June 04, 2014

The memory of retired Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank as a curmudgeonly Washington power broker who suffered no fools—even if they were constituents—is still with us.

Those with long memories or acute political antennae understood that—at the heart—Frank was an unabashed idealist.

The late Robert F. Kennedy perhaps gave voice to Frank’s overarching political orientation when Kennedy said: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Frank’s 33-year Washington career was a testimony to the fact that cracking congressional skulls was not inconsistent with high-minded pursuit of a progressive agenda.

In today’s political taxonomy, think Sen. Elizabeth Warren with seniority.

Known to friends as Barney and foes as “Goddamned Barney Frank”, he still dresses with the elegance of an unmade bed and speaks with an accent that telegraphs his New Jersey roots.

I’ve followed Frank’s trajectory from his days as a young aid to Boston Mayor Kevin White, to his stint as a state representative on Beacon Hill, and onto his Washington tenure.

Still, I never realized that Frank was an active participant in the 10 historic, dramatic, and contentious weeks of 1964 that today are known as Freedom Summer. It makes sense. A dedicated champion of gay and transgendered rights, Frank was the first member of Congress to come out.

Freedom Summer laid the foundation for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which—supposedly once and for all—enfranchised African Americans.

That right-wing efforts to curb voting rights for black, foreign-born, college-age, and elderly voters are today ascendant is a sobering reminder that progress is a relative concept.

On Tuesday, June 24 at 9 p.m., The American Experience will air a new documentary, "Freedom Summer."

As part of its build-up to the show, American Experience has released a short film interview with the voluble and irrepressible Frank in which he discusses what drew him to the cause of civil rights. It’s embedded above.

WGBH and the City of Boston will present a special preview and discussion of the film on Monday, June 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. Following the screening, WGBH's Callie Crossley will moderate a discussion with acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson and special guests Bob Moses, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and co-director of Freedom Summer, and Dave Dennis, field secretary for Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) and co-director of "Freedom Summer." Tickets are free, but RSVP is required.


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