Civics For Change: Andrew Goodman
Andrew Goodman’s legacy is deeply meaningful to me as a young changemaker sharing the same frustrations as Andrew and his fellow student activists. We both come from families who encouraged our learning and civic participation, and by so doing, instilled an awareness of how voting on the local and national scales impacts everyone we call our family, friends, and neighbors. Our college experiences had a few things in common, from reading the works of Malcolm X and James Baldwin to participating in marches and sit-ins.
Andrew “Andy” Goodman was a student, dedicated civil rights activist, and friend to many. His interest in learning about racial and economic discrimination started early, with his parents, Robert and Carolyn Goodman, enrolling Andrew and his brother David in the integrated and progressive Walden School. In 1958, he attended a march for integrated schools in Washington, D.C. where, on the way, he chose to sit next to a Black man to learn of his racial experiences.
As a high school senior interested in inequity, Andrew and a classmate decided to investigate the causes of poverty by interviewing miners, state congressmen, and labor union representatives in the West Virginia coal mining industry. While presenting their findings, Andy and his classmate argued that in order to protect the poor, structural changes within the capitalist system are necessary. Beyond civic engagement, Andrew had an interest in the arts as well. In 1961, Andy played a role in an off-Broadway show of Russian playwright Nikolaí Evreninov’s, The Chief Thing.
While studying anthropology at Queens College, he was recruited to be part of a voter registration project known as Freedom Summer 1964. Like many young people are today, Andrew was frustrated with the ways in which systems of oppression continue to create division and suppress the voices and votes of the people. Andy’s family, community, and life experiences helped to create his desire to become an activist and ally.
Freedom Summer 1964 was a voter registration project with a focus on Mississippi due to the historically low rates of Black voter registration in the state. Volunteers worked with communities within “Freedom Schools,” often former churches transformed into centers for learning how to read and write, sew, dance, and of course, how to register to vote and become civically engaged.
For project training, Andrew and fellow young changemakers made their way to Oxford, Ohio where they were taught why and how to assist Black Mississippians in registering to vote. Here, Andrew volunteered to join civil rights workers in Mississippi, where he met two other activists, James Earl Chaney and Michael Schwerner.
The day after Andy arrived, the three young men went to investigate the condition of a burned church building site now holding space as a Freedom School. Later in the afternoon, the group was arrested, detained, and led to be murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Their story captured nationwide attention resulting in a public push leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In November of 2019, over twenty hate crimes plagued Syracuse University’s campus in the span of just a few weeks. The Black-led student movement #NotAgainSU arose from the lack of administrative transparency in response to the hate crimes. I was asked to facilitate communications between the student activists and the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The group leaders knew that I was privileged not only in being white, but also by being a Syracuse local, making the DPS officers more willing to work together.
The occupation lasted for eight days, and only ended by the start of Thanksgiving Break with students leaving campus. What I remember most from that week is the feeling of hope in our collective power as young changemakers. I get that same feeling when I look at this photograph of Andrew Goodman and his friends, all standing up and shouting for what they knew was right.
Remarkable moments come from young people gathering together and working toward a shared vision, which is exactly what our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors are doing now. Student leaders nationwide are advocating for the needs of voters in their campus communities, improving access to polls, providing information about elections, and joining a network of organizers.
Andrew Goodman Ambassadors break down the barriers to students voting by working to make election day a holiday free of classes, getting student IDs to count as valid voter ID, adding secure voter registration drop boxes in dorm buildings, or creating an on-campus polling site. Andrew Goodman has inspired generations of activists, with our Ambassadors carrying on his legacy by continuing the fight for youth voting rights on campuses across the United States.
This summer, The Andrew Goodman Foundation will be celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the 10th Anniversary of Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere. Stay tuned as we announce how we are planning to celebrate these milestones!
About The Author
Mia Matthews is the Program and Communications Manager at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. In her position, she works with student leaders and in communications surrounding their work. She currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts.