Personal artifacts donated to Cowles, highlights civil rights

November 1, 2012 6:00 AMComments Off

Photo by Luke Nankivell, photo editor

In a recent return to Drake University, alumna Patti Miller donated her personal journal, photos and other items related to “Freedom Summer” to Cowles Library for the use of researchers and to display to students.

Sociology professor Michael Haedicke is just one professor who plans on using these items.

”Having an archive here is something I’ll definitely make use of, if not through classes, then in other ways,” Haedicke said, citing the Ku Klux Klan flyer as an especially unique item of memorabilia.

In 1964, Miller traveled to Mississippi, along with roughly 1,000 other predominately-white college students, to participate in “Freedom Summer” after seeing a brochure on a Drake bulletin board. The program was organized by the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee as an attempt to raise black voter registration and turnout in the state. The students and their Mississippi hosts risked the violence of the KKK and even local authorities. Within the first few days of the program, three volunteers went missing. Their abused bodies were found six weeks later buried.

Despite the violence and being the only volunteer stationed in Meridian, another of the more dangerous towns, Miller pushed through and managed to accomplish what she set out to do. Throughout the summer, in addition to helping register blacks to vote, she maintained all the items that she recently donated.

Haedicke talked about the importance of students seeing that “young students from the North challenged systems in the South.”

“There really are not many chances for students to interact with artifacts of historical importance,” Haedicke said.

Miller herself was someone who was raised in a, what she admits, “sheltered” lifestyle, so it is important to see that racism still exists and what students can do to change it.

Arthur Sanders, associate provost and professor of politics, believes Freedom Summer was “essential in promoting civil rights for African Americans, and in particular voting rights, and it was important in drawing attention to the horrible things happening.”

Sanders mentioned how the “Freedom Summer” has changed politics, stating that around this time roughly half to two-thirds of African-Americans were Democrats, but after the Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater election, in which Republican candidate Goldwater didn’t support civil rights, nearly all African-Americans became Democrats. It also shifted white southern Democrats to the Republican side.

Claudia Frazer, a professor of librarianship and the coordinator of the digital initiatives library, is excited to have these new items to share with students and researchers alike.

“It makes it meaningful” to be able to share these pieces of history, Frazer said.

“When I think about primary resources, her diary, her story, her interpretation, to read it now is so . . . rich. You can’t get that by looking at history,” Frazer said.

Frazer is excited to be able to begin filing the artifacts in the library’s new online finding aid program so that researchers can begin finding and making use of them. In the meantime, students can view the many artifacts on display in the Collier Room of Cowles Library.

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