Film Explores Freedom Summer

“Freedom on My Mind,” a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement and Freedom Summer, played Friday, Sept. 12 on the quad as a part of the Friday Night Film Series. Academy Award nominated director of “Freedom on My Mind,”Connie Field, came to Colgate to introduce the film and answer questions about it afterwards.

Freedom Summer took place in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. Civil Rights workers and Northern college students moved South to encourage the registration of black voters and teach classes to black students at Freedom Schools. Field talked about her interest in making a documentary about the subject.

“I wanted to make this film because I was very active in the movement. I was always curious about what it was really about,” said Field. “I was interested in the coming together of people from different parts of society to solve a problem, and that’s what Freedom Summer represented.”

The opening shot of a tall white man walking hand in hand with a little black boy along a dirt road was immediately contrasted by accounts of the real state of black/white relations during the time. Major subjects included Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a prostitute who became a major player in the movement and Bob Moses, a well-known civil rights worker. With these accounts, the documentary moved through the story of Mississippi. African-American citizens lived in poverty and were considered second-class, disenfranchised and subjugated to whites. White citizens were deluded into thinking they had great relations with their “colored people.” Freedom Summer proved that this was not the case.

Registering African-American citizens to vote was very difficult, considering Mississippi’s government was organized to promote and enforce racism and every level. Northern white Civil Rights workers were exposed to police brutality and overt racism for the first time.

“[The Freedom Summer volunteers] came to understand we didn’t have a benevolent system, and that you couldn’t just show people that this is wrong,” Field said. “They were up against something bigger than they thought.”

Besides registering voters and teaching in schools, Freedom Summer volunteers, through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wanted to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention that summer. “Freedom on My Mind” portrayed the frustrating opposition the MFDP faced from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who did not want to split the Democratic vote. The film concluded that while black citizens remained oppressed in some ways, their fear towards their white peers and forces pushing them down disappeared.

“Freedom on My Mind” covered Freedom Summer in great detail and was well responded to in the film world. Besides being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, it received the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, an Ida Award for distinguished documentary and a Cine Golden Eagle Award.