Oh Freedom

Two men standing in front of high school banner
Dr. DiPietro introduced Jim Kates to the STA Community

 

As a 19 year old Wesleyan University student, Jim Kates left the comforts of home and family and headed south to Mississippi. The year was 1964 and there was a movement going on, a very long and painful movement that continues to this day. Mr. Kates became part of “Freedom Summer,” the name given to 650 young people (mostly northerners, mostly white, mostly students) who converged upon Mississippi- one of the most racially charged states in 1960s America-  with hopes of setting up Freedom Schools for children without proper access to education and to register African Americans to vote. They were greeted by Mayor Allen Thompson of Jackson, who met them with specially built tanks and riot squads. In tight quarters, the student volunteers spent a week learning how to avoid being beaten or killed. 

Today, Jim Kates shared his experience and some excerpts from “Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers & Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer” with our St. Thomas Aquinas High School community. Beginning with a warm rendition of Aaron Neville’s “Oh Freedom,” Mr. Kates energized the students, faculty and staff not just with his vibrant presentation but with the passion in which he recalled his mission in the south. “Our task was to canvas the town, go door to door and try and get people’s trust. But we were met with ‘Yessa’ – a survival technique used by African Americans to indicate assent so as to ensure they would evade any trouble with the white person. To earn their trust, we lived among them, listened to them; we didn’t preach to them. We listened and we learned.”

We are grateful for witnesses like Mr. Kates who continue to share their message of history and justice with young people. “When you become an activist, you draw other people in with you. You force others to think about things. And when you act, you are powerful. Even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.”

May we all continue to act for what is right, for what is good, and for what is just.


#saintspride


Oh, freedom, oh, freedom
Oh, freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more weepin', no more weepin'
No more weepin' over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more worry, no more worry
No more worry over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
Oh, freedom, oh, freedom
Oh, freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free