Patti Miller

SCLC, COFO, 1964-68, Mississippi
Current Residence: Fairfield, IA
Web Site:

I became involved in Civil Rights activities when I was a freshman in college in Iowa. A small group of students spent our spring break driving to New Orleans and back to visibly experience the ways of segregation in the south. I grew up in an all white community in the North and therefore had the incorrect assumption that since the slaves had been freed, we were all equal and treated as such. When I experienced first hand, seeing the white and colored restroom signs, the white and colored waiting rooms, the white and colored drinking fountains, and was unable to have any interactions with my black sisters and brothers, I became an activist almost immediately.

In the summer of 1964, I participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project. I was assigned to Meridian and arrived just days before the bodies of the 3 slain civil rights workers were found. One of the first things I participated in was the march through the streets of Meridian to the funeral of James Chaney. I was initiated into the incredible support of the African American community and at the same time, the deep and dangerous hatred of the southern white community. I worked with the children in the Community Center that Mickey and Rita Schwerner had set up. When white ministers from the north came to the Community Center in Meridian and asked me to go with them to Philadelphia to talk with the local ministers there about speaking out against violence to their congregations, I gladly went. The response from the local ministers was very discouraging as we were politely told that the races were meant to be separate. I was given a glimpse into the hypocrisy of the Church at that time.

After graduating from college, I moved to Chicago and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and SCLC in the project to end slums. I worked helping to organize college students in the area to become involved in the Movement. The marches in the white suburbs of Chicago were nearly as frightening as our work in Mississippi, as we dodged rocks being thrown at us and watched cars being overturned and burned.

In 2004, I returned to Mississippi and began filming for a documentary. In 2012, I formed a 501c3 non-profit foundation which produced the documentary Iowans Return to Freedom Summer which aired on Iowa Public Television in 2015. I was interviewed in 2013 for Stanley Nelson's PBS Freedom Summer film and appeared in it briefly. I currently also regularly screen my film and speak on Iowa High School and College campuses.

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