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A Kalamazoo NAACP proposal would honor local Freedom Summer volunteers

black and white photo of about 30 college students walking across a lawn on a college campus in 1964
Gene Smith
In this June 24, 1964 photo at the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, students participating in Freedom Summer attend a course before going to Mississippi.

Eight volunteers from Kalamazoo traveled to Mississippi to join the 1964 movement against voter suppression.

Kalamazoo’s city commission will consider a resolution to honor eight Freedom Summer volunteers with local ties.

This is the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a volunteer movement to fight discrimination against Black voters in Mississippi. Many of the more than 1000 volunteers helping to register voters were met with resistance and violence. Three were murdered.

All eight volunteers from Kalamazoo have died, but on Monday the city commission will consider a proclamation to remember them. The resolution is sponsored by the NAACP. Cory King is with the Kalamazoo chapter.

“They didn’t have to do any of this,” said King. “But they felt a commitment to civil rights and the importance of liberty and justice and the ideals this country was founded on, to risk their lives, and their personal safety, for the rights of others.”

Lee Kirk is a former city attorney and a member of the local chapter of the NAACP. He said it’s important to remember the Freedom Summer movement and to continue the fight against voter suppression.

“As much attention as we can draw to what’s going on now in comparison to what was going on then, I think it’s very important,” he said. “The similarities are unmistakable.”

The volunteers were John Newman, Joseph Ellin, Nancy Ellin, Justin Brocato, Tom Carey, William Culver, Richard Enslen, and George Perdix.

Residents can comment on the resolution at Monday’s commission meeting.