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August 26: Coming Home from Mississippi

August 26, 2013

FDP_buttonMatthew Zwerling, a Jewish volunteer for Mississippi Freedom Summer, wrote to his parents in New York from Clarksdale, Mississippi on this date in 1964 suggesting an “unstrenuous” three-day weekend upon his return home. He thanked them for a money order, and noted that he was “still think[ing] Mississippi about 30 hours a day.” Zwerling, a Phi Betta Kappa member, had been accepted to the Stanford University School of Medicine before driving in June to the training session for volunteers in Oxford, Ohio with Andrew Goodman, a New York neighbor and family friend. After their orientation, the two young men drove to Mississippi, where Matthew was sent to work in Clarksdale and Andrew in Meridian. Andrew Goodman was murdered, along with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, on June 21st by Ku Klux Klansmen and their law enforcement associates in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Zwerling’s parents were politically active New York Jews, his father a professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. Matthew Zwerling’s experience in Mississippi led him to choose a career in law instead of medicine, and in 2012 he retired as executive director of the First District Appellate Project in San Francisco, a non-profit firm founded by Professor Robert Calhoun of Golden Gate University School of Law, which represents indigent appellants in criminal, juvenile, dependency, and mental health appeals. For a brief slide show of photographs about Mississippi Freedom Summer, look below.

“It is significant that ... a disproportionate number of white civil rights activists were [Jewish] ... Jewish agencies engaged with their African American counterparts in a more sustained and fundamental way than did other white groups largely because their constituents and their understanding of Jewish values and Jewish self-interest pushed them in that direction.” -Cheryl Greenberg, Troubling the Waters

Correction: As noted in the comments, this post misidentified the founder of the First District Appellate Project. It was not Matthew Zwerling, but rather Robert Calhoun. The text of the post has therefore been edited appropriately. We regret the error.