Document 18C: Council of Federated Organizations, "Some things to talk about in freedom schools," [Jackson, Mississippi, Spring 1964], Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.


   This handout, given to summer volunteers who were being assigned to "freedom schools," demonstrates the use of critical thinking as an organizing tactic. Freedom schools were a powerful venue for facilitated conversations on the legitimacy of authority in racist society, locally and nationally. Questioning authority was a pervasive SNCC organizing tool--as an internal check on how the organization functioned, and as a critique of mainstream society. The mindset and political tactic of questioning the legitimacy of authority would later become a hallmark of sixties social movements.


1. What is a law? Are our living governed only by written laws, or by unwritten laws as well -- by patterns we can't break out of easily, if at all?

* 2. What kinds of laws do you know about? In your town; your state; the country as a whole. How do these laws affect you and your family?

(What determines the kinds of jobs you have, who gets which jobs, how much people are paid, how many hours they work, where they live and in what kinds of homes.) (SEE Report on the Poor in America.)

3. Who makes the laws: in your town; in your state; in the country as a whole? How are these people chosen? How many of them are Negroes? Why are there so few Negroes in positions of political power?

4. Do the people who make the laws make them for the benefit of everyone, or only for the benefit of some people? What are pressure groups? What power do they have? Is it a good thing for laws to be passed on the basis of group interest? Why or why not?

5. Who is thought of as a criminal in our society? Are all people who break laws and who defy the U.S. Constitution considered criminals? Are they punished?

* 6. Who decides who shall be punished and what their punishment shall be? How are judges and juries chosen: in your town; your state; the country as a whole? What do you know about state and federal courts, and about the kind of treatment Negroes get in these courts? Do they get treated differently in some courts than they do in others?

(SEE Analysis of the American Court System).

* 7. What about senators and representatives who block legislation which would help correct some of the injustices of our society? Are they criminals? what about the President, the FBI, and the Justice Department? Where do they stand? (SEE reprint of Moses speech.)

8. What is the relationship between local, state, and the federal government? What should it be in a ‘federal system?’

Does the federal government do all that it could to enforce the laws and the Constitution? WHY OR WHY NOT? What are the pressures on the federal government which determine whether or not it will enforce certain laws, like civil rights laws?

* Why was the U.S. Constitution not enforced at the Congressional challenge in Washington, D.C.? (SEE reprint of Moses' speech.) What are we doing about the Congressional challenge now?

9. How can we bring about changes in our society to make it more like we want it to be?

Note: Star (*) indicates resource materials provided.


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