Series Description Staff Development Meet the Author Classroom Engagement Freedom Songs The Country Collage

The FOG MACHINE Comes to St. James

Series Description


Minnesota author and Mississippi native Susan Follett will bring “The FOG MACHINE: Stories from Civil Rights History, Then and Now” to Saint James for a series of events.

  • Mon., Jan. 18, 2:00 pm: Staff Development Day with Saint James 6-12 Teachers
  • Mon., Jan. 18, 6:30 pm, SJHS Little Theatre: Watonwan County Library presents “Meet the Author
  • Tues., Jan. 19: Conversations with Lee Carlson’s SJHS English 151 Students

Follett grew up in the Jim Crow South during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, unaware of the march from Selma, scarcely 100 miles from her hometown Meridian, Mississippi, where three rights workers disappeared during Freedom Summer. She has spent most of her adult life in Minnesota. She will discuss:

  • How Mississippi and Minnesota are interconnected in terms of her thinking on race in America
  • How moving from MS to MN caused her to dig deep into history she lived through yet knew little about
  • Connections between Freedom Summer and Ferguson, our modern-day icon for interracial strife

6-12 Staff Development Day Diversity Session

When St. James High School Principal Karla Beck read The FOG MACHINE, she saw a connection to ongoing cultural awareness work at SJHS. She invited Susan to kick off the diversity segment of their January 18 Professional Development Day and join teachers of grades 6-12 in conversation.

Susan will speak on cultural awareness through the lens of her work as a writer. She will particularly focus on:

  • Recognizing how our own culture shapes us
  • Observing and reflecting on our reactions to others and theirs to us
  • Actively engaging with others                                                                                            

She will address a common challenge faced by teachers—to become sufficiently familiar with their students’ cultures, in order to serve their needs—by:

  • Drawing on her knowledge of 1964 freedom school design and teaching principles
  • Sharing four strategies for cultural awareness—key lessons which have shaped her as a writer and person

Meet the Author


The “Meet the Author” program Monday, January 18 at 6:30 pm in the SJHS Little Theater is presented by the Watonwan County/St. James Library and will include stories, music, and photography. Follett will:

  • Consider today’s issues in light of 1960s Civil Rights Movement history
  • Recount the journey to research and write her historical novel
  • Share the power of story to bridge divides and enable conversation

Alison Kulseth and Miah Rehm will perform freedom songs selected from the many that united the Freedom Summer volunteers with civil rights struggles before and after them.

A slideshow will feature photographs from 1964 taken by Freedom Summer volunteers working in Meridian, MS. 

The Country Collage will handle book sales, and the author will sign books on request. 


Classroom Engagement: English 151 Students

On Tuesday, January 19, Follett will meet with two sections of English 151, a concurrent enrollment course in the College Now program at Southwest Minnesota State University. SMSU’s College Now program, accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), allows high school students to earn college credit in their high school. English 151 at SJHS is taught by Lee Carlson.    

Through the generosity of Saint James Friends of the Library, students and Mr. Carlson have received copies of The FOG MACHINE for reading in advance. 

Conversation will use students’ familiarity with the novel to cover topics including:

  • What divides us/brings us together? 
  • How are SJHS students like the 1964 Freedom School students? 
  • What is critical thinking and why does it matter? 
  • What is our true history and what is its power? 
  • What’s the essential connection between Freedom Summer and Ferguson, Mississippi and Minnesota, then and now?
  • What can students do to help bridge cultural divides?


Freedom Songs

Freedom songs were the soundtrack of Freedom Summer, the voter registration and education movement that is the central element of The FOG MACHINE. Freedom Summer volunteers, as depicted by point-of-view character Zach Bernstein, started the summer singing and never stopped until after they left the 1964 National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.

And so—whenever possible—freedom songs are an integral part of “Stories from Civil Rights History, Then and Now” events. Teacher Alison Kulseth and student Miah Rehm will perform the following a cappella:

“This Little Light of Mine”

Harry Dixon Loes composed “This Little Light of Mine” as a children’s song in 1920. In The FOG MACHINE, Zach Bernstein recalls the song shortly after arriving in Meridian to teach at the Freedom School.


C.J. would come around, learn to take more risks and stand up for herself, he thought. He could help her with that. Didn’t that line from “This Little Light of Mine”—shows what the power of love can do—say it all?


All the best freedom songs could be and were adapted on the spur of the moment to the particular town and struggles of the people who were singing. In Meridian, Mississippi—setting for the last third of The FOG MACHINE—volunteers adapted “This Little Light of Mine” as “All around Meridian, I’m gonna let it shine.”

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”

This is an adaptation of a traditional song by participants in the Albany Movement. It’s a favorite of Zach Bernstein, the Freedom School teacher, because it speaks to him of the unshakeable resolve that sometimes deserts him during Freedom Summer.

“We Shall Overcome”

This is a musical and lyrical adaptation by Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, and Pete Seeger of the old African American hymn “I’ll Overcome Someday.” First used as a protest song in 1945 by striking tobacco workers in Charleston, SC, “We Shall Overcome” became the unofficial anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. As was the custom during Freedom Summer, gatherings were brought to a close by crossing arms, joining hands, and singing “We Shall Overcome.”


Book Sales and Signing: The Country Collage

Independent booksellers know their books, get behind them, and help integrate them into their communities. And so, whenever possible, independent booksellers handle sales at “Stories from Civil Rights History, Then and Now” events. 

Books will be available for purchase and signing, courtesy of Jeanne Miest, owner of The Country Collage Gift Shop, changing with the times and surviving on “Main Street” in St. James, MN.


“I can’t stop talking about it and am hoping for a sequel. I stock it for teachers, book groups, and students—what better way to prepare them for college life!”

Jeanne Miest, owner, The Country Collage, St. James, MN





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