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Loud As The Rolling Sea presents the stories of Black people's everyday lives, past and present, in Yellow Springs.

Loud As The Rolling Sea: Mark Levy

Screenshot of Mark Levy holding sign saying "The Civil Rights Movement is Not Over"

Loud as the Rolling Sea is our series that features the stories of  today’s elders–both Black and white, who were young civil rights workers in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 

Dr. Kevin McGruder: A dozen years ago when several groups came together in Yellow Springs intent on saving the stories of elders. They wanted to recognize the civil rights activities of both blacks and whites. Mark Levy had come to Antioch College from New York in 1957. He had no experience protesting or organizing, but quickly got deeply involved trying to force the integration of a local barber. After he left Antioch and transferred to Queens College, Levy and his wife joined more than 700 civil rights workers and went to Mississippi to register black voters in 1964.

During Freedom Summer there, they worked closely with three young civil rights workers who ended up losing their lives. Two of them with ties to Antioch College. Marc Levy remembers being recruited to go to Mississippi by a woman from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Mark Levy: She said 'The people of Mississippi want you to come. They need help. They've been organizing for years. They got to a point and they need help and they need to turn a national spotlight on Mississippi. So not only can you come down and do things, do voter registration, do free school things that you guys can do pretty well. But also you can do something they can't do, which is to turn the light on Mississippi.' I wasn't stupid. I didn't say yes. I said, 'Let me speak to my wife.' So I went back and I talked to Betty and Betty said, 'Yes, absolutely, let's do it.' So we decided yes. And then we were invited to participate on one of the committees that was developing materials, both for training and for the Freedom Schools. There were these structures and committees in a couple of parts of the country doing this stuff. When Betty and I got to orientation originally, we were going to be voter registration workers. That's what we wanted to do. But as a young, white married couple, we ran into a young white married couple there. The guy in this young white married couple, he had this odd name, Schwerner. And yes, of course, he was related to Steve Schwerner.

Steve Schwerner, who I'd met at Antioch and who had got me to do the first civil rights thing I had done in my life was his older brother, Mickey and Rita convinced me and Betty. Wouldn't it be nice if we went to where they were and we said, That's cool. So they asked us to be in charge of the Meridian Freedom School. Would we be Freedom School teachers as part of our saying yes to. Also implied that we would stay the second week. The second week was orientation for the Freedom School teachers and making it read. Rita asked us to stay to do that, to sort of help train incoming people and to help select what we were going to be charter schools. So we should go pick our staff. And what made these decisions historic and fateful was that at the very end of the first week of orientation, a phone call comes in that one of the churches that was going to be a freedom school just outside of Meridian in Schober County was burned down. It was going to be a freedom school. It was going to be used for voter registration, and it was burnt by the Klan.

Missing poster from the FBI

So orientation 1st week for orientation is ending. Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, who was a local black activist who was in a parochial school, had been up for the first week. They said, okay, we will go down with the other people who were committed to being voter registration and we will go down and check out what happened in the church, want to find out what was going on, how people were, and look for alternative places. And one of the people who had been organized into the Meridian Project area was another Queens College student writer kid named Andy Goodman to Andy Goodman was going into voter registration. He went down at the end of the first week. Less than 24 hours after they went down. Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner get into their car and drive up to Shelby County. And that's when they were captured by the police and turned over to the Klan and killed.

Dr. Kevin McGruder: Mark Levy went on to finish his undergraduate studies at Queens College in New York, and years later, he donated his large collection of photographs he took during Freedom Summer. He still makes presentations and conducts workshops about the American civil rights movement. His story has been featured on a public television series called Freedom Summer at 50.

Mark Levy: We went to Mississippi to try and make the world a better world. We accomplished some things, but we didn't do the whole job. And I strongly believe that people in power don't give up their power. People with privilege fight to keep that privilege. And they never give up. They never give up. So you can't take anything for granted. So the struggle is continuous, whether it's voting rights, immigrant rights or gay rights, there's still lots of problems. So what are you going to do about it?

American Experience YouTube screenshot
American Experience YouTube screenshot

Loud As The Rolling Seais produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO. The oral history project that gave rise to this series is ongoing. Nearly 50 interviews have been collected since the project began in 2010. All of them will eventually be available as part of the WYSO Digital Audio Archives.

Our series takes his title from the song known as the Black national anthem called Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Harlem Renaissance writer James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. The song was written in 1900 and first performed by a group of students at the Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson then was principal. And later, when Johnson led the NAACP in the 1920s, that group used it to open their programs around the country. And that opened the door for it to become the Black national anthem.

Kevin McGruder is an Associate Professor of History at Antioch College. McGruder is also the lead producer for a series on WYSO called Loud As The Rolling Sea.