Joan Barnes, twelve
years old in the summer of 1964, freedom is her
birthright. As for Mississippi’s Negroes, like C.J., who works for Joan’s family until she
leaves for Chicago, freedom was settled by the
Civil War, wasn’t it? Negroes are no longer
As the child of upper-middle-class Yankee Catholics living in
predominantly Baptist Mississippi, where family
roots are as deep as those of the towering
loblolly pines, Joan simply wants to belong.
This need repeatedly puts her at odds with what
she knows to be right, beginning the day she
fails to stand up for C.J. The choices only
become more confusing when Joan accompanies her
dad to the Meridian Freedom School. Doc Barnes,
whose own waiting room is segregated, volunteers
at the school as part of the Medical Committee
for Human Rights. That summer, Joan learns that
being part of something big feels good and she’d
like to do it again. But it will take her years
to understand that freedom means choices.
C.J. EVANS born to
a life of cleaning white folks’ houses in Poplar
Springs, Mississippi, freedom is the size of a
human heart, never bigger or smaller. It comes
from within and can’t be given or taken away.
And, as her waiting-on-heaven Baptist preacher
and white-controlled schools have taught her,
freedom takes a back seat to staying safe. C.J.
finds this to be true, whether she’s working as
a maid in her Jim Crow Mississippi or as a
live-in domestic in Chicago, where the rules are
far more subtle.
ZACH BERNSTEIN, Jewish University of Chicago law student from
New York, freedom is an ever-expanding circle,
like a balloon that can be blown up bigger and
bigger without bursting. It’s in the songs the
summer volunteers sing to ward off the fear that
they, too, will end up like James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, missing since
June 21 and presumed dead. It’s in Zach’s faith
and commitment to tzedakah—justice and
righteousness. It’s why he has come to
Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to teach at
the Meridian Freedom School: Zach must fight for
a world where he and C.J. can be whatever they
choose to be to each other.