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.


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