canvassing            June marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. PBS will air a two-hour “American Experience” documentary on Freedom Summer at 9 p.m. on June 24. Throughout Mississippi, conferences, art exhibits, and symposia will be held. A touring exhibit, “Risking Everything,” will bring photos and artifacts of that summer to museums throughout the country. And on a more somber note, the sacrifice of the three men murdered during Freedom Summer — Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner — will be honored.

            What made that summer stand out from other events of the Civil Rights Movement?

             Freedom Summer was unique neither for its violence nor its daring. Freedom Summer stands out because of its spirit. Some 700 volunteers, who had no personal stake in the freedom of blacks in Mississippi, came to the state. They lived on the “black side” of towns. They taught in Freedom Schools, urging kids to ask questions Mississippi had trained them to fear. And despite hundreds of arrests, dozens of beatings, and three murders, the volunteers prevailed. They did not change Mississippi overnight, but in their own language, they “cracked” it. The next year, the Voting Rights Act was signed. Within six months, 60 percent of blacks in Mississippi could vote, up from just seven percent before Freedom Summer.

             We need to remember Freedom Summer, but also to feel it, to tap its spirit, to live by its faith in democracy. Freedom Summer brought out the best (and worst) in America but the best won the day.

Bruce Watson's "Freedom Summer"Book Summary
First Chapter
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“The best account I have seen of Freedom Summer.”

         — Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States

  • “engrossing” – The Economist
  • “Taut and involving… the literary equivalent of a hot light bulb dangling from a low ceiling” – New York Times
  • “vividly chronicled. . . . a helpful antidote to historical amnesia.” — Slate
  • “Few books have provided such an intimate look at race relations during the deadliest days of the Civil Rights movement.” – Philadelphia Tribune
  • remarkable. . . a well-researched, vivid retelling.”  — David Levering Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle
  • “recreates the texture of that terrible yet rewarding summer with impressive verisimilitude.”                            – Washington Post
  • “an amazing account of one pivotal summer in Civil Rights history. . . .with a thriller’s pacing.” – Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • Watson has beautifully re-envisioned the terror-filled but courageous moment when black citizens were ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired…’  Become inspired, welcome change, and remember Freedom Summer.”                — Sacramento News and Review
  • “mesmerizing history” – Publishers’ Weekly (starred review)
First Chapter

The riveting story of America’s most infamous trial and execution

When the state of Massachusetts electrocuted Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti on August 23, 1927, it marked one of the worst miscarriages of justice in American legal history. Or did it? In eight decades since, debate has raged about the fate of the Italian immigrants executed for the murder of two payroll clerks. Was justice done or was justice “crucified”? In the first full-length narrative of the case in thirty years, Bruce Watson unwinds a gripping tale that opens with anarchist bombings and concludes with worldwide outrage over the execution of the “good shoemaker” and the “poor fish peddler.” Sacco and Vanzetti mines deep archives and new sources, unveiling fresh details and fleshing out the two men as naïve dreamers and militant revolutionaries. This is the most complete and authoritative history of a case that still haunts the American imagination.

“Bruce Watson’s spirited history of the affair does a great service in rescuing fact from the haze of legend…”
New York Times

“… the most thorough and readable plumbing yet of the Case Record. . .”
The Nation

“an unusually even-handed look at a case more often politicized than understood. . .”
New Yorker

“. . . presents a lucid, evenhanded, and at times gripping look at a complex political mystery.”
American Heritage

“Bruce Watson does a terrific job of reviewing the historical record of the trial, drawing compelling portraits of the principals, their families, and partisans on both sides of the bitter controversy.”
Seattle Times

“The literature of this case is vast, but surprisingly little of it provides as balanced and unemotional a survey as this volume does.”
Washington Post

“Likely to become, for a new generation of readers, the definitive account.”