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Columbus Students Commemorate Local Emancipation, Freedom Summer In Local Celebration

COLUMBUS, Miss.—The summer after his sophomore year at Amherst College in June 1964, Peter Norall joined the Freedom Summer efforts in Columbus, Miss., to help Black people register to vote.

He returned to the Lowndes County city for the third time on May 8 to watch local high schoolers honor the anniversaries of the Eighth of May emancipation and Freedom Summer with a historical performance at Sandfield Cemetery.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, when more than 1,000 college students from around the country came to Mississippi to help Black people register to vote.

“At that point, less than 6% of the Black population was registered to vote, and that was by design,” Mississippi School for Math and Science African American history teacher Chuck Yarborough told the crowd at the cemetery on May 8.

Norall said he was led to take part in Freedom Summer after noticing rising tensions in the country over civil rights; he specifically cited the murder of Medgar Evers at his Jackson, Miss., home in 1963, the beating of John Lewis in Selma, Ala., in 1965 and the lunch counter sit-in movement that began in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.

“All of these things advertised very loudly the racial injustices of the time, so I was galvanized to participate,” the Freedom Summer volunteer told the Mississippi Free Press on May 8.

When the 20-year-old came to Columbus for the first time, Norall said an “atmosphere of fear” loomed over the heavily segregated state—a stark contrast to today when he walks around the city and notices people of all skin colors intermingling.

“I’m sure things are not quite as perfect as they may seem on the surface, but this kind of event would have been inconceivable 60 years ago,” he said in reference to the Eighth of May event.

Norall said he and other Freedom Summer volunteers knew at the time that it was important that they were helping Black people register to vote, but they did not realize just how significant their work was until they saw heavy media coverage of their efforts and

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