Educators across the country now have the opportunity to schedule and book a new instructional resource centered around Freedom Summer of ’64 to teach timely lessons about the civil rights movement and its related themes.
“Finding Freedom” is a traveling panel exhibit and set of lesson plans created at Miami University by a multidisciplinary team led by University Archivist Jacky Johnson and associate professors Stephanie Danker in Art Education and Zack Tucker in Communication Design.
Designed for fourth- and fifth-grade students, the exhibit comprises 12 panels, each approximately seven feet tall, that use photographs, newspaper clippings, and narratives to connect Freedom Summer to a larger theme such as courage, unity, injustice, or memory. Teachers can use adaptable lesson plans available on the exhibit’s website to explore the panel topics in greater depth by stimulating discussion and creative expression through activities that meet art and social-emotional learning standards for fourth and fifth grade.
Freedom Summer was a 1964 voter registration drive aimed at increasing Black voter registration in Mississippi. Its participants included Black Mississippians and hundreds of predominantly white out-of-state volunteers who trained at orientation sessions held in Oxford on the campus of Western College for Women, now part of Miami University.
“One of the challenges of the story of Freedom Summer… lies in how you present that narrative to a younger audience,” said Robert Wicks, former director of the Miami University Art Museum who helped acquire images for the exhibit.
Danker, who coordinated the exhibit’s lesson plans, believes the story of Freedom Summer can create a lasting impact on the exhibit’s intended fourth- and fifth-grade audience.
“There are so many emotions involved… and art can connect these fourth- and fifth-graders in a significant way,” Danker said. “We chose this grade band because it is a significant point in life where students are becoming more aware of themselves and others. They are able to recognize how their actions can impact others.”
This personal connection to history is precisely what Wicks believes can encourage and enhance students’ ability to engage in dialog around these issues today. Johnson also sees the relevance of history to important modern lessons.
“The important thing we’re trying to teach is ‘what do you do when bad things happen to good people?’” Johnson explained. “Children in Ohio need to learn about their own history, about Freedom Summer and its goals. This is a way to tell that story while also teaching about inclusion, respect for others, and diversity.”
Four sets of the exhibit’s panels are available for interested schools, libraries, and other organizations to request using the exhibit’s website, where visitors can also download the exhibit’s lesson plans and explore other resources.
The exhibit was researched and designed by faculty and students at Miami and was funded by a grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Librarians Kim Hoffman, Carla Myers, and Alia Levar Wegner also supported the exhibit’s development. Its lesson plans were developed by two sections of a Miami undergraduate Art Education class and a professional development training program for educators.