Meridian Star

March 12, 2014

Remembering voter registration 50 years ago

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Special to the Star

    Fifty years ago this summer, Mark Levy came to Mississippi from Queens College in New York to work as a coordinator and teacher of the Meridian Freedom School.

    “At the Freedom School, I learned more than I ever taught,” he said last week as he spoke to members of Meridian Community College’s Honors Class. Joining him was Gail Falk who was also a teacher at the Freedom School the summer of 1964. She had come as a junior at Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass.

    Freedom School’s purpose was to provide additional education to the black community so when they registered to vote they would be able to meet the literacy tests that were frequently imposed on blacks as a barrier to the ballot box, said Billy Beal, MCC dean of learning resources, and a former student at the Freedom School.

    “It was the number one thing – to register people to vote,” Falk said.

    Both Levy and Falk noted the how the impact of teaching at the Freedom School influenced their lives. “One of the things I learned was that if ordinary people stuck together they actually could change things,” he said.

    Invited to help register people to vote, Levy, Falk and others like them came.     Falk recalled of an individual visiting her college recruiting students to come to Mississippi for voter registration.

    “He talked about how he and the other civil rights workers were trying to get people registered to vote,” she said. She said he explained people faced dire circumstances to register.

    “I was amazed,” Falk said. “I didn’t know just trying to register to vote you could be fired from a job, beaten, have your house burned or even be killed,” she said.

    She added, “I was thinking, ‘this is America. This is my country. There were people in my country who can’t vote and I needed to be a part of that – helping people to register to vote.”

    This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.  Public Broadcasting System’s American Experience series will debut a documentary on Freedom Summer later this year. In it are some of the still photos from Levy’s Collection of Freedom Summer Photographs.

    Since 1964, Levy continues to visit Meridian and is currently working with former Meridian Community College President Dr. Bill Scaggs on a public school enrichment program.