Freedom On My Mind

Freedom On My Mind - The Washington Post
  August 12, 1994  
    Oh, 'Freedom!' A Superb Profile in Civil Rights Courage by Hall Hinson    

"Freedom on My Mind" tells a story that has been told before, but can't be told too often. After all the films about the civil rights movement, this moving, enlightening documentary on the Mississippi Voter Registration Project conveys the human dimensions of the fight with such a powerful combination of sensitivity and intelligence and pure emotional insight that it seems as if the facts were being set down for the very first time.


Using an impressive combination of film footage, photographs and firsthand testimony from those who actually brought about this essential political change, producer-directors Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford create more than a simple historic record of events. The cast of activists who led this movement were among the most ardent and courageous young people in this country's history, and as the film shows, they came from everywhere and all backgrounds.


Some, like Endesha Ida Mae Holland-a sharecropper's daughter who was raped by her boss and drifted into prostitution-had no experience in politics whatsoever. The story of how these uneducated, dirt-poor blacks found their way into the political process is a miraculous testament to the possibility of social change. In one anecdote, Holland remembers seeing a black woman typing and has to look over the woman's shoulder at the paper before she could believe that it was possible for a black woman to advance so far as to actually type.


The first part of the film is dedicated to the grass-roots organization of these local citizens under Bob Moses, a visionary civil rights worker, who marched tirelessly from door to door urging blacks to register. For all their hard work, though, Moses and his followers managed to register only 5 percent of the population. Also, violence against the organizers and those who did register had e grown so widespread-most notably, the killing of Herbert Lee, who was murdered by a state representative while trying to register-that new strategies had to be devised.


Feeling that black citizens could be killed with anyone caring, the organizers began recruiting whites-mostly college-age kids-to come to the South in 1963 for what was called Freedom Summer. The second part of the picture focuses on the remarkable events of that sum mer, as the workers gathered together more than 80,000 citizens to become members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Devised as an alternative to the all-white Democratic Party that had pledged to support Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson in the upcoming presidential race, the MFDP went to the convention in Atlantic City to fight for its right to take the floor.


As the film shows, what followed was a debacle of political maneuvering and deceit, with Hubert Humphrey pressed into the role of hatchet man in order to help Johnson protect the Southern vote. As political history, this is superlative stuff;' perhaps better still, though, the material dealing with the interaction of the blacks and whites as they banded together that summer. Some of the blacks had never spoken directly to whites-certainly not by their first names. And the thought of sharing their homes and dinner tables with them was unheard of. One woman remembers the dainty aplomb with which one white guest I negotiated her first trip to an outhouse. There are so many extraordinary moments here that it's impossible to put them all down. The film's exemplary gospel music lingers in the mind; so does the image of Fannie Lou Hamer testifying before the credentials committee in Atlantic City, the first black woman ever to do so, asking that her people be admired. Watching it all, one wonders where. all that passionate idealism went; And yet you can't come away from "Freedom on My Mind" without a sense of revival and hope. This amazing work chases away despair.

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