*In June of 1964, a campaign within the civil rights movement was launched to try and register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi, where efforts by the local Citizens Council disenfranchised the segregated state’s black population. More than 700 volunteers entered the state.
White resistance was brutal. The summer was marked with relentless beatings, burnings, bombings and deadly violence, including the murders of three Freedom Summer volunteers: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
Tonight at 9, PBS marks the 50th anniversary of this landmark campaign with “American Experience: Freedom Summer,” a comprehensive documentary that uses historical footage and interviews to detail the volatile 10-week period. [Watch the trailer below.]
Director Stanley Nelson opted not to use a narrator for the film. “Freedom Summer” is recounted strictly by the people who lived through it – via interviews and historical footage that took an entire year to amass.
“And we spent every minute of that, from the first day to the last, looking for footage,” said Nelson. “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.”
Nelson, like his previous PBS doc “Freedom Riders,” also made a point to show the perspective of the other side, so to speak.
Below, he talks about his decision to include William Scarborough, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi who talks in the film about his experience as a member of the supremacist Citizen’s Council.
“Freedom Summer” premieres tonight, June 24, on PBS American Experience.
Watch trailer below.