By MATTHEW KUE, age 11

There were around 2,500 to 3,000 students in more than 40 Freedom  schools, all taught by volunteers. PHOTO: United Methodist Board of Global Ministries & Ken Thompson
There were around 2,500 to 3,000 students in more than 40 Freedom schools, all taught by volunteers. PHOTO: United Methodist Board of Global Ministries & Ken Thompson

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom schools. Freedom schools were started in African American communities to teach students who didn’t get the same education as white students. There were around 2,500 to 3,000 students in more than 40 schools, all taught by volunteers.

At the time, schools in Mississippi were still segregated even after Brown v. Board of Education, a Supreme Court case that made racial segregation in schools illegal. In 1963, Charles Cobb, an activist, proposed the idea of Freedom Schools for African Americans. In the summer of 1964, Freedom schools taught reading, math and civil rights movement philosophy, and were held in churches, open fields and backyards. Sometimes the places where the students were taught were bombed.

After Brown v. Board of Education, many of the first African American children to enter white schools had to walk through crowds of angry protesters on their way to class.

Melodee Kelly, a retired teacher witnessed the events on television: “Federal police escorted the students to school because local police were not listening to orders from the local Mississippi government. Many white students boycotted the schools because they did want African American students in their schools.”

The outcome of the Freedom schools was that kids who attended the them got a better education. Today, there are still programs inspired by the Freedom schools teaching low-income students around the country. For example, the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program offers after-school and summer enrichment classes for kids in under-funded areas. In summer 2013, the schools taught more than 11,500 children in 29 states.