Mapping a Movement: Taylor and Edwith Witness History at Freedom Summer

Tabling pros.
By Taylor Kuether
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Mapping A Movement is a series of Feminist Campus Trip Diaries. Our organizers travel the nation to help feminist student leaders on college campuses – these are the tales of their adventures.

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Edwith and Taylor just returned from Jackson, Mississippi, where they attended the Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference and Youth Congress!

For three days, they attended workshops, breakout sessions, panel discussions, and plenaries on the Civil Rights work that has already been done (the 1965 Voting Rights Amendment!) and the work that remains (undoing the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Amendment). They even hosted a workshop session of their own on how to create a grassroots campaign in your student organization.

This is their travel diary.

Tuesday, June 24: No One Should Ever Be Up This Early

Edwith: I had been in Florida for a family wedding and was flying from Florida to Mississippi, but Taylor was catching a veeeery early flight from DC to Mississippi.

Taylor: My Taylor Super Shuttle came to pick me up at 4 AM. Ugh.

Taylor: I felt like the only person on Earth who was awake. It was just me and that cat. Anyway, I got to the airport and realized I’d forgotten my phone charger, so I picked one up at one of those little airport shops where everything is a million dollars more expensive than it would be outside the airport. While there, I got a little splurge-y (ok, in reality it was like $15) and got myself a neck pillow.

Edwith: Side note – on the return trip, I bought a neck pillow just like Taylor’s. Travel twinsies.

Taylor: Another side note – Don’t besmirch neck pillows. They’re fantastic for flying, hence why they sell them in airports. But if you really want to do it right, buy yours from Target. They come in animal shapes, so it’s like having a pillow AND a stuffed animal friend all-in-one! #TaylorsTravelTips.

We arrived in Mississippi in the early afternoon and met up at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. I almost didn’t recognize Edwith at first because, having just been at a wedding, her hair was done up all sleek ‘n fabulous. (Well, more sleek ‘n fabulous than usual, anyway). We picked up our rental car, which was super special because it was a Corolla – my very first car when I was in high school, and Edwith’s current car! – and then headed to our home base for the week.

Edwith: We stayed with Ellen, a woman we’re connected with via our nationwide network of fabulous feminist friends. She’s an artist (!!!) and her home was so. cool. It was also air-conditioned, which was a HUGE plus. (Our weather the whole week was hot and rainy. Yay).

Taylor: After freshening up from our trip (and stopping at Rally’s Hamburgers for a quick lunch) we headed to the conference, held at Tougaloo College right outside Jackson, to register and attend a few sessions. We got bags ‘o swag (did you know “swag” stands for “stuff we all get”? It’s true!) and headed off to some sessions.

Edwith: I attended a workshop on labor rights, put on by some super cool young people we met who work as organizers for United Auto Workers. Currently, UAW is working in Mississippi to give employees at the local Nissan plant an opportunity to unionize. Taylor went to a session on the school-to-prison pipeline and got to hear high school and college students share their own experiences within that flawed system.

Taylor: Tuesday night, we went to dinner at The Pig & Pint with two of our feminist campus leaders at Jackson State University, Arieka and Abryelle. Arieka is Miss Black Mississippi 2014 for the Miss Black America Coed Pageant system! We all had the brisket sandwich topped with collard greens and coleslaw, and it was so, so good.

Dinner at Pig & Pint! Top: Edwith and Arieka, bottom: Taylor and Abrielle.
Dinner at Pig & Pint! Top: Edwith and Arieka, bottom: Taylor and Abryelle.

Wednesday, June 25: Sessions On Sessions On Sessions

Edwith: We woke up early, stopped at Walgreen’s for bug spray (mosquitoes LOVE us, especially me), grabbed bagels at Einstein’s, and headed to the conference for a long day of workshops.

Taylor: We started our day at the opening plenary, which was a lot of fun. Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson spoke on the importance of voting rights, and he was a very commanding and impactful speaker. We hung on every word (and tweeted a lot of quotes)! The plenary was interspersed with songs performed by Freedom Fighters who were active in the 1960s Civil Rights era. Their hopefulness was infectious.

Taylor: After the plenary, we tabled for a while outside the Tougaloo College Bookstore. People were really glad to see us! It confirmed that our work is valuable and that Feminist Majority Foundation is well-known throughout the country. We doled out “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” stickers and buttons, business cards and issues of Ms. Magazine, and even chatted with some future campus leaders who seemed genuinely interested in creating or strengthening their own campus groups.

Edwith: We split up that afternoon to attend different sessions – Taylor went to the Freedom Summer press conference and then a documentary showing, and I attended a session on labor organizing. I made great connections with labor organizers at the conference, particularly UAW. Taylor later interviewed Monica Atkins of UAW.

Taylor: I viewed “An Ordinary Hero,” a documentary on one woman’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Her name was Joan Trumpauer – hang onto that info, it’ll come up again later.

Edwith: On Wednesday night, at the recommendation of some of the UAW folks and Mississippi natives we’d met, we ate dinner at The Country Kitchen, which was about as Southern as it gets. We both had hamburger steak, corn bread, mac ‘n cheese, rice and gravy, cake, and “the best Kool-Aid in Mississippi” (or so we were told).

Taylor: After dinner, we headed to a local coffee shop (Sneaky Beans, which would become our favorite) to get some work done. Then we called it a night and rested up to run our workshop on Thursday!

Thursday, June 26: (Work)Shop Girls

Taylor: We knew from the start that Thursday was going to be a great day. Why? We went to Beagle Bagel, which is exactly what it sounds like, and enjoyed the tastiest bagels either of us had had in a while. We each even bought a cupcake for the road – though I polished mine off before we even left the parking lot.


Edwith: Thursday’s opening plenary was a “roll call” – many of the original Freedom Fighters, who committed their time and effort to registering African American voters in the summer of 1964, were there and came onstage to speak. It was incredible to be surrounded by living, breathing history, and the importance of their work was not lost on us. To make the morning even better, Taylor ran into Joan Trumpauer (the woman featured in the documentary!) and got to shake her hand and thank her for her work.

Taylor: After the plenary, we tabled for a bit and then prepped for our workshop. We were holding the workshop in a weird room (it had a stage in it?) at the very back of campus, so we worried no one would show up. We were so relieved to be wrong!

Edwith: Nearly 20 conference attendees participated in our workshop, titled “Creating A Grassroots Campaign.” Students from as near as Mississippi and as far as Ohio attended, as well as some older conference attendees.

Taylor: We began with an icebreaker: what was your favorite childhood cartoon? (Mine is Spongebob Squarepants, Edwith’s is Sailor Moon). Then, Edwith led the group in a discussion of the issues, for which we referenced our Feminist Campus campaign toolkits.

Edwith: Taylor led the discussion on how to launch a student group, and I finished up with how to sustain a student group. Then the fun began! We split the students into four groups and tasked them with creating a plan to organize around issues on their own campuses. Armed with nothing but markers and oversize paper, each group created a viable plan.

Taylor: We were so impressed!

Edwith: A few of the groups chose to tackle the issue of violence on their campuses and even shared stories about how violence had impacted them.

Edwith: As our session came to a close, students lingered to ask follow-up questions or questions specific to their school or organization. It was really gratifying to see that they’d learned something from our workshop and were so eager to take their knowledge back home with them.

Taylor: We felt great about the success of our own workshop, and headed out to get dinner at E & L Barbeque, which we took back to our home base to eat picnic-style on the living room floor.

Edwith: On Thursday night, we headed out to the COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) block party, one of the conference’s social events. Because of the rain, the party was moved inside the Mississippi NAACP headquarters, which we certainly didn’t mind – we got to see the office of the late Medgar Evers, a legendary Civil Rights champion.

Taylor: We also got to chat with the current Mississippi NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, and we complimented him on his opening plenary speech. #Fangirls. We also hung out with one of our totally rad student leaders, recent Jackson State University grad Naomia.

Edwith: After mingling at the party for a bit, we decided it was time to go home and crash. We’d had a full few days!

Friday, June 27: It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Soon

Taylor: We headed home Friday, stopping at a local bakery to pick up some goodies for Ellen as a thank-you-for-letting-us-crash-your-place gift. We said goodbye to Sneaky Beans and drove to the airport to catch our flights!

Edwith: Our time in Mississippi was great – good food, friendly people, social justice history both all around us and in the making. We know we’ll be back!

By Taylor Kuether

Taylor is a journalist, feminist, cat enthusiast, and proud Wisconsin native. She works for Feminist Majority Foundation as the Campus Communications Associate. Her two favorite things besides her cat, Emma, are coffee and art museums.

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