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Freedom Summer conference reunites veterans, celebrates civil rights

By David Shoemaker, For The Miami Student

As many Miami University students head home for fall break this weekend, civil rights veterans will be arriving in Oxford to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer.

To commemorate the 1964 summer where hundreds of college-aged volunteers traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and set up Freedom Schools, Miami will host a reunion and conference that will last from Oct. 11 to 14.

Since 2012, a Freedom Summer planning committee of 23 faculty members and administrators have organized the four-day event.

The reunion kicks off on Saturday morning after veterans arrive at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Veterans will spend the day at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati where they will have various presentations, a tour of the center and a buffet dinner.

The reunion will continue Sunday in Oxford when veterans will attend an "Interfaith Gathering" followed by their choice of sharing stories in a circle group, taking a student-led interactive walking tour or trying out a new location-based app that was created by Miami students and faculty.

Around 1 p.m., President David Hodge will unveil the new Freedom Summer Chimes that, along with the already planted dogwood trees, will commemorate James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were killed by Ku Klux Klan members a day after leaving Oxford in June of 1964.

Former Miami architect Robert Keller came up with the idea for the chimes and worked with a group of graduate students to design them.

After the unveiling, a variety of events will take place with presentations on voting and Freedom Schools and a talk by photographer Herbert Randall on his work during Freedom Summer.

All events throughout the four days are open to students besides ticketed events such as dinners and the "People Get Ready!" musical performance, said program chair and associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Kate Rousmaniere.

The conference part of the event will begin on Monday with a speech by "The Butler" writer and Miami alumnus, Wil Haygood, on his current biography of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

Following speeches by Haygood and Freedom Summer veteran Chude Allen, discussions about the importance of journalism, non-violence tactics and music during Freedom Summer will be led by civil rights scholars and veterans from across the country along with current Miami students.

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Because of her work as a Vote Everywhere Ambassador with The Andrew Goodman Foundation, Danielle Linowes was asked to be a panelist for the "Vote Everywhere and Always" discussion.

"I think it's definitely necessary to get students and people to understand what we're doing on campus as Vote Everywhere ambassadors and how important it is for voting because Freedom Summer was all about the importance of voting," Linowes said.

Other students serving as presenters and panelists include Ali Vincent, Myka Lipscomb, Margaret Dotts, Kaitlin Moore, Lauren Kraus and graduate student Joshua Kiger.

On Tuesday, Moore, Kraus and Kiger will be giving their presentation on "Feminism & Civil Rights," a topic that represents the modernity of Tuesday's discussions with topics such as Latino, LGBT and Middle Eastern civil rights movements.

Since the theme of the conference is "Understanding the Past, Building the Future," head of the conference planning committee and Western College archivist, Jacqueline Johnson, hopes the conference will inspire current Miami students.

"We hope that the students become community activists and that they take away just the knowledge of getting the chance to meet the veterans, and hearing people from across the world talk about freedom, civil rights, and social justice issues," Johnson said.