As remembered by Julie Kabat
December 15, 2023
Luke was a Stanford medical student when he volunteered for the Mississippi Summer Project.
"I am fighting a nonviolent battle because I believe
that hate begets hate and perhaps that love begets love.
" — From Luke's diary 1964.
He wrote a letter home to our parents, explaining why he was going to Mississippi:
"If you ask 'why does he want to live an ideal? —what a childish thing — he's a bissl mishuganeh, etc.' then I must say that I have observed the lives of a few people in Palo Alto who are living their ideals. They believe that failing to take a stand & rationalizing away your responsibility for what happens while you live will result in longevity if that happens to be your goal but also in failure to live in a real sense."
Luke taught biology and citizenship at the Meridian Freedom School. He and Gail Falk led the committee that planned the solemn march through Meridian to James Chaney's funeral. After attending the National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, he went back to medical school. He returned to Meridian as a clinical rotation in November and stayed for six weeks. During that time, he helped teens test the Civil Rights Act of 1964, being arrested and jailed several times and facing a mob for doing so. He and fellow volunteer Freeman Cocroft were in jail in Meridian, accused of 'contribution to the delinquency of minors,' when the FBI arrested the murderers of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner and brought most of them to the same jail.
Tragically, Luke died of cancer in May 1966, just before he was to receive his medical degree. He left us a treasured trove of eloquent writings and, for those who knew him, a deep reservoir of love.
To learn more about Luke: Judy Wright devoted a chapter, "Luke's Struggle for Civil Rights," in her book Acts of Resistance: A Freedom Rider Looks Back on the Civil Rights Movement.
My memoir/biography of Luke, Love Letter from Pig: My Brother's Story of Freedom Summer, is published by the University Press of Mississippi (2023). It is based on his writings as well as conversations with his fellow volunteers, Gail Falk and Judy Wright, and Freedom School students including Ed Tureaud, Lenray Gandy, and three of the 'Thompson sisters' — Andreesa Coleman, Dorothy Singletary, and Gwen Chamberlain.