Updated Freedom Summer tour spotlights Hattiesburg place in civil rights history

Mississippi has its place in the history of civil rights, and Hattiesburg plays a role in that history that shouldn't be forgotten, local leaders say.

City and county leaders met Thursday outside Forrest County Courthouse to unveil an updated 1964 Freedom Summer Trail self-guided driving and audio tour to remind residents and visitors of the places and events that helped the Hub City become what it is today. 

"My daughter and I visited the Jackson (civil rights) museum, and she broke down, it was very emotional," said Forrest County Board of Supervisors President David Hogan.

He said his 23-year-old daughter never realized until she visited the museum how much had been sacrificed in the struggle for equality for minorities.

"It made me realize we need to do a better job of educating our future generations of the struggles that happened right here," Hogan said. "(Hattiesburg) is ground zero for the struggles of minorities trying to get their right to vote."

Hogan referenced Hattiesburg civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer, who was killed in 1966 when his home was firebombed by white supremacists.

Dahmer worked to get blacks registered to vote, even paying their poll taxes when they could not afford it. His mantra was, "If you don't vote, you don't count."

The board of supervisors, with support from city officials and local businesses, commissioned a statue of Dahmer that will be installed later this year in front of the courthouse, where all residents can now register to vote.

The courthouse features two of the 16 stops on the Freedom Summer tour. The first marker acknowledges the place where blacks peacefully protested for their right to vote. The second marker, where Dahmer's statue will be placed, explains his role in civil rights history.

Hattiesburg was the largest Freedom Summer site in Mississippi with more than 90 volunteers from out of state, 3,000 local participants, and up to 675 Freedom School students, according to VisitHattiesburg.

Freedom Summer was a campaign launched in 1964 to get as many blacks as possible in Mississippi registered to vote. Volunteers came from across the country to help with the effort.

Hattiesburg became known as the Mecca of the Freedom School World as a result of the numerous Freedom Schools established here that summer, tourism officials said in a news release.

“Freedom Summer strengthened the civil rights movement, and we are honored to celebrate Hattiesburg’s journey not only during Black History Month but year-round," said Hattiesburg Tourism Commission Chairman Frank James. "This inspiring tour provides a platform to share a significant part of Hattiesburg’s story.”

Each stop on the driving tour is a significant landmark from Freedom Summer and has an audio component found at

“In the past few years, we have seen growth in historical attractions, such as the new world-class Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson." said Marlo Dorsey, executive director of VisitHATTIESBURG. "Hattiesburg is certainly a cultural destination with several impressive historical assets and more in development.

"By promoting these attractions, such as the Freedom Summer Trail and African American Military History Museum, as a bundle, Hattiesburg’s authentic story will continue to be told on both a state and national platform.”

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