Historian Howard Zinn summed up Mississippi’s 1964 Freedom Summer on a note of great hope. .
I came across after listening to a 12 part series I did for WBAI in 1964. I went no Mississippi after three civil rights works, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, disappeared in Philadelphia, with Dale Minor to find out what happened to them.
The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and The Council of Federated Organization (COFO) had launched Freedom Summer, a program that would bring college students from all over the country to register African Americans to vote, a right denied to them since the breakdown of Reconstruction in 1877.
Compelled by Mississippi poverty, injustice and the incredible bravery of the young volunteers I spent the summer documenting the development of this extraordinary movement. It was not about famous names or feel-good marches. It was about grass roots organizing in remote, impoverished African American communities, creating freedom schools, community centers and a new political party in the face of jail, beatings and possible death.
The result of my reporting was an early precursor of the podcast, an audio story about a single event told over a series of episodes. I called it This Little Light, the name of a gospel favorite sung by Mississippi’s civil right hero Fanny Lou Hammer. I began each episode with a recoerding her belting it out.
In twelve interconnected segments, I took listeners to rural Mississippi, introduced them to families barely surviving by chopping and picking cotton, to the terrible consequences of trying to vote and to the fury and violence against the volunteers who came to help them. The series covered freedom schools, the construction of community centers, a boycott of a local high school and multiple confrontations with Mississippi whites. We watched the creation of a political party and followed party delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.
In one of life’s great ironies, Deutschlandradio, which broadcasts throughout Germany, will broadcast the twelve part series over four nights this June, 2018. In March the German producer is taking me back to rural Mississippi to find out what happened to the communities and the people I profiled over fifty years ago.
The Germans think my story-telling technics offer an interesting alternative to today’s podcasts where reporters share their own involvement in the story and where sound bites are short and pithy. In This Little Light I used a variety of different formats, interviews, actuality recordings and simple reporting. I described locations, introduced speakers and I let sound bites run long, some as long as 9 or 10 minutes.
If you’re interested in listening to the series, it’s available at my website. Here’s link to the first episode. https://chriskochmedia.com/this-little-light-mississippi-freedom-summer-1964/