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Freedom Summer portrait paints pictures of the past

Photo contributed by Smith Library of Regional History

Civil rights activist Bob Moses earns spot in McGuffey art exhibit

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for those beneath the stroke of Robert Shetterly's paintbrush, the portraits speak for themselves.

Shetterly, an accomplished artist from Cincinnati, has seen his work fill the pages of various newspapers and span oceans to find new homes, but still many of his pieces have found their place here, at Miami University.

For more than a decade now, Shetterly shifted his focus to an original series entitled "Americans Who Tell the Truth." This collection features portraits of American citizens who, on scales both large and small, have pushed the boundaries of American society for the common good.

"Some are legends who have long passed away - Martin Luther King, John Muir, Sojourner Truth," Kevin Bush, Associate Dean of Partnership, Research and Grants for the College of Education, Health & Society, said. "But there are also some we may not recognize."

On the third floor of McGuffey Hall is an art exhibit, where faces both instantly recognizable and otherwise indistinguishable adorn the walls. Next month, a new face, that of Bob Moses, will join them - though this one, in particular, hits close to home.

Moses played a key role in not only the Civil Rights Movement, but in Freedom Summer as well. Senior Program Assistant to the College of Education, Health & Society Monica Streit said he organized the Freedom Summer training at the Western College for Women (now Western Campus) in 1964, which brought in people from all across the country.

Moses also challenged the all-white delegates of Mississippi elected to the 1964 presidential convention because he felt they did not represent the black population of the state. As a result, he founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This party did not earn any seats that year, but its creation alone gave a voice to people who had otherwise been silent.

Shetterly recognized the important contributions of Moses' civil rights activism and chose to make him the subject of one of his "Americans Who Tell the Truth" portraits. Since, Miami's College of Education, Health & Society leased the painting for their Freedom Summer-themed art exhibit in McGuffey, which will last through December.

"It's basically a tribute to Bob Moses' work and everything he's done," Bush said. "He's almost kind of an unsung hero. It's a way of sharing his wisdom and work with a broader audience, especially on the 50th anniversary of an event he was largely responsible for and had such a lasting impact, not only on civil rights but social justice overall."

Shetterly will unveil the portrait of Moses on Oct. 14, the final day of the Freedom Summer reunion conference, and the final day of Moses' workshop.

His workshop will center around an educational program to which Moses has devoted several decades of his life, the Algebra Project.

"This program is designed to help youth who are not achieving in their math [classes] in high school," Streit said. "Through mentoring and working closely with them, Moses shows them they can be successful and high achieving by the time they graduate high school."

Streit said this project was Moses' way of continuing a legacy of social justice, even beyond Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement.

"With the Algebra Project, he sees education as a way to equalize the playing field for people, and math is in so many jobs," she said. "He supports their rise in the economic system by educating them."

It is education, after all, that brought Shetterly, Moses and the Miami College of Education, Health & Society together in the first place.

Moses has invested much of his life in the education of youth through programs such as the Algebra Project, and Streit said Miami's College of Education, Health & Society uses education as a tool to support social justice.

As for Shetterly, Bush said his entire collection of "Americans Who Tell the Truth" is based on the ideals of democracy and, as the name implies, telling the truth.

"Education is kind of an underlying theme of [Shetterly's]," Bush said. "If we don't integrate the truth into the education curricula, we are going to keep producing folks who don't know the truth."

The exhibit currently displayed in McGuffey's art galley is filled with the faces of Americans who dedicated their lives to telling the truth - Martin Luther King, Jr., renowned writer James Baldwin, children's advocate Marion Wright Edelman, Congressman John Lewis, former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, among others. Soon, another will join their ranks with a new story to tell.

"We want you to walk past these portraits," Streit said, "and not just look at them, but listen to them, learn from them."