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Oxford played a key role in registering blacks to vote in 1964. This award will recognize that important work.

Published: Sunday, June 16, 2019 @ 8:35 AM

Freedom Summer archive photo from Miami University.
Staff Writer
Freedom Summer archive photo from Miami University.(Staff Writer)

Western College in Oxford played a central role in one of the civil rights movement’s pivotal summer projects, and Miami University will continue to recognize that affiliation by presenting a Mississippi church with an award for its part in the movement.

The school will present the Freedom Summer ‘64 Award to the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi today. Volunteers who trained at in Oxford as part of Freedom Summer, an effort to register black voters in the south, went to the church to investigate an arson in June 1964.

Those volunteers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were kidnapped and eventually murdered by members of the Klu Klux Klan. They disappeared on June 21, and their bodies were found six weeks later.

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Miami representatives will attend an annual memorial at the church today, the anniversary of the fire, and present the award.

Oxford played a key role in those Freedom Summer efforts. Before heading to Mississippi, 800 volunteers trained from June 14-27, 1964 at the Western College for Women, which is now part of Miami University’s Western Campus, to help black citizens register to vote and to resist violence peacefully.In 2000, officials dedicated an amphitheater on the Western Campus to the Freedom Summer training.

It was announced last summer that the church would receive the Freedom Summer of ‘64 award from Miami University, the second year of the award. In addition, the site is being marked as a National Historic Landmark site.

“It certainly was a surprise,” said Jewel McDonald, Mt. Zion’s tour guide. “We are always trying to get recognition for our church.”

Every year since 1964, the church has gathered to commemorate the murdered students who fought to register black voters in the south.

“We hold a memorial service for the students and all are welcome to talk about the incident,” said McDonald, who has been a member of the church since before the fire.

The service has attracted people all over the world, including relatives of the victims and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Lewis received last year’s Freedom Summer ‘64 award from Miami.

An outdoor memorial and historical marker reside on Miami’s western campus in honor of the legacy. The memorial was dedicated in 2000. In 2014, Miami held a conference, art exhibit, and gave historical tours to mark the 50th anniversary of the movement.

“It’s a way to continue the legacy of those who worked to ensure voting rights during Freedom Summer,” said Claire Wagner, Director of Miami University news and communications.

While the award is being presented in Mississippi, a new mural is also being dedicated to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Oxford.

The mural was organized by Girl Scout Ella Scope and designed by Jospeh Prescher. It was unveiled Friday evening at the Oxford Community Arts Center. It is now installed at 119 W. High Street, across the street from the arts center.