by Bill Batson
Bill Tucker and Sam Waymon have a dream. As the author and composer of the play “Freedom Summer,” they want to educate a new generation about the stunning achievements and extraordinary sacrifices of student organizers during the southern Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The public has until next Friday, April 19 to support a national tour of their civil rights production by contributing on Kickstarter.
The year 2014 will be the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, the summer that changed the face of America. In 1964, 700 northern college students joined veteran organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – SNCC – in journeying to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer Project. Organizer Robert Moses has spearheaded the campaign by starting a voter registration effort three years earlier in McComb, Mississippi, the most dangerous town in the state. Together the efforts of the SNCC workers and the student volunteers broke the back of Jim Crow society – but not before three of their number – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – were murdered.
“Freedom Summer” is a dramatization of these events, written by Piermont resident Bill Tucker, a former Mississippi volunteer . Sam Waymon, the award winning composer and brother and former touring partner of the late jazz singer Nina Simone, has written an original score. The play has been performed at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Dominican College in Orangeburg NY, the Elmwood Playhouse in Nyack NY, the Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley NY and the Brecht Forum in Manhattan during Black History Month 2012.
The umbrella organization, Acting Out the Past, is the non-profit that will use the funds to sponsor and mentor performances of the play at high schools, colleges and community theaters throughout the country. Outreach efforts will focus on African-American Greek fraternities and sororities, plus national organizations such as the NAACP and Urban League, in furthering this effort. All contributions are tax-deductible.
In their Kickstarter essay, Tucker and Waymon set their eyes on the highest prize: “ We want to petition to have a command performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. With John F. Kennedy’s legacy in supporting the Civil Rights Movement, it would be an appropriate venue.” The play’s producers would also like to perform at the White House for the ultimate beneficiary of Freedom Summer, the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama.
In order for a Kickstarter campaign to be successful, the organizers must reach their funding goal by a deadline. Tucker and Waymon have until April 19 to raise $35,000. So far, they have raised close to a third of the goal.
Recent attempts to limit access to the ballot box should remind all of us that the impulse that the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer generates should not be nostalgia, but urgency. “Rights are just as hard to keep as they are to win,” Waymon reminds us.
Support Freedom Summer by visit Kickstarter before April 19.