Questions for discussion:
1. Beth tells her daughter stories that begin, “Once there was a girls who does everything wrong.” Does Beth, in fact, do everything wrong? What mistakes does she make, and what are the consequences?
2. A few characters in the book take issue with Beth’s decision to go to Mississippi including Beth’s father and leftist boyfriend, and SNCC itself was divided about inviting summer volunteers. What were objections to the Summer Project, and were they valid?
3. Cy Cohen, a Jewish shopkeeper in Melody, insists that he’s a “good old boy” like other whites in Mississippi, and he appears to share many of their assumptions. At the same time, Cy is clearly an outsider. Does this affect his attitude towards the black community?
4. Initially, Beth and her project director, Larry, are in constant conflict. By the middle of the book, they’ve formed an enduring friendship. How did this develop in the context of Mississippi in 1964, and would it be harder to create such a bond today?
5. Waveland is a novel that spans several generations. To what extent do Beth and Ron’s parents influence their characters, and how can we see Beth and Ron in their daughter, Tamara?
6. Project yourself back in time. If you had been twenty years old in the summer of 1964, who would you have been? What would have drawn you to the Freedom Movement, and what would have determined the level of your involvement?
Useful Resources for Additional Information on the Freedom Movement
1. Civil Rights Movement Veterans
A wonderful page that includes links to readings, documents, letters and poetry, and even lists addresses and contact information that could lead to encounters with local Movement people.
2. Eyes on the Prize documentary: “Freedom Summer” and
This webpage contains clear context as well as the full hour-long episode that focuses on the Mississippi Summer Project.
3. SNCC 1960-1966
This site has clear information about the origin, impact, and death of SNCC, including the role of nonviolence, the relationships to white liberals, and the connection to the feminist and antiwar movements.
What now? Here are a few organizations who (at least in my opinion) are continuing the traditions of the Freedom Movement:
This organization is spreading across the country, but I’m familiar with the Pennsylvania chapter. It’s common knowledge that men of color fill prisons, and that once they’re released, they remain disenfranchised– thus Michelle Alexander’s argument that the prison system is the New Jim Crow.
2. The Algebra Project
Bob Moses, the architect of Freedom Summer, has a new goal– helping all children take the leap to abstract thinking represented by– yes– algebra. Moses actually began his professional life as a Math teacher, and it’s moving to discover that he’s circled back and found a direct link between algebra and citizenship. Check out the site:
3. The New Sanctuary Movement
Here is another organization with local branches; the link below leads to one in Philadelphia, but your own city may have one. Members of this movement– often working through faith-based communities– work with undocumented immigrants, unquestionably the most vulnerable group in this country, accompanying them to court and fighting for their right to a fair wage at a safe workplace, as well as a clear path to citizenship.
4. Jenin Freedom Theater
This organization is based in Jenin, across the Green Line from Haifa, and it’s a descendent of the SNCC’s own Freedom Theater, and SNCC vets such as Dinky Romelly and Dorothy Zellner are on its board. Focusing on “cultural resistance”, the theater works with young Palestinians in the Jenin Refugee Camp and holds workshops on everything from photography to creative writing.