- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) - Dozens of the original volunteers in the Freedom Summer of 1964 are reuniting as Miami University hosts a conference and other events focusing on the role the southwest Ohio college campus had.

Among events this weekend are a play at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, a Sunday art gallery presentation by Herbert Randall about his photographs of the training, and a ceremony in which Miami president David Hodge will unveil Freedom Summer Chimes at a memorial on the Oxford school’s Western campus. That’s where hundreds trained at what was then the Western College for Women for their mission in Mississippi.

The goal was for carefully trained college students to swarm into Mississippi to help black residents register to vote and promote education amid segregationist intimidation.

Three of the first Oxford volunteers to arrive in Mississippi soon disappeared there, on June 21. Slain by Klansmen, the bodies of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were found weeks later in an earthen dam.

Their disappearance dampened the festive nature of the training, in which students learned non-violent self-defense techniques, Mississippi’s racial history, how to march and to sing the songs of the civil rights movement such as “We Shall Overcome.”

“When we got the news at the start of the second week (of training), things really quieted down,” Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, who was 19 that summer and is now a University of Florida teacher, recently told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We all suddenly realized who we were dealing with.

“And for me, as an African-American, it shattered my illusion that we would be safe because we were with white people. They had killed two whites,” said Simmons, who plans to participate in the Oxford events. The third slain volunteer, Chaney, was black.

Miami has already been observing the anniversary year with special campus tours and other events leading up to the conference called: “50 Years After Freedom: Understanding the Past, Building the Future.”

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Online:

Miami University Freedom Summer events: http://miamioh.edu/celebratingfreedom/

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