Saturday, July 17, 2010

Letters from Mississippi

Last paper, last semester of college. Usually, that paper would be forgotten in the mad dash of graduation, but I think of that paper almost every day. It was a history paper focused on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools that brought northern college students to teach summer schools in the underprivileged black communities of the Delta. This movement came in the heat of the summer and the heat of the civil rights movement, and worked hard to provide Freedom School Students with access to black history and literature as a means to develop a stronger sense of identity and empowerment.

Although Freedom Summer was just that – a summer, three months long – and the schools did not instigate mass action or radical change in the Delta, they did work deeply on the individual level as they broke down racial barriers between the white schoolteacher volunteers and the black students they taught. In the year following this Freedom Summer, a collection of letters and reflections from those young teachers entitled Letters from Mississippi was published. They wrote about seeing segregation firsthand, and struggled to come to terms with how a supposedly free country could allow such systems to endure. One teacher named Ellen tells her parents that “I’ve been finding that people everywhere have more in common that [sic.] I once thought: humanity is so much more basic than education or intellectual achievement.” I think about this paper every day because I am here in the Delta, doing some of the same things those college students did 46 years ago. Teach for America's vision is that one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education - regardless of where they are. TFA is not a trailblazer in this way; instead, it is joining a longer history of people committed to helping students, especially those in the Delta, achieve great things. And I am not a trailblazer in TFA; instead, I get to join those college students of 1964 in a common goal that not only recognizes that "humanity is more basic than education or intellectual achievement" but also recognizes the need to provide quality education to everyone.

I am so glad I wrote that paper (I believe this is the first, and only time, I have or ever will write those words). And I am so glad to have the opportunity to teach here in the Delta and write my own Letters from Mississippi 46 years later.


  1. I just reread this, And I know God has big things planned Abbs! Those people went through hell 46 years ago, and I know you being there will change the lives of young kids who will grow to love education and therefore help change others lives in the future!

  2. remember you loved writing your thesis... thats just a giant paper!