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3. Mark Levy[caption id=“attachment_28119” align=“alignright” width=“300”] Mark Levy and Roscoe Jones, Sr., veterans of the Meridian, Mississippi Freedom School, reunited in 2010.[/caption] When I speak to students about why I went to Mississippi during “Freedom Summer ’64” to fight for civil rights, I tell them the first and most significant factor was that I am Jewish. My Jewish teachings and values made it feel like the right thing to do. Growing up in a Jewish home in the post-Holocaust 1940s and 1950s, I was taught that not only was discrimination against Jews bad, but against Negroes and others, too. If discrimination was tolerated against one group, my family taught, it could be turned against us next — so opposing racism was a practical as well as an ethical issue. News about the first Negroes breaking the color line in baseball was discussed in my household with the same excitement as the news about Jews in the major leagues. The civil rights stories of the court fights against school segregation and the long-running Montgomery bus boycott signaled to me an optimistic option for a post-war America — in comparison to the grey flannel suits, suburban homes “built of ticky-tacky,” and the political fear of McCarthyism. As I became involved in the civil rights movement, I was excited by the number of Jewish synagogues that organized their congregations to go to the 1963 March on Washington and the visible role played there by a number of rabbis. I felt comfortable, the next year, in approaching the synagogue where I had been a bar mitsve for books, materials, money, and support for Mississippi Freedom Summer — and they were freely given. I was proud when I arrived at orientation and saw that a large percentage of other volunteers were also Jewish. I drew two very different sets of conclusions from the time I spent in Mississippi. On the positive side, I learned:
- Local people were the brave ones. Volunteers would return home; local families knew they would remain to face intimidation and retribution.
- Finding us places to stay, work, eat, and create communications and security systems took tremendous skills — “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” I still marvel at what it took to make that summer happen.
- Young people were in the lead. Most SNCC and CORE activists were in their teens and early twenties.
- I learned as much or more than I taught. Teaching by asking questions and engaging in a dialogue about how to make a better world, and learning how to understand each other and live and work together, were at the core of our Freedom Schools. My ideas about teaching were forever changed.