Newspaper Articles

Civil Rights worker remembers joys, tears of ‘Freedom Summer’

Patti Miller gives presentation at Putnam Museum

May 7, 2006
By Jody Ferres

Reprinted with permission from the Quad-City Times

Patti Miller says she was at the right age at the right time.

Others may say she was adventurous and maybe a little crazy.

“This is the letter we got telling us where to go for training” said Miller, tracing over the first line of the yellowed letter that read, “We hope you are making preparations to have bond money in the case of your arrest.”

Miller, along with thousands of other college-aged students during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s put their summers and sometimes college semesters on hold to head south to fight what they believed was an extremely important battle

“Things were literally black and white then,” said Miller, who worked in the movement in Mississippi in 1964. “It was called Freedom Summer 1964”

During this time, the Ku Klux Klan killed three young civil rights workers who were assigned to Meredian, Miss., the same area Miller later would be assigned to. Then, 44 days after Miller started work, the bodies were found. However, that didn’t stop the Des Moines college student from continuing working in the effort.

“I went to Chicago and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. for two years after graduation,” said Miller, who now lives in Fairfield, Iowa.

Miller presented her trials and tribulations as a white female fighting for civil rights in the deep South in a program Saturday sponsored by the Quad-Cities Chapter of the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa at the Putnam Museum and IMAX Theater.

Founded in 1993, the museum and cultural center helps to preserve, promote, publicize and educate the public on the heritage of black people. Started from a small church group from Cedar Rapids that felt the history of blacks in Iowa was being overlooked, the group now has grown to almost 400 and is starting to build local chapters in major areas across Iowa.

Having Miller speak at the Putnam is one of the first activities the local chapter has done in the Quad-Cities to increase awareness for their mission and museum.

According to Thomas Moore, executive director for the museum, it was something to get people in the Quad-Cities more interested in the local chapter and history of the Cedar Rapids museum.

Joe Nolte, director of statewide operations, believes that the small chapter in the Quad-Cities that meets in Davenport at United Neighbors Inc., has the potential to grow into something big. Deere & Co. currently helps to sponsor the local chapter, including having Jim Collins, president of the John Deere Foundation, serve on the museum’s board.

“The group here has been very active, including working with local libraries and preserving local history,” Nolte said.

Both Moore and Nolte hope that events like the one held at the Putnam will help to bolster membership statewide.

Located at a Cedar Rapids mall for almost 10 years, the museum moved into its 17,000-square-foot museum in 2003. With the added room, Moore said the African-American Historical Museum includes classrooms, conference rooms and exhibit halls.

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