Digital Update

A quick (and long-overdue) update on my digital project:

Still working on my databases, in particular, the database on volunteer backgrounds that includes home locations, universities, racial identity, and gender). Currently, I am at 475 volunteers out of 970 (roughly). I also began to contact former volunteers and have had some fascinating and enriching conversations with Heather Booth, Gail Falk, and others. Much of this is preliminary. For this winter, I hope to digitize a couple of the post-summer movements of the volunteers. The long-term goal is to make this part – the post-summer networks and post-sixties work of the volunteers – the main draw of the digital project. But, before I can do that, I need to finish the back story – hence the databases.

And, I added another database…

In late summer, I decided to map the WATs line from Freedom Summer.  Prior to, during, and after the summer, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) used the WATs line to communicate eyewitness accounts on the ground. By identifying and mapping these accounts, I hope to a) convey the violence during the summer and contextualize volunteer and staff experiences b) analyze the locations of violent acts in relation to voter registration, mass meetings, and freedom schools c) analyze the location of violent acts in relation to the grouping analysis map. Along with locating the various events during the summer, I have also linked the events directly to the WATs line (Thank you to Bruce Hartford, who has does some amazing work with digitizing movement documents).

If all goes as planned, I hope to have the first iteration of the summer map and site up and running by January. Check back then to see how the project has evolved since my earlier updates.

Digital Update

Since my last update, I have been learning more about Esri’s Arc GIS and the different ways to use census data within the software. Recently, I accessed 1960s county-level census data on income level and “nonwhite” populations (an unfortunate, postwar descriptor of racial identity). Using Arc Gis, I visualized demographic geography of the early 1960s. See below, or follow this link:



One could surmise from maps 1 and 2 that high poverty rates at the county level mapped onto counties with higher “nonwhite” populations. Map 3 combined these two data sets to better understand the racial outlines of America poverty in the 1960s. These groupings created two distinct categories relevant to the Mississippi project, one that identified areas with a low “nonwhite” population and a higher poverty rate, and a second one that identified areas with a higher “nonwhite” population and a higher poverty rate. As the map shows, those counties of the latter (Groups 2 and 5, Colors Red and Purple) are predominantly in the South, with the exceptions again being the Native American reservations in the Southwest and Northwest. Table 1 defines the statistical outlines of these categories.


Table 1

Group 2:

Variable Mean
% “Nonwhite” 29.5751
% Below Poverty Line 45.1298

Group 5:

Variable Mean
% “Nonwhite” 54.9413
% Below Poverty Line 62.1839

Using the data I got from the Wisconsin History Society and the Civil Rights Veterans website, I then layered the home locations (where the volunteers were born) and their placement locations onto the grouping analysis map. The first iteration accounted for roughly 300 volunteers of the total 973 college student volunteers. This allowed me to identify which “group” the volunteers came from and the economic and racial character of the Mississippi county in which they were placed. This comparison allows me to more effectively contextualize volunteer reflections. For example, Charles Sowerwine, one Freedom Summer volunteer, wrote home in Mid-July and described his experiences in Mississippi as a “confrontation of our well-fed, middle class values with the searing sadness” of the American South.

With this analysis, I can now place Sowerwine’s anecdote into the context of the summer. In Sowerwine’s case, he came from an area where 7.53% of the population lived under the poverty line and the “nonwhite” population accounted for 7.66% of the total population and served in an area where 72.42 % of the population lived under the poverty line and the “nonwhite” population accounted for 67.83% of the total population.


The summer forced students like Sowerwine to directly confront the social and personal effects of poverty rather than just study it as a statistical abstraction in college. The Summer shaped how these students saw American society and became a catalyst for later social movements in the 1960s. Future work will follow the post-summer geographical movements of the volunteers and how they linked their experiences with later political work. Stayed tuned for updates later this summer.


The Beginning

March 15, 2017

Beginning in January, I decided to pursue a Digital Humanities project to supplement my dissertation and to open up my findings to the larger public (a public humanities project). My project visualizes the argument that the 1964 Freedom Summer, a key event of the civil rights movement, served as a catalyst for later social movements in the 1960s. I decided to begin with Esri’s ArcGIS, thinking that the pre-summer and post-summer locations of the volunteers were vital to my visualization. For the past month, I have been experimenting with Esri’s Arc GIS, slowly understanding the language of choropleth maps and vector data. I have found the software to be very effective in working with large sets of data, say increased postwar college enrollments or poverty rates in the 1960s. One map that I am currently working on layers the pre-summer location of the volunteers (vector data) onto a choropleth map with 1960 census data on poverty (attribute data). The draft below visualizes 1960 Census data on poverty rates (Note the high levels of poverty in the American South, especially in Mississippi where the Freedom Summer was focused). I hope to use this visual map to demonstrate that the 1964 Freedom Summer made real Michael Harrington’s landmark 1960s book, The Other America. While many of the volunteers had read the book (it was a bestselling book in the 1960s) and were aware of poverty at an intellectual level, the summer directly exposed the students to these conditions.


I believe these maps will be important for the larger story, but I have found ArcGIS limiting in visualizing the post-summer activities of the volunteers and activists. A key element of my project is to visualize the post-summer networks of the volunteers, many of whom went on to become key organizers for feminist, anti-war, and university reform movements. I find that relying on the ArcGIS maps temporally constrains the network. Moreover, it seems (at this stage) that geometic network analysis within ArcGIS focuses more on roads, rivers, and other more geographically based connections. While still experimenting with Arc GIS, this next month I also plan to explore social network and visualization platforms like Gephi to see how I can create a more fluid social network that can be explored in conjunction with the ArcGIS maps.