Helen Sheumaker and Jacqueline Johnson 2017-11-13 12:52:26
At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, Bob Moses, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), gave a compelling call to a group of student volunteers who were training to be part of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964. Moses told these young participants, “Don’t come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro. . . . Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one.” After receiving two weeks of training, these student volunteers traveled to the South to register African Americans to vote and to set up community centers, libraries, and Freedom Schools (voluntary summer schools). On June 21, 1964, three of the participants—civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner—were brutally murdered by white residents in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Despite this tragedy and other difficulties, volunteers continued to carry out the project’s mission. In 2014, the Miami University Archives, home of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Digital Collection, helped to organize the 50th reunion for participants of the Freedom Summer Project at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, one of the training sites in 1964. In preparation for and during the reunion, Jacky Johnson, university archivist, and Helen Sheumaker, senior lecturer in history, collaborated with another group of student volunteers to document, exhibit, and publicize historical materials related to the Freedom Summer Project using Pinterest, an interactive social media tool. Unlike other forms of social media, Pinterest isn’t a static, one-directional announcement tool; it’s a conduit for interactive digital storytelling. By creating Pinterest boards, students the same age as those young volunteers in the 1960s followed the threads of the stories of the activists they met at the reunion and learned that those stories did, in fact, relate to their lives in the twenty-first century. In Their Own Words . . . The Freedom Summer collection at Miami represents the experiences of ordinary citizens in the movement. In 2010, three participants—Carole Gross Colca, Roland Duerksen, and Mark Levy—donated more than 15,000 materials to the Western College Memorial Archives. The personal, intimate stories these materials reveal are immensely compelling and provide a thread for students of history to pursue. As they follow the experiences of one person they learn about the broader context of the Freedom Summer Project and the Civil Rights Movement. Colca, who was born in Davenport, Iowa, lived with an African American family in Harmony, Mississippi, and taught in community centers. She writes, “I was designated to be a ‘community center worker,’ which meant working with the kids younger than Freedom School age, providing adult literacy classes (for which I was trained during orientation), developing a library, and whatever else the community wanted.” Duerksen, a young white man from Kansas, spent the summer teaching in Freedom Schools and organizing voter registration drives. He says, “At the Freedom School . . . If there was someone around who could entertain, we’d take time out and did the entertainment. In the Freedom School itself we taught math, we taught history.” Levy coordinated the Freedom School in Meridian, Mississippi, and worked with a school desegregation project. He recalls, “When I remember my two weeks of orientation in June 1964 in Oxford, Ohio, what jumps to mind is the profound respect I developed for the amazing skills and deep commitment of the organizers who recruited us and were trying to train us in such a short time.” Telling a Story through Pinterest During the reunion of these volunteers, students interviewed four participants, scanned historical materials that participants brought with them, and created online exhibits through Pinterest. On Pinterest, users “pin” uploaded images and captions to their board and “re-pin” content by clicking on an image to transfer it to their own board. The newest pin appears first on the user’s board; users cannot rearrange pins once posted. In this way, users create a relationship with their pins, which can have advantages for archives wanting to exhibit content. For example, visitors to a museum’s Pinterest site can construct their own exhibits using images and content from the institution’s digital offering. The source of the original pin is retained by posting the original image from the institutional Pinterest account. This “watermarks” the image. Even after an image is re-pinned dozens of times, the image is identified as being from the originating institution. The images, once posted, begin to circulate the institution’s identity within the Pinterest universe. For the Freedom Summer Project reunion, each student created a Pinterest board, tied to the Oxford, Ohio, History Harvest Pinterest board (found at https://www.pinterest.com/oxohhistharvest/ or by searching for #FreedomSummer and #WesternArchives on Pinterest). Because Pinterest doesn’t allow users to rearrange content, students learned how to conceptualize, plan, and storyboard an exhibit as they would have done if mounting a more traditional museum exhibit. The archival process allowed students to engage with the past as they developed unique perspectives informed by fact and populated by stories. They followed the threads of evidence, of meaning, and of experience that were not their own. By interviewing participants, digitally collecting materials, researching their significance, and creating online exhibits, they experienced what Sam Wineburg describes as “a way to make choices, to balance opinions, to tell stories, and to become uneasy—when necessary—about the stories we tell.” Archives pull together disparate materials from the past; the Freedom Summer Pinterest exhibits exemplify this approach. Students, focusing on an individual’s story, pulled out a thread, and then, following the line of research, learned that the thread was woven into a fabric of activism, collective effort, and group sacrifice.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.