*This summer, PBS’ American Experience will premiere the documentary “Freedom Summer,” a sequel of sorts to its 2012 film “Freedom Riders.”
“When we were making ‘Freedom Riders,’ we found out that people confused the two all the time,” said American Experience executive producer Mark Samels, at the recent TCA panel for the film. “You hear, ‘Oh, yeah. I was a Freedom Rider in 1964,’ and as we know, that took place in 1961. So it was, in part, the motivation that we had at American Experience – to give ‘Freedom Summer’ its due and not just say that we’ve done it.”
Where “Riders” followed the courageous civil rights activists who boarded buses in 1961 to challenge segregation throughout the South, “Summer” highlights the separate 1964 campaign to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, which had historically excluded blacks from voting.
It was during Freedom Summer when civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Miss., sparking national outrage that lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Freedom Riders” director Stanley Nelson also helms “Summer,” which premieres on June 24 – during the 50th anniversary of the landmark campaign.
“It’s very hard to tell history. And I think, besides American Experience, there’s no other show that has the resources and spends the time to tell these kinds of stories,” said Nelson. “We spent a year finding footage for this film. And we spent every minute of that – from the first day to the last – looking for footage. We’re looking for radio announcements. We’re looking for everything we can to try to make this story richer. And we were able to do that with this film.”
Below, Nelson shares his thoughts on why Mississippi was considered by many as the most violently racist of all the Southern states.
“Freedom Summer” premiered to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Below, the music world just lost folk icon and activist Pete Seeger on Jan. 27. He was performing for a Meridian, Mississippi church congregation as part of Freedom Summer when he got word that the bodies of missing civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney had been found. American Experience interviewed him about this experience in April 2013.