For four days, the Duncan M. Gray Episcopal Camp and Conference Center, near Way, Mississippi, served as hosts for over 130 young adults and veteran Civil Rights workers as they prepared for "The New American Freedom Summer."
This event brought together a new generation of activists with experiences of some of the original organizers of the 1964 Freedom Summer. Plenary sessions, testimonials and field trips to sites in Greenwood, McComb and Jackson illustrated how the voter drives of the 1960s changed the political and cultural environment in Mississippi -- and in the nation. Panelists included notable Civil Rights activists Hollis Watkins, Euvesta Simpson, Dr. L.C. Dorsey and James Evans.
"There was a wonderful symmetry in their being here 40 years after young people like them were trained to come to Mississippi to work on matters like voter registration and other key Civil Rights issues," said Bishop Duncan M. Gray of Mississippi. Gray helped welcome the group to Mississippi and to Gray center on Monday, June 28. "It made me feel very good, that despite our sometimes tragic history, that Mississippi had made sufficient progress to now host a similar training of young people for the important Civil Rights work of this generation."
During the conclusion of the training, Watkins, who participated in the planning and execution of this event, as well as the events of the original Freedom Summer, invited the participants to give a response on the things that they had seen and the places that they visited.
"The exchange of ideas is amazing for me, because it changed my life. I'm back to my old beliefs; back to a time when I built something," said Antonio Sanchez, a native of Peru -- now a schoolteacher in Los Angeles.
"I heard of slavery; I have seen people in a struggle; I have been someone in a struggle; but my experiences here in Mississippi have brought the reality to bear. I will be able to let people know, not only what I was able to see in film what happened in the great state of Mississippi...but I have the documentation to show how we are taking for granted what was a struggle in the 60s," said Carliene Paul, who hosts a radio show in Miami and who works with the Haitian American Youth of Tomorrow.
Jackson City Councilman Kenneth Stokes lent his support, in absentia, by preparing certificates of recognition and achievement to all the participants.
From Gray Center, the volunteers broke into groups that traveled to Tuscon, Phoenix, Douglas and Nogales, Arizona, as well as Miami, Florida. The volunteers will work with local organizations involved in non-partisan civic efforts to support immigrant rights for a six week period ending in mid-August. Much like the work in the South which empowered and enlightened a new generation of minority citizens, it is hoped that the summer of 2004 will bring similar results in the Arizona and Florida immigrant populations.