than 800 students on Miami University's Western Campus to prepare for African-American voter registration in the South, the Miami University Lecture Series welcomed Mary Frances Berry, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Juan Williams. The three key players of the Civil Rights Movement spoke Monday night at Hall Auditorium about "Freedom Summer: the Voting Rights Act and the Political Realities of 2014."

After an introduction by lecture series committee member Fatimata Ndiaye, the three speakers held a discussion in front of a packed auditorium in which they connected Miami's Freedom Summer, also known as the "hot summer of 1964," to the issues of the 60s to present day civil rights actualities. All three speakers struggled during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, but have persevered and become leaders in their specific fields.

Currently a professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania, Berry was the first black woman to head a major research university, was appointed Assistant Secretary of Education by President Jimmy Carter and became commissioner and vice chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights in 1980.

A reporter and journalist, Hunter-Gault graduated from the University of Georgia in 1963 and has been the recipient of many prestigious awards working for publications such as New Yorker Magazine, The New York Times, CNN and National Public Radio (NPR).

Juan Williams, a journalist and political analyst for Fox News, writes for several newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times and is the author of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965.

"What you should know about each of our guests is that they were all involved in the civil rights struggle in one way or another," lecture moderator Ronald Scott said. "Whether as participants or those who were shaping policy or as journalists that covered the events. They were intricately involved in the movement for a number of years and their contributions can not be acknowledged enough."

While all three speakers held an influential roll in the Civil Rights Movement their opinions on what, if anything, led to justice for African-Americans rarely matched up.

"I thought the variety of opinions was fantastic," said graduate student Hillary Kovacs. "I felt like I learned a lot of new things."

Williams stressed the overwhelming power of the Voting Rights Act as a key player for the Civil Rights Movement; however, for Berry and Hunter-Gault, the right to vote alone will not give equality. Hunter-Gault specifically underlined the mobilization of the people and the obligation to hold their leaders accountable as what leads to justice.

"I loved how they stressed that students in society today should participate in talking to politicians and have an active roll in their society," Lecture Series Committee member Ashley VanBuskirk said. "They connected Freedom Summer to today as an example of students becoming more active in their community."

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