|To 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 slaves.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.
To 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.
To 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. …