Black voters mattered in 1964, and Black Voters Matter today.  As 2023’s Summer of Freedom begins, our June selections demonstrate this persistent struggle for justice through the artistic interpretations of Dwayne Wiggins, Glenn Ligon, Stanley Nelson, and Ibram X. Kendi. 

“We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.” —Fannie Hamer

These words, said by Mississippi sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer who was brutally beaten for registering to vote, encapsulated the enduring pain and frustrations of Blacks in 1960s America.  In the oppressive South, Mississippi was known for its spectacular brutality towards Blacks.  The leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) recognized that the vote was the only way to bring about systemic change and in 1964 launched a statewide effort to register Black voters in Mississippi, bringing in nearly 1000 volunteers during “Freedom Summer.” Those efforts ultimately increased voter registration in Mississippi from less than 7% to over 60%.

FILM: Freedom Summer

A look back at the Summer of 1964, when more than 1000 student activists, organizers, and local African Americans took segregated Mississippi by storm, registering voters, educating citizens about their rights, and forcing the media to take notice of the injustices prevailing in the state. Directed by Stanley Nelson, from PBS American Experience (2014).

MUSIC: Dwayne Wiggins

“They’re not hanging us by ropes but they’re cutting off everything else around us,” reflects R&B artist Dwayne Wiggins, on an encounter he had with the police in Oakland, California. In “What’s Really Going On (Strange Fruit)” (Eyes Never Lie, 2000), Wiggins draws parallels between African Americans’ contemporary experiences of discrimination and the enduring pain of racism, using two sources of inspiration: Marvin Gaye’s anthem to justice and peace, “What’s Going On,” and “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching protest song popularized by Billie Holiday.


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (left), and Stamped from the Beginning: A Graphic History of Racist Ideas in America by Kendi and illustrator Joel Christian Gill (right).

Racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. They were created to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities, argues historian Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist.  Using the life narratives of key thinkers from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history.

ART: Glenn Ligon

Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. He is known for creating large, text-based paintings in which a phrase chosen from literature or other sources is repeated continuously. In Double America (above), with its skewed perspectives, Ligon seems to be questioning the idealism of a landscape, in this case, a country—“by shining a light that’s eclipsed at the same time.”

Listen to a brief audio interview with the artist and read his profile iThe New York Times magazine Greats issue.

Photo by Christina House, The Times (London)

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JusticeAid leverages the community-building power of art and music to transform awareness into action in the fight against injustice. Each year we identify and raise funds for justice causes by hosting music, arts, and educational events. Since 2013 JusticeAid has granted more than $2 million to nonprofits working to ensure access to justice for the disenfranchised and marginalized. Our grantee partners are fighting racist voter suppression and racist policing, working to end mass incarceration and inhumane immigration practices, ensuring access to legal services, and addressing the criminalization and hatred of others.