Jennie Nancy Dishotsky
(Nancy Louise Wright)

SNCC, COFO, 1964, Mississippi
Current Residence: Palo Alto, CA

Memories of the Freedom Summer Project


I got involved in civil rights at Syracuse University when CORE held a series of demonstrations to protest discrimination in public housing. My senior year, March 1964, I met John Lewis when he came to speak at our lecture series on civil rights, "Footprints." Though he spoke about his own experiences as a Freedom Rider, his main topic was the Mississippi Summer Freedom Project. He emphasized there were roles for teachers to create a curriculum for black students in Freedom Schools — as an English major I thought I could do it.

We started training in Oxford, Ohio. Just a few days in, we found out that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were missing. We each had to decide all over again whether or not to go. I didn't know of anyone who left and soon we were traveling to the state, serious and more than a little scared of what we did not know.

I spent the summer working with two other volunteers to create a Freedom School in Canton, MS. We were given classrooms in a church, and the students who came to the school were amazing. Very bright, and grasped the ideas we presented quickly, especially the black literature and poetry. We also went out together to register voters for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, but the school was our primary focus.

We stayed with an amazing black family who moved into one room to accommodate four of us in their small house. Later I found out they were also keeping us safe at night. Most nights the father sat outside with a shotgun in case there was trouble. It was quiet until the bodies of the three civil rights workers were found. Then the tension escalated, and we began to feel we could be a burden just by being there.

Another woman and I were moved to Tougaloo to stay at the chaplain's house. Plans for the MFDP delegation were shaping up, and we were assigned to go to a COFO field office in Brooklyn to get ready for the challenge at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. But my summer ended with an emergency appendectomy in Jackson, and I was home watching everything on television, frustrated.

I returned to Syracuse in the fall, and very soon after met my husband. We became active in the anti-war movement at Syracuse and moved to California in 1966. My husband became a conscientious objector and while he did his alternate service in Ukiah, CA, our daughter was born. Rural farm life was appealing, but we ended up in Palo Alto, next door to Stanford. Our three children all live in the Bay Area.

Over the years, I worked at Stanford Medical School as a research administrator, and taught pre-kindergarten at Congregation Beth Am, did some free-lance editing, and worked at Sun Microsystems for 15 years. Although Palo Alto is in many ways a conservative community, there have been many opportunities to stay involved in the struggle for freedom. I am happy now to look back fifty years to the days in Mississippi and know that they were a big part of who I am.


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