West Lafayette man recalls Freedom Summer 50 years later

(WLFI Photo)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – In 1964, West Lafayette resident Don Nead was working as a clergyman for the Presbyterian Church, USA in Texas. Earlier that year the Freedom Summer Project started to take shape. The goal was to sign up African Americans to vote in Mississippi.

It was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation and racism ran rampant in the South, but the church wanted to help.

“They asked me, Nead you need to do this,” Nead said.

So, in April of 1964 Nead drove from Texas to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Once he got there he was teamed up with a local person and went to the African American neighborhoods to register people to vote.

He had several experiences he remembers, but one came from the reaction of a 92-year-old woman.

“The older woman looked at me and said ‘Reverand, there’s just one thing I’d like to do before I die. I would love to vote,’” Nead said.

With every successful registration, there was an army of locals against the project.

One of the most infamous stories from the summer was the disappearance of volunteers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. The case brought the FBI to Mississippi. Their murdered bodies were found later that summer.

Nead recalls one discussion with a Mississippi state trooper.

“He talked directly at me, making it quite clear that if I was here under any other circumstances I would be welcome, but because I am here doing what I’m doing he would advise me to get out of the state,” Nead said.

Nead’s assignment was a week long.

He kept up with the events of Freedom Summer once he got home. He took away lessons he holds true today.

“Even though people might not agree with you wholeheartedly, if you believe in it strongly enough they will give you support,” Nead said.

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