–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by Karl Wellensiek
History is not only made by celebrities, it’s made by each of us and the choices we make every day. That’s the lesson Michael Edmonds says we should take away from the 43,000 documents and images compiled by the Wisconsin Historical Society on the civil rights movement.
Edmonds brought to life the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project with some of the stories behind the people collecting these historical documents for Rotary members Feb 11. This was the summer when volunteers arrived in the Deep South to register voters and teach nonviolence, and more than 60,000 black Mississippians risked everything to overturn a system that brutally exploited them.
Wisconsin has one of the richest civil rights collections anywhere, and the largest American history collection anywhere, according to Edwards.
Edmonds is Deputy Director of the Library–Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society and curator of its online collection of more than 25,000 pages documenting Freedom Summer. A 1976 graduate of Harvard University, he earned an MS degree at Simmons College in 1979 and taught part-time at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
These vivid primary sources shared by Edmonds, collected by the Wisconsin Historical Society, provided both firsthand accounts of this astounding grassroots struggle as well as a broader understanding of the civil rights movement and the work to collect them.
Edmonds closed by saying, “Remember, an archive is not a dusty old place, it’s an engine to remember our place in the world quite differently. For example, your grandmothers didn’t know they had to be so brave.”
For information on Edmond’s book Risking Everything: a Freedom Summer Reader click www.wisconsinhistory.org. To view 43,000 pages of historical civil rights documents click: www.Wisconsinhistory.org/freedomsummer.