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Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  842 Ratings  ·  117 Reviews
A majestic history of the summer of '64, which forever changed race relations in America

In the summer of 1964, with the civil rights movement stalled, seven hundred college students descended on Mississippi to register black voters, teach in Freedom Schools, and live in sharecroppers' shacks. But by the time their first night in the state had ended, three volunteers wer
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 10th 2010 by Viking (first published May 26th 2010)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Summer of 1964, I was sitting in my diapers, sniffing the Topanga Canyon breezes and watching the snakes and tarantulas go by, so I think I can be forgiven for not knowing what was going on in Mississippi. If you've seen the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, you know about the three young men, two white and one black, who disappeared on the first night of Freedom Summer. This book tells the rest of the story.

Hundreds of brave and idealistic college-age kids left their safe white enclaves all over
Aug 08, 2016 Jason rated it really liked it
Book 4 of 35 for 2016

What is a hero?

Heroes come in all different shapes and all different sizes. So it is with the story of Freedom Summer, the summer of 1964 when youth from all over America traveled down to the state of Mississippi in order to register African Americans themselves to vote. Millions of students and young Americans took part in this process but for me it is the life of three young men whose lives stretched out across this story like a lattice work of stars in the sky.

Freedom Su
At book club, a friend of mine told a story. He's a teacher, and he works in a very diverse school. He's white, but he's very sensitive to the racial dynamics currently at play in The United States. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner.

He asked a colleague of his - a black teacher - born in Mississippi in the early 60s what she thought about what's happening.

He said, "Do you feel like, 'Oh no. Here we go again.'"

Her response was, "Not, 'here we go again,' more like 'will it ever end?'"

Dec 10, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing
I remember the summer of 1964 very well--I watched most of it on the TV evening news where I gathered with fellow Peace Corps trainees in the evenings at Indiana University (and for two weeks at Indiana State in Terra Haute). We had classes all day: history of Africa and Sierra Leone, public health lectures, phys ed, Krio language, etc. etc. It was really like going to summer school except that we all lived together in Quonset huts left over from WWII and stuck together because we never had a fr ...more
Morgan Oats
Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy, or Freedom Summer, is a nonfiction history written in 2010 by the journalist Bruce Watson. The events that take place within Freedom Summer revolve around the civil rights movement fostered by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (“pronounced 'Snick'”), that occurred in the summer of 1964 across Mississippi. Facts, quotes, and events recorded by Watson are derived from other histo ...more
Oct 19, 2011 McMaeve rated it it was amazing
Usually a history book is NOT what I would pick up, but after trying civil disobedience this summer, and finding parallels with the civil rights era, I wanted to learn more. I found this book riveting, as well as thoroughly well-researched and peppered with quotes and primary sources. I was struck by the sacrifices that SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) volunteers made - Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney with their lives. I read this with a curiosity about what drives movements. What ...more
Jun 06, 2014 Kate rated it it was amazing
This book was an eye-opener. I was vaguely aware that the South, during the Jim Crow era, was a festering hellhole; but I was shocked by the degree of brutality described in this book. But while I was nauseated by the descriptions of racial hatred and violence, I was left in awe of the individuals who, at great peril to their lives, traveled to Mississippi to advance the cause of civil rights for Black Americans. This is the kind of book that makes you want to be a better person.
Tony Hynes
Nov 25, 2015 Tony Hynes rated it really liked it
Sit ins, voting registration drives, literacy programs, the changing of the guard in a long fought Civil Rights Movement, all came to a head in the summer of 1964. Bruce Watson does a wonderful job documenting it, and the violence that came along with that change, at length. This is the summer in which Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and other Civil Rights activists began to buy in to the tactics of a younger generation that was tired of waiting for Civil Rights Laws to just "ha ...more
Mar 16, 2013 Larry rated it it was amazing
Despite having already read a number of books about the degradations that the South, and Mississippi in particular, have inflicted upon the blacks after the Civil War, I was terribly moved by this book. In essence, this book is about the summer of 1964 in which great efforts were made to allow the blacks of Mississippi to have the same rights of citizenship that white people enjoyed. Rights that one would have thought they had obtained after being freed as slaves a century earlier. I could talk ...more
Jun 10, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it
Freedom Summer tells the story of Mississippi during the summer of 1964 when hundreds of college students from across the US traveled to Mississippi to open Freedom Schools, run voter registration drives and education, and support African Americans stepping into County Courthouses to register to vote. It was a summer of terror for all, for African Americans standing watch with rifles and shotguns to the young students whom they were protecting. White Mississippians were terrified of the changes ...more
Aug 21, 2013 Sara rated it it was amazing
Just an incredible social history of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and Mississippi, in particular the summer of 1964, when hundreds of college students, black and white, went into the very dangerous small towns of that state to register voters. They also opened "Freedom" schools that offered the prisoners (yep, I said it) of that racist society a different way to view themselves, the country and the world.

The (in)famous murder of three of those civil-rights workers, Michael S
In the summer of 1964, 700 young people from around the United States travelled to Mississippi for "Freedom Summer," joining local volunteers to build and staff "Freedom Schools" for black children, engage in a voter registration drive, and form a parallel delegation of "Freedom Democrats" to send to the Democratic National Convention.

Watson's history of that summer is based on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, including interviews with participants (particularly white college st
Chris Young
Jul 11, 2014 Chris Young rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating. I was 3 years old when all of this happened. I have read many books and seen many movies about this time. The brutality wasn't what I would call shocking as there is so much documentation of it. Two things that did surprise me was the volunteers, who they became. Barney Frank comes to mind. I had no idea he was that deeply involved, I always assumed he was another loud mouthed politician. He actually did something. Even more shocking was the discovery that until th ...more
Riveting. I didn't want to put it down. Watson has created a gripping narrative that takes you deep into Mississippi and the psyche of players on all sides of the Freedom Summer movement. When you name civil rights activists, in the same breath as "Dr. King," please remember to also name Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Stoakley Carmichael, Andrew Goodman, Michael and Rita Schwerner, James Chaney, Muriel Tillinghast, Fred Winn, Fran O'Brien and Chris Williams and the hundreds of others involved in t ...more
Aug 17, 2010 Robert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-us
This is a soul-stirring book - narrative history at its best. Watson gives a detailed, comprehensive account of the 1964 Freedom project in Mississippi - the year when suffering Civil Rights activists, desperate to attract attention to their struggle, invited idealistic northern college students to spend their summer working in this Deep South state, violent, Klan-ridden - to live there with the poorest of the poor, registering voters, teaching in Freedom schools, and, by risking their lives, by ...more
Jun 22, 2012 Bailey rated it it was amazing
Ask just about anyone on the street about the Civil Rights Movement, and you'll get the same answer from probably everyone, the same names will be dropped. JFK, King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X... It's a short list, and an incredibly incomplete one. Bruce Watson introduces the reader to hundreds of heroes we've never met; volunteers working in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, alongside Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses, Stokely Carmichael and other names who really should be in our consciousness. Names l ...more
Aug 15, 2011 David rated it really liked it
It is difficult to find words to adequately praise this finely written and thoroughly researched book. The summer of 1964 changed Mississippi and America forever. A small army of college students went to the state that was the bastion of white racism. Mississippi was a hard nut to crack, but these brave young people cracked it. This book reads like a virtual who's who in the Civil Rights Movement: Robert Moses, Barney Frank, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokeley Carmich ...more
Chris Aylott
Nov 29, 2010 Chris Aylott rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Bruce Watson's journalism back in Northampton, and thought this would be an interesting look at an event I don't know enough about. Wow. Watson digs into history the way I like to see it, taking his time to trace the roots of the conflict, then following relatively ordinary people through big events and their consequences. He brings the Mississippi of 1964 back to life, and it is a terrifying place -- even more so when you see the similarities between the reactionary hatred of then and ...more
Mar 02, 2014 Sue rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A tremendous book about our history that many don't know anything about. It should be apart of every American history course. These young people and Mississippi blacks were so courageous during a time when no one, and I mean no one was paying attention to their safety or freedom. Jim Crow was alive and well. People were starving, mistreated, beaten, hanged, and plenty of other disgusting things for minor infractions of the law or trumpeted up reasons. Prejudiced ruled. This summer project brough ...more
Alisha Marie
Feb 02, 2014 Alisha Marie rated it really liked it
As someone who was born way after 1964, the little that I know about the Civil Rights Movement came from the fictional portrayals I've seen in the movies. So, after watching the film The Butler, I decided that I needed to branch out into non-fiction about the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom Summer did not disappoint.

Freedom Summer really gets into the nitty gritty of what really happened the summer of 1964 in Mississippi. It gives you every horrifying and gory detail. Reading this book was sort o
Aug 23, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
The author made me feel the fear, hope, joy, despair, and all the other emotions blacks and whites must have felt that summer. It brought me to tears numerous times. Barney Frank was one of the volunteers (though not much about him in the book), which I had not known. Made me want to know more about that summer, and am on waiting list for book containing the letters home from the volunteers. We've all come a long way but there's still a long way to go.....
Sep 01, 2014 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a thorough and engaging look at the summer of 1964 when a number of dedicated young people went to Mississippi to register blacks to vote and establish "Freedom Schools". All the harrowing events that started with the murders of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney are chronicled as Watson follows several of the volunteers through the months of June, July and August. The listener can feel the fear that the volunteers experienced daily and the culture-shock that many of them felt. Toward the end ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really interesting book! I read it for a history class, but I still really enjoyed it! Learning about Freedom Summer puts movements such as Occupy Wall Street into a larger context. This book is inspiring for any young people who want to work to create social change!
Oct 15, 2015 Pmacke rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
fascinating, powerful, the book, at a certain point, threatens to paint the equality movement and the events of freedom summer as a losing proposition of naive idealism ... still the events of that summer reflect instances of real bravery, of authentic caring and of true intentions of loosening the vice of racial hatred that choked and still chokes the best live-and-let-live possibilities of America ... the story is dirty and shameful and inexcusable and cowardly and hate-filled, but it does a w ...more
Aug 23, 2014 Solomong rated it it was amazing
Finished this last week and had no idea that this type of suppression, violence and cruelty went on in Mississippi just 50 years ago. Just went to see the Freedom Summer memorial at Miami University and these two (book and seeing the memorial) have left a long-lasting impression on me.

The author does a great job of making this book readable but yet horrifying. Thee is a PBS American Experience Video on this topic and Bruce Watson is one of the commentators on that. It also does a great job of ta
May 26, 2015 Cy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a frustrating book focused on an important piece of the Civil Rights Movement and American history. Bruce Watson has an unfortunate tendency to use extremely purple prose that is - at its best - prosaic to the point of removing the reader from the reality of its situation to - at its worst - insulting the situation and its participants by projecting tired, if real, stereotypes and presumed mentalities onto events and settings. As reporter, Watson would have done well to let facts and in ...more
Jan 08, 2011 bri rated it really liked it
Wow! I feel downright un-american for being so ignorant about the civil rights movement.
Jul 05, 2010 Sonia rated it it was amazing
Incredible- one of the best books I've read in a long time.
Jan 19, 2015 Allen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
By focusing narrowly on a limited time and a single one of the many civil rights movements, this book succeeds in ways that a more general history of the era can't. It looks at the ways that the lives of small groups of courageous people were changed by their participation in an effort to bring black voter registration to Mississippi. Local black citizens, black organizers from elsewhere, black and white college students from the north, worked together for a common purpose and ultimately achieve ...more
Lori White
Jun 26, 2010 Lori White marked it as to-read
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Bruce Watson is the author of "Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age" (Bloomsbury, Feb. 2016). Starting with creation stories and following the trail of luminescence through three millennia, "Light" explores how humanity has worshiped, captured, studied, painted, and finally controlled light. The book's cast of characters includes Plato, Ptolemy, Alhacen, Dante, Leonardo, Rembr ...more
More about Bruce Watson...

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“The volunteers merely dropped in for a summer, then went home to question America. Some would spearhead the events that defined the 1960s—the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the antiwar movement, the women’s movement. Others, spreading ideals absorbed in Mississippi, would be forever skeptical of authority, forever democrats with a small d, and forever touched by this single season of their youth. But first, they had to survive Freedom Summer.” 0 likes
“nothing trite in SNCC’s founding statement: “Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice, hope ends despair. Peace dominates war, faith reconciles doubt.” 0 likes
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