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The Fog Machine

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. 

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SUSAN FOLLETT grew up in the epi­center of the civil rights move­ment: Mississippi in the sixties. Me­ridian, MS, had one TV station and one newspaper, each owned by the same man. Parents, white and black, were intent on protecting their chil­dren from harsh realities. When the first African Ameri­can stepped into the Highland Park pool on the same day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, she was at­tending summer journalism camp at the University of Mississippi. Her graduating class at Meridian/Har­ris High School was the first under federally mandat­ed desegregation. Armed with a masters’ degree in computer science from Mississippi State University, she left Mississippi. Her career in corporate technology management, coming at the height of the women’s movement, took her to the Twin Cities of Minneso­ta, the Bay Area of California, and Portland, Oregon. A television documentary Ms. Follett saw as a young adult, about the March from Selma to Montgomery, haunted her, rais­ing questions about the time and place in which she grew up. She returned to Mississippi time and again for the stories, turning an adult eye on her childhood under Jim Crow, wondering what she would have done had she been older when James Chaney, An­drew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner were mur­dered in the summer of 1964. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband and two children.