Miami University is breathtakingly beautiful. One of my favorite places to explore on campus is Western, with rolling hills, stone bridges, creeks, a duck pond, winding pathways, a chapel, and special trees. Western is also home to a Freedom Summer Memorial honoring the commitment and courage of the more than 800 volunteers who gathered at Western College for Women (now the Western campus of Miami University) in the summer of 1964 to train and prepare to register African American voters in the Deep South. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were among the first group of student volunteers to arrive in Oxford. Three days after they left for Mississippi, they vanished. The memorial was designed by architect Robert Keller (Miami University ’73) with a timeline of headlines engraved in stone.
Keller’s vision was to create an outdoor learning environment that told a story, “The rocks needed to show how that summer began smoothly, and then after the murders of the three men, things began to get uglier, and not as planned as they had been. The landscaping around the monument follows this pattern too. On the West End, the monument comes out of the underbrush, but it leads up to smooth stone and a more elegant landscaped setting.”
Throughout 2014, Miami has been hosting a series of special events and speakers to mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became a catalyst for progress and change that is still shaping our lives today. If you have a chance, visit Miami this summer for a walking tour or join the Freedom Summer Conference in the Fall.
During our commencement ceremony Forest Whitaker said, “Our day-to-day lives are shaped by the sum of countless inconspicuous acts; acts of sacrifices from generations of anonymous heroes who came before us, acts of love from our parents, acts of kindness from random strangers. Behind every worthwhile human achievement, big or small, there is, at least, one small act of kindness.”
After graduation, my family visited the memorial to walk quietly through those headlines again, to reflect on the impact that summer had on history, to honor the sacrifices of those students who set out to change the world, and to remind us to act with love, bravery, and kindness.