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- by  Abby Weingarten
Five decades ago, striking workers at the Talisman Sugar Corporation in Central Florida asked for volunteers to stand with them in their nonviolent struggle against abuse and oppression. Among those responding to their call was an 18-year-old Jewish woman named Nan Freeman—a student at New College of Florida.

 

Nan Freeman memorial mural by New College alumna Danielle Dygert

Nan Freeman memorial mural by New College alumna Danielle Dygert

Already a veteran activist, Freeman stood near the plant gate at 3:15 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1972, attempting to leaflet and talk with strikebreaking truck drivers. A double-trailer truck carrying 70,000 pounds of struck sugarcane sped by, knocking her into a guard rail and crushing her to death. Freeman has since been considered the first martyr of the United Farm Workers movement.

Civil rights activist and American labor leader Cesar Chavez once said of Freeman, “To some, [Nan Freeman] is a young girl who lost her life in a tragic accident. To us, she is a sister who picketed with farm workers in the middle of the night because of her love for justice. She is a young woman who fulfilled the commandments by loving her neighbors, even to the point of sacrificing her own life.”

At 2 p.m. Sat. April 2, New College will honor her memory. A moving memorial of twin outdoor murals celebrating Freeman’s activism (painted by New College alumna Danielle Dygert, and funded through a memorial account at the New College Foundation) will be dedicated in the Koski Plaza by the ACE building breezeway near the Jane Bancroft Cook Library.

“Designed after the Post Office murals from the early 20th century, this work utilizes the narrow breezeway to stimulate reflection and pause. Highlighting Florida’s agricultural land, this work introduces bright inspired skies, saturated morning glories, sugarcane, and the workers who Nan was picketing on behalf of/with,” Dygert said. “As a New College alumna, I’m honored to employ my visual storytelling to know again Nan Freeman, the United Farm Workers and New College students who are working for justice.”

Speakers at the memorial dedication will include New College President Patricia Okker, Ph.D.; New College Associate Professor of Sociology and Caribbean and Latin American Studies Sarah Hernandez, Ph.D.; New College Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies Susan Marks, Ph.D.; and United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero. New College alumni Julie Morris and Jono Miller, who were both students during Freeman’s time on campus, helped plan the dedication.

“I was a second-year student at New College in 1972 when we were shocked to learn that Nan Freeman died. Marshall Barry, a New College economics professor, connected Nan and other students with the farm worker cause in the citrus and sugarcane industries,” Morris said. “We began planning the 50-year recognition of Nan back in 2019. The goal of the memorial is to honor Nan, and to inspire current and future students to continue working for justice.”

Liz Freeman, Nan Freeman’s sister, also helped plan the dedication, along with Pam Albright (a student who was with Nan Freeman during the 1972 protest) and representatives from the United Farm Workers and the National Farm Worker Ministry.

“My sister, Nan, cared about people of all walks of life. In her short time at New College (one semester), she tutored at the migrant camp and wrote a 200-page report on the prison system after spending a week at a North Carolina boys’ reform school,” Liz Freeman said. “She did research on the Coca-Cola/Minute Maid orange grove workers who benefitted from the United Farm Worker contract they received. As the mural at New College shows, Nan did not just join a picket line but was ready to sit down and learn from the sugarcane workers who were fighting for basic human rights.”

Liz Freeman added that her sister’s nickname was “Morning Glory.”

“Nan created the day happily, celebrating the gift of life, and the mural has incorporated morning glories into its design,” Liz Freeman said. “Our family hopes that the mural will inspire others to become student activists. The world has so many needs: education, environment, labor, women’s issues, gender issues, voting rights, etc. Anyone can serve.” 

To attend the Nan Freeman Memorial Dedication, click here.

To learn more about Nan Freeman’s legacy, visit ufw.org/nanfreemanmemorial. 

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications and Marketing.