Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Discussion Guide
In June of 1964, University of Michigan sophomore Celeste Tyree leaves her middle class life traveling to Mississippi to volunteer for Freedom Summer. She joins student volunteers from across the country whose collective mission was to register disenfranchised black citizens to vote. Celeste is assigned to Pineyville, a small town best known for a notorious lynching. By day, she tutors the town's children in a freedom school. At night, she prepares the adults to take and pass the state's voter registration test, long used as a tool to disqualify black people from voting. As the summer unfolds, Celeste confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths about her family and herself. She is drawn to Ed Jolivette, a deeply committed fellow volunteer and is schooled in the ways of the south by her hostess, the very religious, Mrs. Geneva Owens. She stands with the people of Pineyville in their quest for human and civil rights and learns the quality of their character and of her own.
Enhance Your Book Club:
- What roles do her parents, Shuck and Wilamena, and her white boyfriend, J.P., play in Celeste Tyree's decision to volunteer with civil rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer? How does Celeste's decision relate to her treatment of others in her childhood?
- "Miss'sippi ain't nothing to play with." How would you characterize the hostility and violence Celeste encounters during her summer as a volunteer? How do the mysterious disappearances of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney -- student activists -- affect Celeste and the other volunteers involved in the One Man, One Vote campaign?
- How do Celeste and Geneva Owens come to depend on each other over the course of Celeste's stay in Pineyville? What does Celeste's regret at mentioning Mrs. Owens by name from the pulpit suggest about her integration into the congregation and the community?
- How would you characterize Mr. Tucker's relationship with his daughter, Sissy, and his conflicted feelings about Celeste and her formation of the freedom school? How did you interpret Celeste's suspicions about Mr. Tucker's role in Sissy's death?
- "Negro is their word. Black is mine." How does Ed Jolivette challenge Celeste over the course of Freshwater Road? What explains their mutual attraction, and to what extent does it seem grounded in their shared commitment to advancing social justice?
- How does Wilamena's revelation about Celeste's biological father affect her daughter? Why do you think Celeste chooses not to pursue this information with either of her parents?
- "Niggers don't belong in here. Voting ain't got nothing to do with you." Why do Celeste, Reverend Singleton, and others refuse to give up in the face of local opposition to their requests? What fuels their resolve?
- How does the policy of nonviolence outlined by the civil rights leaders in the 1960s serve both to help and hurt activists and volunteers like Celeste Tyree? What are some of the advantages in responding to violence and hostility with nonviolence?
- "That 'sir' defined the entire relationship between Negro men and white men." How would you characterize the relationship between blacks and whites in Pineyville, and to what extent is the author's portrayal of race relations in Freshwater Road consistent with your knowledge or memories of this era in American history?
- The author describes Matt Higgens and Ed Jolivette on their visit to Pineyville as: "strangers in town, the threat to all that had been before, gunslingers with no guns." Why might male volunteers be perceived as more threatening than female volunteers, like Celeste?
- Over the course of her summer in Pineyville, what has Celeste come to understand about social justice, race relations, her parents, and her feelings for Ed Jolivette, and what do these discoveries enable her to understand about herself? Would you describe Freshwater Road as a "coming of age" novel? Why or why not?
- Freshwater Road introduces fictional characters in a setting grounded in actual historical events. How did this approach to storytelling affect you as a reader? How did it bring the realities of the segregated South of the 1960s alive for you?
- To learn more about the history of Freedom Summer, the goals of volunteers active in the movement, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges they faced, visit: http://www.core-online.org/history/freedom_summer.htm
- To see moving black-and-white images of some of the thousands of volunteers who dedicated their energy to the causes of Freedom Summer like Celeste Tyree in Freshwater Road, visit: http://18.104.22.168/images/imgfs.htm
- Did the descriptions of Geneva Owens's southern cooking make your mouth water? If you'd like to try your hand at making some Mississippi specialties, visit: http://www.classbrain.com/artstate/publish/mississippi_recipes.shtml