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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stanley Nelson, "Freedom Summer"


"Freedom Summer" is a documentary (airing Tuesday night on PBS) about efforts to get African-Americans in Mississippi registered to vote in 1964, a time when they made up half of the state's population, but fewer than 8% were permitted to exercise their constitutional right. It was an important milestone in the history of the civil rights movement, and a compelling story of the activists and the hundreds of college students -- mostly white and from the north -- they recruited to spend that summer in Mississippi and help SNCC in its efforts.

Stanley Nelson, director of "Freedom Summer," joined me on America Weekend to discuss the risks that were involved, why registering blacks to vote was so important, and how big a factor fear was for both sides. We also discussed the personalities at the heart of the story, including Fannie Lou Hamer, an unsung hero of the movement.

Part of this story was told in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning" (with Gene Hackman, Willem DaFoe, Frances McDormand, and Brad Dourif), about the disappearance of "Freedom Summer" workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner -- but Nelson's film covers all of the events leading up to and throughout that summer. It is a compelling piece of documentary movie-making.

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