The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

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mitchell_freedom-summer-murdersWritten in a clear and direct style, and illustrated with contemporary photographs and documents, this is a dramatic and easy to read teen nonfiction book, in the style popularized by Steve Sheinkin (Bomb, Flash Point, 2012).

As a Brit, I’m probably less knowledgeable about the Freedom Summer than many Americans. So reading this upper middle grade/high school book, marking the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi and the murders that directed the nation’s attention to racial injustice in the Deep South, was a good introduction.

Using many primary sources, including interviews that he conducted, Mitchell gives some background on Jim Crow segregation and the intentions of the Freedom Summer, but focuses mainly on Andy Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner, their murder and the long haul to bring their killers to justice, or, at least, accountability.

He clearly makes the point that this case only became high profile because two of the victims were white, and that many black people had been murdered without the FBI or national newspapers getting involved, and he leaves the reader with the thought that even today “freedom is a constant struggle”.

Back matter includes exhaustive source notes, a bibliography, a not particularly helpful map of Mississippi, and a useful index. However, a more linear structure and a cast of characters and organizations (as in Neal Bascomb’s The Nazi Hunters) would have given more clarity for readers. Nonetheless, The Freedom Summer Murders is an excellent addition to school and public libraries on this historical event that still reverberates today.

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