Mark Levy

COFO (SNCC/CORE), 1964, 1965, Mississippi
697 West End Ave. (#5-D)
NYC, NY 10025
Email: mlevy697@earthlink.net
Phone: (212) 666.9174

Archived Levy CRM materials at Queens College/CUNY Rosenthal Library — NYC:
Finding aid, and Documents (samples)

I'm Still Arguing With My Mother (MS. Freedom Summer)
What Did You Learn in School Today? Mississippi Freedom Summer's Challenge for Teaching Now

I served in Meridian, MS, during the summer of 1964 as the coordinator of the large Meridian Freedom School. In 1965, I returned to work with a Jackson, MS, school desegregation project.

Since that time, I've continued to be active in social justice struggles. I taught social sciences and Third World Studies in junior high and college for about 10 years. I then switched careers to work in the labor movement for over 30 years in various organizing and staff positions in the electrical manufacturing and, later, healthcare industries.

Work in unions continued much of the effort of the civil rights movement and presented the opportunity for me to combine issues of class, race, gender, age, ethnicity, and nationality within a practical framework of fighting discrimination and struggling with working people to improve their lives.

Since retiring, I've had the good fortune to serve as a guest speaker in high schools, colleges and for community and teacher groups — including, in the US, for Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO), Teaching for Change, and NST Educational Tours (for visiting British students). And in the UK for FHAO and Journey to Justice.

I also was invited to serve as a university consultant — including at QC/CUNY, UMiami/OH, and MS State — helping with 50th Anniversary commemorations.

My published work includes articles about Freedom Summer that have appeared in Jewish Currents, books, teacher magazines, and on websites. Photos taken by myself and Donna Garde have been included in books, museum exhibits, and documentaries. I was asked to speak at a plenary session of the 2014 national convention in Los Angeles of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) (Video and written text) and was interviewed for the PBS documentary "The Teacher."

Extensive interview references appear in Jon H. Hall's wonderful 2016 book Freedom Schools: Student Activists in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.

I helped initiate a civil rights and activist archive at Queens College's Rosenthal Library and created a QC Roll Call (*See addendum below) of alumni and faculty who served in the southern Civil Rights Movement. I also worked with Meridian, MS, activists preserving and sharing their movement stories in local, community institutions.

My talks, the project at Q.C., and the one in Meridian focus on stories of local unsung heroes and heroines, describe the involvement of young people and women, emphasize grassroots organizing, and discuss how individuals make choices.

I like the metaphors used by veteran activists reflecting on the continuing impact of Freedom Summer '64: one called it a "seed pod explosion"; another called it a "tap root." One of the things we learned in Mississippi that summer was that Mississippi was not the only place that had racial and social justice problems — and that the struggle needed to continue in many ways and many places. Whether floating in the air like seeds or growing outward deep in the earth like roots, we who had that experience in '64 would take the message — that the movement needs to continue and grow — wherever we went.

Hopefully, my stories of "ordinary people doing extraordinary things" in previous struggles can add support for young folks assessing and becoming active in the current world. I close those talks by saying: "The Civil Rights Movement is not over!"

Mark Levy (Updated August 2017)

* PS — A Roll Call of Queens College/CUNY Students and Faculty who participated in the southern civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The list of additional QC/CUNY students who served in the 1964 Mississippi summer project includes: Betty Bollinger Levy, Dottie Miller Zellner, Rita Levant Schwerner Bender, Nancy Cooper Samstein, Joseph Liesner, Barbara Jones Omolade, Mario Savio, Robert Masters, and Andy Goodman. Two Q.C. faculty summer volunteers were Bell Gale Chevigny and Anthony O'Brien. Mickey Schwerner's brother, Steve Schwerner, was on the Q.C. faculty. In July '64, Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, Ronald Pollack, Gary Ackerman (former Congressman (D-NY), and others held a Freedom Fast and organized Queens College and community support for Freedom Summer. Before 1964, QC alumna Lucy Komisar was editor of the Mississippi Free Press.

Later in '64-'65 several contingents of students and faculty — including Prof. Sid Simon, Art Gatti, Walt Jarsky, Ron Pollack — travelled to MS to rebuild burned churches.

The summer of 1963, Mike Wenger, Stan Shaw, Prof. Rachel Weddington and about 17 QC students staffed freedom schools in Prince Edward County, VA, where public schools had been closed in opposition to a federal desegregation order. Those volunteers later returned to QC to play major roles in campus civil rights activities.

Two activist Mississippians came to NYC to earn degrees at Q.C. Isaac Foster had been a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union and Freedom City. Frankye Adams-Johnson (activist, poet, fiction writer, and teacher ) worked with SNCC in MS, moved to NY, graduated from QC, and later returned to MS.

A number of QC faculty — including Prof. Dean Savage and Rabbi Moshe Shur — participated in SCLC SCOPE's southern voter registration project.

Two other QC grads who participated in the southern civil rights movement and continue in a host of related struggles are Joan Nestle and Martha Livingston. Many Queens College students attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Elliot Linzer was a young volunteer with the national March's organizing committee.

Some of those alumni and faculty (above) have donated personal CRM-related documents and materials to the QC archive.

 


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