Smithsonian Celebrates 50 Years of Civil Rights History

National Museum of American History Holds Feb. 5 Youth Summit on Freedom Summer

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will hold a National Youth Summit Feb. 5, 2014, at noon EST at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Miss., and link high school students across the U.S. in an engaging program on the history and legacy of the 1964 youth-led effort for voting rights and education.

The summit will include interviews with a panel of experts and civil rights veterans, including Robert Moses, the project director for Freedom Summer; Marshall Ganz, civil rights activist and senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; Michelle Deardorff, professor and department head of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; and Hollis Watkins, Mississippi native and civil rights activist.

While the story of Freedom Summer is one part of the nation’s ongoing struggle to provide equal opportunities for all of its citizens, it is a story that began in Mississippi. For the first time, the museum will present the National Youth Summit from a location outside Washington, D.C., by partnering with the Old Capitol Museum. The summit will incorporate the perspective of students living in the state five decades after the youth-led effort to end political disenfranchisement.

“The state-specific nature of this story makes Jackson an appropriate backdrop for discussions on the history of Freedom Summer, the progress our nation has made in the 50 years since and how youth can continue to build a more humane future,” said John Gray, director of the museum.

Live Web streaming will bring the summit to students and educators across the U.S. Participants can get more information and register here.

Designed to provide students with an opportunity to share their views and debate an issue, the summit aligns with the Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening. Teachers and other participants will receive a conversation kit, with ideas for leading discussion topics in an age-appropriate manner. This is the fourth in the National Youth Summit series, which regularly draws students from more than 40 states and a variety of countries worldwide.

To enable offsite participation in the conversation, 12 Smithsonian Affiliate organizations will also simultaneously host the Regional Youth Summit Conversations with local Freedom Summer veterans, scholars and youth. The affiliate sites include the American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, Mo.; the Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, Mich.; History Colorado, Denver; Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio; Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles; National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia; National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati; North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, N.C.; Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City; Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh; The African American Museum in Philadelphia; Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland. These sites will allow question submissions for the national panel through the webcast’s online chat. 

A unique aspect of this year’s summit is the Smithsonian’s Freedom School Internship Program. Chosen for a fall internship focusing on civil rights history, modern day activism and contemporary issues, the three interns—Joy Lyman, Commerce Township, Mich.; Harry Clarke, Pass Christian, Miss.; and Nicholas Nchamukong, Pomona, Calif.—have spent the semester in Washington helping to organize the summit and interviewing veterans of the civil rights movement.

In support of the summit, recording artist Macklemore visited the museum and discussed his thoughts on both the civil rights movement and the power young people have to positively influence the future. To watch the interview, click here.

The National Youth Summit on Freedom Summer is presented in collaboration with American Experience, which airs on PBS stations and Smithsonian Affiliations. The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Verizon Foundation.

Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums, educational and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources. More information is available at

Through its collections, research and public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit

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Melinda Machado
(202) 633-3129


Kayla Ross
(202) 633-3129