Haywood NAACP kicks off Freedom Summer

By DeeAnna Haney | Jun 25, 2014
Sam Tyson speaks to the Haywood NAACP.

The Haywood NAACP will be getting some help in boosting membership and voter registration this summer thanks to a statewide initiative called the Freedom Summer program that began this month.

The goal is to place a young "organizer" in counties across the state to deepen coalition building of meaning and power in communities of people who are often marginalized.

It was organized to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, a 1964 campaign that brought African-Americans together to register to vote in a state that had historically excluded most blacks from voting.

Hundreds of college students went to Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio that summer for a week-long training and orientation before heading to Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote. They were trained in how to survive and how to reach out to poor people in the Southern state who had given up on ever seeing any progress against racial oppression and injustice.

The efforts brought violent resistance and by the end of the 10-week project, three black Mississippi residents were murdered, four civil rights workers were killed and about 80 others were beaten.

This year, 50 years later, several dozen college students met at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, for a week-long orientation session starting June 9. They are now deploying to counties across the state for organizing work and voter registration through the Forward Together Movement's Moral Freedom Summer.

Joining efforts with the Haywood NAACP unit is Sam Tyson, who is a student at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He will be spending much of his summer reaching out to Haywood County residents and playing a key role in the local NAACP's goals as a chapter.

Tyson's father is Tim Tyson, a writer and historian specializing in the issues of culture, religion and race associated with the Civil Rights movement. He is the author of "Blood Done Sign My Name," and a longtime professor at Duke University.

The NAACP in Haywood County is only about five months old, said Chuck Dickson, president of the local unit. It and is not considered a chapter until membership reaches 100 people. They are getting close, however, with around 90 members and part of Tyson's job will be bolstering membership in the county.

Tyson said he will be starting his summer by getting to know NAACP members, their needs and their goals and figuring out ways to achieve those goals.

Dickson said among some of the goals the Haywood NAACP members seek are legislative support to expand Medicaid, rehire teacher assistants, stop regressive cuts to teachers, public school and community colleges and put an end to fracking.

He said there have also been attacks on voting by eliminating pre-registration for teens, eliminating same-day registration, cutting back on early voting and stricter voter I.D. requirements.

"Race is a significant factor in these decisions," Dickson said. "Just as in 1964, today's suppression of voting rights has a direct effect on African-Americans, Latinos and young people. We can't and we will not let them roll back our rights."

Tyson has been an active Moral Monday supporter and was arrested last year as a part of one of the protests that addressed some of the issues Dickson mentioned.

"This is a broad coalition. I'm here to tailor my efforts to this community," Tyson said.

Tyson said he also plans to get out and dribble a basketball around town and try to get to know the local youth and their needs. From what he gathers from the community, Tyson and the local NAACP members will hold activities for youth empowerment, though he's not sure what those activities will be just yet.

"I look forward to meeting all the local members," Tyson said.