- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi lawmakers are honoring civil rights activists as the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer approaches.

Hundreds of college students from across the nation converged on the state in 1964 to help local people challenge what was then a strictly segregated society. They registered black voters, established schools and did other projects to help people who were struggling with generations of poverty and racial oppression.

Some of the volunteers were threatened or beaten. Three of them - Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman - were killed in what became known as the “Mississippi Burning” case.

Large-scale integration of Mississippi public schools started in 1970. While civil-rights activists say they still see challenges such as a voter-identification law that takes effect this year, Mississippi has seen a dramatic increase in black voter participation since passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. The state now has a large number of black elected officials, including mayors, sheriffs and legislators.

Lawmakers this week adopted a resolution commending Freedom Summer participants, who are holding events June 25-29 to mark the anniversary.

“Life got better in Mississippi, not just for African-Americans but for everybody,” Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said Wednesday as several Freedom Summer participants were honored in the Senate.

Senators a standing ovation to the group, including Hollis Watkins, a Mississippi native who was among the Freedom Summer leaders.

“It’s truly an honor for me to come before you today in this house, which is a house that I was not welcome to several years back,” Watkins told senators. “But to come and to see resolution and know this joy, it shows that, as Sen. Horhn said, we’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go.”

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Online: Senate Concurrent Resolution 589: http://bit.ly/1cun6s6

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