Monday, January 21, 2013

Three questions from the 1964 Freedom Summer

A few days ago, my brother made the observation that Americans often remember the parts of the 1960s civil rights movement that focused on greater integration of black people into the larger culture, but pay less attention to what people worked on to build up the black community internally at the same time.

For example, the voter registration efforts in Mississippi in the "Freedom Summer" of 1964 are often cited as an important part of our history. But we might also learn something by remembering the Freedom Schools set up that same summer, which served both to give segregated students access to college-prep curriculum and to encourage conversations about the future of the black community in America.

The Freedom Schools' citizenship curriculum, for example, was organized around three important questions:

1. What does the majority culture have that we want?
2. What does majority culture have that we don't want?
3. What do we have that we want to keep?

I think those discussion questions are brilliant, because they give participants the chance to sort through the complicated feelings that come with belonging to a minority culture in a reflective way. The questions give you permission to borrow without assimilating, to critique without wholesale rejecting, and to discuss your own traditions on their terms without having to justify them by majority mindsets and values.

I also think that we as Latter-day Saints today, in any society, would benefit from discussing the same three questions. We are a separate culture within our various majority host cultures, and I think we ought to remember that as we sort out which majority culture values we want to integrate into our culture and which would disrupt something we don't want to lose.

What does the majority culture have that we want?
What does majority culture have that we don't want?
What do we have that we want to keep?


  1. A prominent LDS leader whose name escapes me at the moment told people that when they join the Church, they should ask themselves very similar questions: what aspects of my culture are compatible with the gospel and should be kept, and which are not compatible and should be discarded. That's really the process of working toward perfection--constantly discarding what is not in harmony with who we really want to be.


  2. My husband and I have asked ourselves a couple of these questions frequently as we've raised our children and built a family life together. We've just worded them a little differently:

    What do our families of origin have that we want to incorporate and pass on.
    What do our families of origin have that we don't want to incorporate and pass on?

    These questions have allowed us to maintain a deep respect and love for our parents and ancestors, benefit from many of the values and traditions they passed on to us, while at the same time, weeding out some of the more dysfuntional aspects of our family cultures. My greatest wish for my kids is that they will do the same.

  3. Essential questions to ask. I suppose that the ancient Israelites asked the same questions, as did the people of Limhi, and the people of Ammon . . .

  4. Here's a link to the citizenship curriculum.



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