[Terminology — Various authors use either "Summer Project," or "Freedom Summer," or both interchangeably. In this discussion we use "Summer Project" to refer specifically to the project organized and led by COFO/SNCC, and "Freedom Summer" to refer to the totality of Movement efforts in Mississippi over the summer of 1964, including the efforts of organizations such as Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), National Council of Churches (NCC) and other religious groups, National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and the various legal support operations such as the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild (NLG), NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Lawyer's Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC) and so on.
In this article, we use the term "volunteer" to refer to people from out of state who came to Mississippi for Freedom Summer, though of course, the many, many thousands of Black Mississippians who participated were also unpaid volunteers.]
Mississippi Summer Project (June-Aug)
[Sidebar] Organizational Stucture of Freedom Summer
Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman (June)
Freedom Schools (Summer)
Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) (Summer)
The McGhees of Greenwood (July-Aug)
McComb — Breaking the Klan Seige (July '64-March '65)
MFDP Challenge to the Democratic Convention (Aug)
Wednesdays in Mississippi (1964-1965)
Freedom Summer. (Multiple articles)
Freedom Schools. (Multiple articles)
Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman Lynching, (Multiple articles)
Freedom Summer Documents, (Multiple original documents)
See Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Founded for preceding events.
Pulling it Together
Mississippi Girds for Armageddon
Washington Does Nothing
Recruitment & Training
10 Weeks That Shake Mississippi
The Human Cost
[Sidebar: Organizational Stucture of Freedom Summer]
According to the Census, 45% of Mississippi's population is Black, but
in 1964 less than 5% of Blacks are registered to vote state-wide. In
the rural counties where Blacks are a majority — or
even a significant minority — of the population, Black
registration is virtually nil. For example, in some of the counties
where there are Freedom Summer projects (main project town shown in
|County (Town)||Number Eligible||Number Voters||Percentage||Number Eligible||Number Voters||Percentage|
|Le Flore (Greenwood)||10274||7168||70%||13567||268||2%|
|Marshall (Holly Spgs)||4342||4162||96%||7168||57||1%|
To maintain segregation and deny Blacks their citizenship rights — and to continue reaping the economic benefits of racial exploitation — the white power-structure has turned Mississippi into a "closed society" ruled by fear from the top down. Rather than mechanize as other Southern states have done, much of Mississippi agriculture — particularly the Delta cotton plantations — continues to rely on cheap Black labor. But with the rise of the Freedom Movement, the White Citizens Council is now urging plantation owners to replace Black sharecroppers and farm hands with machines. This is a deliberate strategy to force Blacks out of the state before they can achieve any share of political power. The Freedom Movement is in a race against time, if Blacks don't get the vote soon, it will be too late.
In Washington DC, Mississippi's Congressional delegation of five Representatives plus Senators Eastland and Stennis are among the most racist and reactionary in the halls of power. With Blacks disenfranchised, the state's undemocratic, good 'ole boy, crony politics returns the same corrupt incumbents to Congress year after year, allowing them to build seniority and amass enormous power over process and committees. They use that power to block civil rights legislation, prevent the Federal government from defending racial minorities, and halt any national program or reform that might benefit the poor and working class regardless of race.
Everyone, white and Black, understands that when Blacks try to vote they are defying a century of oppression and demanding social, political, and economic equality with whites. For three hard years the Mississippi Freedom Movement has been trying to register Black voters against the adamant opposition of the white power-structure, the vicious terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, and the economic warfare of the White Citizens Council. Blacks who try to register still face intimidation, violence, and arrest at the Courthouse, a phony literacy test, tricks, and abuses from the Registrar. After leaving the courthouse, they face arrest on trumped up charges, Klan violence, and economic retaliation — evictions, firings, foreclosures, business boycotts, license revocations, credit denials, and insurance cancellations. And lest there be any doubt as to whom should be targeted for this retaliation, the names of those attempting to register are published in the local newspaper.
With steadfast courage, freedom fighters have suffered and endured beatings, jailings, shootings, bombings, and assassinations in places like McComb, Jackson, Greenwood, the Delta, and Hattiesburg. They have built a broad and determined mass-movement, yet no more than a few hundred new voters have been added to the rolls. The number of Blacks registered by the Mississippi Movement is so small that at the end of 1963 the Voter Education Project (VEP) halts all funding for COFO projects because they are simply not cost-effective. The VEP grants are critically important, without them the Mississippi Movement faces financial starvation.
Violent repression of Blacks is a traditional component of Mississippi's "Southern Way of Life." Since 1880, the state has averaged more than six racially-motivated murders per year in the form of mob lynchings and "unsolved" assassinations. After three years of sit-ins, Freedom Rides, pickets, rallies, marches, and thousands of arrests, the fundamental rights of free speech and assembly are still denied to Blacks in Mississippi — any act of defiance, any protest, any cry for freedom, is still met with violent state repression and immediate arrest.
Despite their many public promises, neither Kennedy nor Johnson take any effective action to defend Black voters in the Deep South. Though laws are on the books making it a Federal crime to interfere with voting rights, neither the FBI, nor the Department of Justice (DOJ), nor the Federal courts enforce those laws. The FBI is able to track down and jail bank robbers, counterfeiters, and kidnappers, but when crimes against Blacks are committed right before their eyes they claim they are "only an investigative agency" with no power to make arrests. The DOJ files lawsuit after lawsuit, which they often win in court, but nothing changes and no voters are added to the rolls because no action is taken against the politically well-connected officials who violate the law and flout the court rulings. And there is no relief in sight because the Johnson administration has stripped out any effective voting rights protection from the draft Civil Rights bill being debated by Congress.
While most of the national media covers dramatic, photogenic events such as the Freedom Rides and the Birmingham marches they either ignore the issue of Black voting rights or relegate coverage to small articles on the back pages — leaving most Americans unaware of the brutal realities in the Deep South.
By the end of 1963, Movement activists in Mississippi are exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged. Their efforts and strategies have built a movement — but not increased the number of Black voters. But movements move, if one strategy fails you try another. Something new is needed, something dramatic, something bold.
In October of 1963, SNCC leaders note that the presence of northern white supporters at Freedom Day in Selma encourages Black turnout, draws national media attention, and restrains the normally vicious Sheriff Clark and Alabama State Troopers from the kind of violence and arrests they previously inflicted on Blacks lining up at the courthouse to register. Similarly, they note the heightened FBI presence, extensive media coverage, and decrease in violence during the two weeks that white students from Yale and Stanford are in Mississippi to support the statewide Freedom Ballot. As SNCC/COFO leader Bob Moses later put it: "That was the first time that I realized that the violence could actually be controlled. Turned on and off. That it wasn't totally random. I realized that somewhere along the line there was someone who ... could at least send out word for it to stop. And it would. That was a revelation." 
If the presence of a handful of northern whites can restrain Jim Clark in Selma, and if 80 white students can reduce violence in Mississippi for two weeks, what would happen if a thousand northern students, most of them white, came to Mississippi for the entire summer of 1964?
Structurally, the Mississippi Movement is led by COFO, the coalition of SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC. But CORE's attention and resources are primarily focused on the North, particularly at this time around protests at the New York World's Fair, and much of their small southern staff is concentrated in Louisiana. SCLC's participation in COFO is small, and its attention is on St. Augustine, Florida and the state of Alabama. The NAACP national leadership is mainly interested in legal cases and they are uneasy with the growing radicalization and militance of the young organizers of SNCC and CORE. SNCC provides most of the COFO staff, and with VEP funds cut off, SNCC is now shouldering most of the financial burden as well. So the decision of what to do falls largely on SNCC — as SNCC decides, so COFO will go.
In mid-November, the COFO staff meets in Greenville after the Freedom Ballot. They discuss the idea of a summer project involving a large number of northern white students. The debate is long and intense.
Proponents — among them Fannie Lou Hamer, Lawrence Guyot, and CORE's Dave Dennis — argue that the only way to break Mississippi's iron-grip of repression is to create a crises that forces the Feds to seriously confront the state. Asking the sons and daughters of white America to join them on the front line of danger might do that. And if nothing else, it would focus national media attention on the realities of Black oppression in the Deep South. As SNCC Chair John Lewis put it: "Mississippi was deadly, and it was getting worse each day. Our people were essentially being slaughtered down there. If white America would not respond to the deaths of our people, the thinking went, maybe it would react to the deaths of its own children."  Moreover, bringing white supporters to share the dangers of Mississippi will clearly show Black communities that they are not alone, that there are people across the country who stand with them. By breaking down the sense of isolation fear can be reduced and participation encouraged.
But many of the most dedicated and experienced organizers on the COFO staff — including Sam Block, Wazir Peacock, Hollis Watkins, Charlie Cobb, Ivanhoe Donaldson, and Macarthur Cotton — are firmly opposed to the idea. Some argue that white volunteers will increase the danger to local Blacks because the presence of "race traitors" will enrage the Klan and Citizens Council. And unlike Black activists, whites cannot blend into the community, instead they will be beacons drawing the attention of both KKK and cops. Others are concerned that recruiting an army of white students is an admission of racial dependence — that Blacks need whites to get anything done — and that whites urging Blacks to register to vote will simply reinforce traditional patterns of racial subservience. Ever since the sit-ins of 1960, Movement activists have confronted and opposed racism in whatever form, whenever and wherever they encountered it, but the strategic premise of the summer project is based on using the racism of a mass media that covers whites but not Blacks, and the racism of a Federal government that has not protected Blacks, but which might protect whites. The proposal for a summer project appears to acquiesce in, and accommodate, the very racism they are trying to oppose. And many Black organizers are uneasy that whites — with skills and confidence born of privilege, Ivy League educations, and ingrained attitudes of superiority — will push aside both Black organizers and emerging local leaders. One long-time SNCC organizer expressed the worry of many: "The white volunteers who know more about office work such as organizing files and making long-distance calls will end up in charge, telling me what to do."
Though it is not obvious at the time, when dedicated organizers doing serious work with real people passionately disagree, it is usually the case that both sides have valid points. When abstract issues are debated in coffee houses and university classrooms, choices may seem clear. But when you're actually on the ground there are often no ideal solutions to imperfect realities. The Greenville meeting ends with no decision.
But as the discussion continues over the following weeks a central fact emerges, the local people who are the heart and soul of the Movement need and want all the help they can get. If northern students are willing to put their bodies on the line in Mississippi, local Blacks in the freedom struggle will welcome them no matter what color they are. The firm support for the summer project by local leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, Amzie Moore, and E.W. Steptoe carries great weight with field secretaries who are deeply committed to the principle of "Let the people decide." As does Fannie Lou Hamer's argument that "If we're trying to break down segregation, we can't segregate ourselves."
The debate continues at COFO's meeting in December, ending with a
tentative agreement for a very limited summer project of no more than
100 white students. At the end of December 1963, SNCC's Executive
Committee weighs the pros and cons at length. The motion they
To obtain the right for all citizens of
Mississippi to vote, using as many people as necessary to obtain that
end" — implies a large project with many
The final decision comes down to the January COFO meeting held in Hattiesburg after Freedom Day. Freedom Day itself is an argument for the summer project. The presence of white clergymen on the line at the Forrest County courthouse not only restrains police violence and state repression of free speech rights, but encourages Blacks to try to register in large numbers — 150 on Freedom Day, more than 500 over the following weeks.
The COFO meeting is interrupted by news from nearby Amite County — Louis Allen has been murdered. Bob Moses later recalled: "...it became clear that we had to do something, something big, that would really open the situation up. Otherwise they'd simply continue to kill the best among us. ... that's when I began to argue strongly that we had to have the Summer Project." A majority of the COFO staff agree. The concerns regarding large numbers of white volunteers remain serious and real, but something has to be done to confront the repression. The Summer Project — which grows and expands into Freedom Summer — is on.
Pulling it Together
Though the mass media seems to think that the Movement just occurs spontaneously, in real life careful planning is essential and where planning is absent failure results. By March, the basic structure of Freedom Summer is coming into focus — recruitment and training of volunteers, voter registration, building the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), challenging Mississippi's all-white delegation at the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City, Freedom Schools, community centers, and legal support. But as always, the devil is in the details and some of the issues are thorny.
Finances. The Freedom Movement is always starved for funds, and with the loss of VEP grants the financial situation is desperate. The plan calls for a Summer Project budget of $800,000, but by early May only $10,000 has been raised and there is not even $5 to fix the clogged toilet at COFO Headquarters in Jackson. Comedian and Movement stalwart Dick Gregory does a fund-raising tour that nets $97,000, but that is nowhere near enough, and on three occasions before summer SNCC is unable to pay its staff their munificent salary of $10 per week (equal to $74 a week in 2012).
Nonviolence. The issue of nonviolence is troublesome. Some activists hold to Gandhian "philosophic" nonviolence, but most organizers in Mississippi are "tactically" nonviolent. They adhere to nonviolence on protests because anything else is both counter-productive and suicidal, but self-defense outside of demonstrations is a different matter. Most Blacks in Mississippi are armed, and they are determined to defend both themselves and Freedom Movement guests.
But civil rights workers are caught in a "trick bag" — unarmed they cannot defend themselves from the Klan, but police frequently stop, harass, and arrest them, and possession of a weapon can be used as a pretext for charges carrying heavy prison sentences. If the stop occurs on an isolated rural road with no witnesses, there is nothing to prevent the cops from shooting the activist in cold blood and then claiming "self-defense" with the worker's gun as "evidence." In regards to firearms, some field secretaries have already adopted the self-defense philosophy of "Rather be caught with it, than without it," others judge the danger of police assassination and prison to be greater, and they rely on agile feet and a fast car to escape.
Within SNCC, questions related to nonviolence are hotly debated: Should SNCC staff carry guns? Should weapons be stored in offices and freedom houses? Should SNCC declare itself in favor of armed self-defense as Robert Williams did? The decisions they reach are based on practical politics and tactical realities. Away from protests and those public events where search and arrest is highly likely, going armed is left up to individual staff members, but the highly-visible white volunteers are not to carry weapons. Weapons are not to be kept in offices or freedom houses because police raids are expected and the presence of guns can be used to whip up media-hysteria and jail Movement leaders on phony charges. But during the night, armed locals will be stationed as guards around offices and freedom houses as necessary. SNCC will not publicly endorse armed self-defense at this time — but neither will they condemn it.
Anti-Communism. Though beginning to weaken, in 1964 the "red scare" anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era still exerts a powerful influence on government, the media, and mainstream America. Government officials and many liberal organizations & individuals still shun groups that work with, or have among their members, "known Communists," "pinkos," or "fellow-travelers." Dr. King and SCLC endure, and at times occasionally succumb to, unremitting pressure from the Kennedys to disassociate themselves from individuals whom FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover deems too radical, including Jack O'Dell, Stanley Levison, and Bayard Rustin. Few Freedom Movement activists have ever met an actual Communist, but those who have generally consider them to be part of the "You're going too fast, you're going too far" wing of the liberal establishment. So to those on the front lines of the Movement, the obsession over "Communist influence" is absurd and laughable — except when it threatens desperately needed fund raising. Which it very much does.
With rare exceptions, CORE and SNCC resist pressure to disassociate themselves from "dangerous radicals." Their attitude is that so long as leftists refrain from disrupting the Freedom Movement with extraneous political controversies, anyone willing "to put their body on the line" is welcome to participate regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations.
After John Lewis' speech at the March on
Washington, and with growing media attention on the upcoming
Summer Project, liberal pundits such as Theodore White and Arthur
Schlesinger Jr. step up their attacks on SNCC, and SNCC's association
with "Reds," while conservatives such as Evans & Novak allege that
SNCC has been "penetrated" by "subversive elements." The FBI's
COINTELPRO operation increasingly
focuses on SNCC, working to isolate it and destroy its funding base. A
favorite tactic is to plant false stories in the media. One example is
the The New York Times article titled "
Hoover Says Reds
Exploit Negroes," which runs shortly before the start of
Freedom Summer. Hoover is enraged when Lewis responds with "The
Director of the FBI should spend less time turning over logs looking
for the Red Menace and more time pursuing the bombers, midnight
assassins, and brutal racists who daily make a mockery of the United
But the national leaders of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York and Washington threaten to withdraw their considerable legal and financial support if the Summer Project accepts help from anyone affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). In the past, NLG attorneys have defended Communists in court and before Congress, and some self-acknowledged Communists and former-Communists are NLG members. NLG attorneys have also defended labor unions, peace activists, abortionists, beatniks, homosexuals, and other social-undesirables. Leaders from the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and National Council of Churches (NCC) all advise SNCC to reject any assistance from the NLG. But NLG lawyers such as Len Holt, Arthur Kinoy, William Kunstler, Ben Smith, and Victor Rabinowitz have been in the forefront of the struggle throughout the South. SNCC refuses to abandon its "body on the line" principle, and NLG lawyers provide desperately needed legal services throughout the summer — as do NAACP lawyers.
"What If?" Dilemmas. No one really knows what to expect. In a very real sense the Summer Project is a huge leap of faith into the unknown — "jumping off a cliff and learning to fly on the way down." Inevitably, there are long discussions about "what if" hypothetical situations. What if the daughter of a U.S. Senator is arrested, who decides when she is bailed out? The Movement? The daughter? Her father? If she's arrested with local Blacks, must everyone be released together? What happens if her father pulls strings to spring her while the local folk languish in jail? How do you weigh their safety and suffering against the political value and media attention of continued incarceration? As it turns out, when actual events on the ground pose these kind of questions they are answered on the basis of the specific circumstances at that time and place, rather than abstract theories and principles. And for the most part, the summer volunteers prove to be courageous and committed, standing in solidarity with Mississippi Blacks regardless of their parents' fears, desires or demands.
Mississippi Girds for Armageddon
Mississippi's white power-structure and white media react to Freedom Summer as if they faced invasion by another "War of Northern Aggression" (their term for what the rest of the nation knows as the "Civil War"). Amid rhetoric about "..savage blacks and their Communist masters" and the absolute necessity of "...the strict segregation of the races controlled by Christian Anglo-Saxon white men, the only race that can build and maintain just and stable government," the Klan issues its own warning — on a single night crosses are burned in 64 of the state's 82 counties. Some of the churches that had agreed to host Freedom Schools are firebombed. In many cases, shortly before churches are burned their fire insurance policies are suddenly cancelled by their white insurance agents — a typical example of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen Council working in tandem.
The state legislature passes laws outlawing Freedom Schools, allowing officials to declare dawn-to-dusk curfews, and making it a crime to pass out leaflets advocating a boycott. The number of State Troopers is doubled, cities and towns hastily deputize and arm white men (many of them Klansmen) to repel the "beatnik horde." Jackson police purchase 200 new shotguns, stockpile tear gas, build troop carriers and searchlight trucks, and convert an armored car into an urban-battle tank. Mayor Allen Thompson tells a reporter: "This is it. They are not bluffing, and we are not bluffing. We are going to be ready for them. ... They won't have a chance."
Washington Does Nothing
While white Mississippi mobilizes to defend the "Southern Way of Life" with billy clubs and jail cells, guns and bombs, the White House and Justice Department do nothing. Despite repeated pleas from civil rights leaders, they refuse to condemn or criticize the hate and hysteria being whipped to fever pitch in Mississippi. They refuse to issue any public statement or give any private signal that violence or state repression against nonviolent voter registration efforts will be prosecuted as required by Federal law. They refuse to even acknowledge that registering voters and teaching children are neither criminal acts nor subversive plots. FBI Director Hoover does, however, tell the press: "We will not wet-nurse troublemakers."
In early June, just before the project is to begin, a Black delegation travels from Mississippi to Washington to warn of impending violence and beg for protection. The President is out of town. The Attorney General is unavailable. Congress is uninterested in holding any hearings. The FBI rebuffs them as subversives and Communist dupes.
Desperate for someone to hear their pleas, the delegation holds a conference at the National Theater, addressing a volunteer panel of writers, educators, and lawyers, along with several hundred ordinary citizens. Fannie Lou Hamer describes the brutal police beating in Winona MS, Mrs. Allen testifies about the recent murder of her husband, a boy of 14 tells of police brutality against peaceful pickets, and SNCC worker Jimmy Travis talks of being shot in Greenwood and asks for Federal Marshals to protect voter registration workers. Legal scholars describe the statutes allowing — in fact, requiring — the Federal government to enforce the law, make arrests, and protect the rights of voters. The transcript is sent to President Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. There is no response.
At the volunteer-orientation in Oxford Ohio, DOJ official John Doar addresses the volunteers who are about to go down into Mississippi. They ask him: "What will be the role of the Federal government in protecting our lives?" He replies that so far as their government is concerned they will have to take their chances with a hostile state — defenseless. They will be in the same situation that southern Blacks have endured for generations. The volunteers boo, but Bob Moses stops them, saying "We don't do that." He tells them that Doar is just being honest.
This utter failure of the Johnson administration and Congress has tragic human consequences.
I remain convinced to this day that the slightest intervention — public or private — indicating firmly to the Mississippi authorities that acts of terrorism and lawlessness would bring serious federal consequences would have saved lives. But that would have required a 'profile of courage' from someone in the Johnson administration. — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). 
Recruitment & Training
Recruitment. The responsibility of recruiting the volunteers falls mainly on Friends of SNCC and CORE chapters in the North. By March, brochures have been printed and SNCC leaders like John Lewis are touring campuses and speaking before Movement and religious groups.
Recruitment focuses on the elite private and state universities. In part, this is practical politics, those are the schools where the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful are to be found. But more important are the hard financial realities. SNCC and COFO are broke, the Summer Project is operating on a frayed shoestring. There are no funds to pay for transportation or bail bonds. Summer volunteers have to pay their own way and bring $500 in cash (equal to $3700 in 2012) for bail and other expenses. Most students — particularly Black students whose families are scraping every dime to keep them in college — don't have and cannot possibly raise that kind of money. And many Black students have to work at full-time summer jobs to pay for Fall tuition.
CORE chapters, Friends of SNCC in the North, campus SNCC affiliates in the South, NAACP youth groups, and independent civil rights organizations are the other major source of volunteers. As it turns out, close to half of all Summer Project volunteers have previously been active in the Freedom Movement, primarily in the North. Most of them are students, though not necessarily from elite colleges. Some have been arrested on protests, many have participated in pickets and marches, others have been involved in fund-raising and support work.
Parental Opposition. The opportunity to endure long hours, stifling heat, likely arrest, possible violence, and perhaps even death, all for no pay and no reward other than the satisfaction of a just cause, proves surprisingly attractive. Well over a thousand young men and women apply. Their parents, however, are not so enthusiastic. Most parents fear for their children's safety — with good reason. And among whites, some oppose the whole concept of equality and civil rights for Blacks. Others are aghast at the thought of social interaction between their daughters and Black men. In tenor with the times, SNCC requires that female volunteers under the age of 21 provide written consent from their parents, many of whom refuse. The number of male and female students who would like to participate but whose parents prevent them from even applying is unknown, but a quarter of those who do apply and later withdraw do so because of parental opposition (lack of money is the other major cause). But there's a rebellious wind beginning to stir among America's youth, and many Summer Project participants go to Mississippi in open and wrenching defiance of their families. For some of them, the break is permanent.
Screening the Applicants. By April, applications are arriving at COFO headquarters in Jackson — close to 1200 by June — and the screening process begins. The most important issue of concern is a volunteer's willingness to accept and work under the leadership of Blacks who might have little or no formal education. Where feasible, candidates are interviewed by SNCC or CORE staff, Friends of SNCC or CORE chapters, or sympathetic professors.
In truth, we ended up actively discouraging many more people than we accepted. [We needed volunteers who were] in control of their lives. Sober, intelligent, self-controlled, disciplined folk who were clear on what they were getting into and why. ... People, we hoped, who could handle a kind of stress they had never before imagined, much less encountered. ... No missionaries going to save the benighted Negro or martyrs looking for redemption through suffering. ... No mystics. No flakes. No kids in rebellion, looking for attention or to get back at Mom and Dad. No druggies, beatniks, or premature-hippie types — too irresponsible. Plus folks in Mississippi wouldn't know what to make of them. Nobody flunking out of school and looking for a place to crash. No self-righteous ideologues or zealots out to make a personal statement to the world. — Kwame Ture. 
The Volunteers. Most histories estimate the number of Freedom Summer volunteers at between 700 and 1,000, counting the 550-600 who attend the two training sessions at Western College for Women and the hundreds more who arrive in Mississippi later. But those numbers mainly count the volunteers who formally apply through COFO and work the majority of the 10-week Summer Project. They may, or may not, include the 140 or so SNCC and CORE field staff. It is unclear if they count the 300-500 professionals and students who serve a week to a month (or more) with medical, legal, and religious organizations. The 700-1,000 figure does not include the unknown number of out-of-state volunteers who come to Mississippi and participate for various lengths of time through personal or family connections, or direct organizational affiliations with SNCC, CORE, NAACP, SCLC, SCEF, or other Movement organizations. So the actual number of Freedom Summer participants from outside the state cannot be accurately assessed. Yet it is legitimate to say that in the summer of 1964 the very best of America came to Mississippi to confront and challenge the very worst.
The average age of Summer Project volunteers recruited by COFO is 21 (though a few are well into adulthood including at least one veteran of the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War). Depending on how you count the volunteers, roughly 85-90% of them are white, the remaining 10-15% are Black with a few Latinos and Asians. Most of them are from middle and upper-middle class families, and the majority (57%) are from the top 30 universities in the nation (123 are from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton alone). Almost half (48%) are already members of a Freedom Movement organization (mostly CORE or Friends of SNCC), 21% actively participate in a religious group, and 14% belong to leftist or Socialist organizations. Not surprisingly, the graduate student and professional volunteers recruited by supporting organizations for legal, medical, and religious duties are older, and among them are even fewer Blacks.
But focusing on the out-of-state volunteers — their numbers and who they are — can give the false impression that they are the central totality of Freedom Summer. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is Black Mississippians — the local activists who provide leadership and guidance, the youth who canvas and help teach in Freedom Schools, the Freedom School students, the Citizenship School teachers, the families who feed and house outside volunteers, the people who register FDP voters in their homes and shops and churches, the men who guard the Freedom Houses at night, the people who drive workers around the county, the ministers and deacons who open their churches, and of course the courageous men and women who risk their lives and livlihood by trying to register to vote at the court house — it is they who are the heart and soul of Freedom Summer. And they number in the many, many thousands, far more than the northerners.
Volunteer Orientation. Two orientations for Summer Project volunteers are funded and coordinated by the National Council of Churches (NCC). Berea College in Kentucky agrees to host the sessions, but they back out when faced with angry denunciations from southern alumni and trustees. Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio (today, part of Miami University) steps up with an offer to use their campus.
The first of the week-long sessions for roughly 300 volunteers begins June 13, the second session commences June 20. Most of those attending the June 13 orientation are assigned to voter registration and building the MFDP, most of those at the second are to be Freedom School teachers or work in the community centers. Roughly 150 volunteer lawyers and law students, from the National Lawyers Guild and other organizations also participate, as do clergy recruited by the NCC. About 100 SNCC and 40 CORE staff members and local activists provide most of the training, along with guest speakers such as Bayard Rustin, James Lawson, and Vincent Harding (see Freedom Summer Orientation Briefing).
COFO Project Director Bob Moses tells them:
Don't come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro. Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one. ... Maybe we're not going to get many people registered this summer. Maybe, even, we're not going to get very many people into Freedom Schools. Maybe all we're going to do is live through this summer. In Mississippi, that will be so much! — Bob Moses. 
The format is varied — general assemblies, small group discussions, work team meetings. The curriculum is intense: racism, voter registration, poverty, Movement history, exploitation, the Black community, police repression, role of the Federal government, health, purpose and strategy of the Summer Project, housing, Jim Crow and segregation, psychology & sociology of oppression and liberation, songs, safety rules and procedures. And above all — violence.
Stories of violence, warnings of violence to come, training in how to survive beatings and jailings, frank discussions about fear and courage and endurance. Workshops in Nonviolent Resistance teach the techniques of survival when under attack, and the volunteers are trained in the safety practices and security procedures that are habitual with SNCC and CORE field staff:
The Role of Volunteers There is thorough discussion about the role of volunteers in relationship to the Black communities they will be working with. The volunteers are to bring their energy, ideas, and skills to the service of the local community, but they not there to be leaders, or to supplant local activists. In a memo to volunteers, Annelle Ponder of SCLC's Citizenship Schools program sums up the tight line they are expected to walk:
Let the people speak for and with you. Whenever possible get some good, strong local person (and there are many around) sold on your idea and ask him or her to tell others about it. You may need to do all of the arranging and contacting for setting up the opportunity in some cases (often spelling out or rehearsing with the local what he should get over, or going along with him) but if people see one of their neighbors either alone or with one of the volunteers making a bold step forward, they are more likely to see such action as possible for themselves. ... Talk to them with confidence, with a sense of "expectation." ... Remember that they are adult, though many of them will be overly dependent because of this repressive culture ... As you work you must somehow resist the temptation to do things for the people, but share the work, the planning and the decision-making with them, so they realize that if the center is to continue after the summer, they will have to do it. — Annelle Ponder. 
Black and White Together (Mostly). The dominant theme of the orientation sessions is Black & white together fighting racism. But given the realities of race, class, and culture in America there are inevitable tensions.
In her excellent memoir, Freedom Summer, volunteer Sally Belfrage recalled:
[The Black staff] were very much an in-group, because of what they have gone through together. They tend to be suspicious of us, because we are white, northern, urban, rich, inexperienced. We are somewhat in awe of them, and conscious of our own inferiority. ... Implicit in the songs, tears, speeches, work and laughter was the knowledge, secure in both them and us, that ultimately we could return to a white refuge. The struggle was their life sentence, implanted in their pigment, and ours only so long as we cared to identify... — Sally Belfrage. 
SNCC worker Frank Smith commented: "I grew up hating all white folks. It wasn't till a couple of years ago that I learned that there could be good white — and even now I sometimes wonder."
Emotions are intense and complicated. The COFO staff are uneasy about the role of white activists in Mississippi, and deeply ambivalent about sending them into the danger that they are so familiar with and the white volunteers so utterly ignorant of. Said one Black organizer: "We cried over you in the staff meeting, because we love you and we are afraid for you."
Was there tension? What'd you expect? 'Course there was. Were people nervous and edgy? Wouldn't you be? Was this based on race? Not really. I mean, yes, the Mississippi staff was mostly black, Southern, and poor, and the volunteers mostly white, Northern, and middle class. ... In truth, many of the volunteers, like most white Americans, had never really been around black people in any significant way. And the Southern staff was not in the habit of assuming anything about strange white folk. ... Given the climate they had left in Mississippi, people had a deep foreboding. But race per se was the least of it. ... — Kwame Ture 
Everywhere they go the white volunteers are followed by the mass media in full feeding frenzy — reporters, photographers, TV cameras. But they only focus their attention on the whites, ignoring the Black freedom fighters who have risked their lives on the front lines for years. The resentment of Black staff and volunteers is volcanic, and the white volunteers also become disgusted. Said one: "At the beginning it made me feel important. But they have a way of degrading everything they touch. I feel unclean."
I think that a lot of the exaggeration about racial tension came from the media. They were of course all white and probably felt real discomfort in our black presence. The press also really contributed to this 'racial difference' in their own inimitable way by making it immediately clear what story they had come to report. What and who, so far as they were concerned, represented the real importance of the event. — Kwame Ture. 
The Disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. The first group of volunteers leave Ohio and go down into Mississippi on June 20th. On the following day three of them, including one summer volunteer, disappear. See Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman.
Word arrives in Oxford where the second orientation session is underway:
There was an interruption then at a side entrance: three or four staff members had come in and were whispering agitatedly. One of them walked over to the stage and sprang up to whisper to Moses who bent on his knees to hear. In a moment he was alone again. Still crouched, he gazed at the floor at his feet, unconscious of us. Time passed. When he stood and spoke, he was somewhere else; it was simply that he was obliged to say something, but his voice was automatic. "Yesterday morning, three of our people left Meridian, Mississippi to investigate a church-burning in Neshoba County. They haven't come back and we haven't had any word from them.... 
In the days that follow, hope wars with dread, hope that the missing are held in captivity but still alive, against the growing certainty that they have been lynched. Anxious parents call or come in person, urging, pleading, begging, their sons and daughters to come home and not go to Mississippi. A few leave, a few under the age of 21 are forced against their will to quit. But most hold fast.
On the last night of the second orientation, Bob Moses addresses the volunteers and tells them: "The kids are dead." When he finishes speaking the auditorium is deathly silent. Then a woman raises her voice in song, "They say that freedom, is a constant struggle..." The next morning the second wave of volunteers board the buses to go down into Mississippi.
10 Weeks That Shake Mississippi
See Organizational Structure of Freedom Summer for information on the component groups active in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.
The volunteers arrive in Mississippi on June 20th and June 27th. To the extent that they encounter whites, they are greeted with suspicion and outright hostility. But they feel welcomed — even loved — by the Black communities they become part of.
But the volunteers, Blacks and whites both, soon discover that the Black community is split. Many local Blacks eagerly await their arrival and the support they bring. As Holly Springs resident Rita Walker put it in Meeting the Freedom Workers, "I always pictured them coming in a bus with "FREEDOM" written on it. I would meet with some of my friends, and we would go up to the bus station and wait for them so that we could welcome them in." Other Blacks, however, fear white retaliation if they even speak to a civil rights worker — they are polite, but distant. They assure their white employers and landlords that they are not involved in "that mess," and when white volunteers approach them as social equals they are deeply uneasy and profoundly conflicted — hesitant to offend these white strangers, but terrified of what will happen to them if their boss or the sheriff thinks they are defying the "Southern Way of Life."
For the volunteers, the work is long and grueling. Up at dawn with the family they live with. No hot shower. No morning paper. No leisurely cup of coffee. Often, no toilet. Strange food for breakfast — hominy grits, collard greens, biscuits & gravy. Then out the door into the brutal, muggy heat. For project staff, the work is even harder.
It was hot, tiring, tedious work. Walking door-to-door, canvassing and convincing people to come to class at one of our Freedom Schools, to come to the courthouse to register to vote. Standing in unmoving lines outside those antebellum courthouses for hours on end, facing heat and hunger and harassment and worse. Our Freedom Schools — nearly fifty of them, all told — were often hardly more than shacks, with hand-painted signs out front and classes held as often on the grass or dirt outside as in, where the heat was stifling and the small rooms too dark to see. We reached people wherever we could, staging meetings and workshops in beauty parlors or barbershops, in storefront churches, even out in the fields where the people were plowing and chopping. — John Lewis 
Kwame Ture later said of the volunteers:
For most of them the next two and a half months would be the sternest test of their lives thus far. How would they do? This heah was for real now, Jack. For the most part, I'd say they did just fine. For the overwhelming majority — white or black — it would a life-changing experience politically and culturally. In black Mississippi, the whites experienced at first-hand a side of America they'd not seen and could scarcely have imagined. They learned something about their country, about black culture, and about themselves. Their presence changed black Mississippi, but clearly black Mississippi changed them even more. — Kwame Ture. 
Headquarters. Day-to-day, the Summer Project is
coordinated out of the narrow, crowded, COFO office on Lynch Street in
Jackson. A shabby, run-down building which functions as command post,
press room, administrative center, personnel department, bursar,
supply depot, emergency first-aid station and basic training camp for
volunteers who missed the Oxford orientation. A hand-lettered sign
No one would dare bomb this office and end all the
confusion. The office is also a terminus for the Wide Area
Telephone Service (WATS) phone line, a forerunner of "800" numbers
which do not yet exist. Volunteers monitor the life-saving
WATS line around the clock, recording incidents of violence and
arrest, dispatching lawyers and doctors, notifying press and Justice
Department, and compiling the daily
For the duration of the Summer Project, SNCC's national office temporarily moves from Atlanta to Greenwood. For three months, this office on Avenue N becomes the nerve-center of SNCC activities nationwide, raising money, and mobilizing national political support for the Democratic convention challenge in Atlantic City. The nationwide WATS line is manned (or, more accurately, woman-ed) 24 hours a day. Local men with rifles are discreetly posted in the vicinity to protect the office which is also the home of two cats — one named "Freedom," the other "Now."
Projects. Local projects — a team of staff and volunteers assigned to a particular county or community — are the basic unit of organization. Grouped by Congressional District for administration and MFDP organizing, there are at least 44 projects across the state, with the heaviest concentration in the Delta (see map). The biggest project is in Hattiesburg serving Forrest County with 50 staff/volunteers. At the other end of the scale some projects have as few as two workers. The number of projects and the number of people assigned to them change over the summer, some projects start late, others grow and spawn new sub-projects, some wither and die in the face of unrelenting opposition from the white power-structure.
Projects are not imposed on Black communities. They are only established where local folk ask for one and are able to provide housing for volunteers and a church or other building for Movement use. In many Mississippi counties, white opposition is so intense, the fear so great, that there is not enough local support to sustain any Freedom Summer activities. Though media attention is on the danger to white volunteers, the risks taken by local activists and those who open their homes are far greater. To defy the white power-structure by publicly standing for the Freedom Movement, or to break the segregation taboo by inviting whites — including young white women — into a Black home, are irrevocable steps of enormous courage. The volunteers are scheduled to leave at the end of the summer, but local Blacks will bear the consequences for the rest of their lives. And white retaliation is swift and brutal — churches are burned, people are fired and evicted, there are arrests, beatings, and shootings that continue long after the summer ends.
Each project is led by a project director, all of whom are Black (except in Greenwood where SNCC veteran Bob Zellner is the director). The projects focus on:
In the lives of participants — SNCC & CORE staff, local activists, and summer volunteers — the projects become life-altering experiences. Writing years later, SNCC staff member Cleveland Sellers' remembrance of one project stands for them all:
The Holly Springs Project with Ivanhoe Donaldson as its director, was a true reflection of the "beloved community." This project became a fervent, collective spirit born out of the hearts of many caring, committed, and diverse individuals. The unsurpassable sense of love and hope among us created such an unbreakable bond that for one brief period of history the "band of brothers (and sisters)," the circle of trust felt invincible, even in the face of relentlessly imminent danger. Never has any experience paralleled the intense exhilaration and passion that we felt for our work, the local people and one another. — Cleveland Sellers. 
The social revolution. The Freedom Movement as a whole, and within it the Summer Project, is about far more than voter registration or education — it is at heart a social revolution. A revolution that defies fear, throws off enforced subservience, asserts dignity and rejects inferiority. A social revolution that demands an equal share of economic and political power. A social revolution that abolishes old relations, and forges new personal, political, and social identities.
Social revolutions are not made from manifestos or political analyses, but rather by people fundamentally altering their view of themselves and their place in society. Such revolutions are not imposed by leaders from above, but are rather nurtured by organizers from below. Nor are social revolutions accomplished in a single summer. The social revolution transforming the South neither began, nor ended, with Freedom Summer.
Today's commentary and analysis of the movement often miss the crucial point that, in addition to challenging the white power-structure, the movement also demanded that Black people challenge themselves. Small meetings and workshops became the spaces within the Black community where people could stand up and speak, or in groups outline their concerns. In them, folks were feeling themselves out, learning how to use words to articulate what they wanted and needed. In these meetings, they were taking the first step toward gaining control over their lives, and the decision making that affected their lives, by making demands on themselves. This important dimension of the movement has been almost completely lost in the imagery of hand-clapping, song-filled rallies for protest demonstrations that have come to define portrayals of 1960s civil rights meetings: dynamic individual leaders using their powerful voices to inspire listening crowds. Our meetings were conducted so that sharecroppers, farmers, and ordinary working people could participate, so that Mrs. Hamer, Mrs. Devine, Hartman Turnbow, all of them were empowered. They weren't just sitting there. — Bob Moses 
Unita Blackwell, a Mayersville Mississippi sharecropper with an 8th grade education recalls how the social revolution first affected her:
To have wonderful new friends — black and white, educated, people of means, some of them, who'd been places and done things I'd never even dreamed of — sitting on the floor or in the old broke-down furniture in my front room, talking about our lives and times, gave me a feeling I'd never had before. Nobody had to say that all of us were equal; we could feel it. These were the first moments of my life when I knew that people outside my family respected me for what I knew and what I had to offer. They wanted to know my ideas, to get my advice about what they should do. I was telling them what to do. Even in my own community, as a woman, my opinion didn't mean much unless it was in agreement with a man's. I had been beat way down, and the realization that I had something of value to give someone else was a powerful sensation. At the time I didn't even know how to describe it, but it gave me strength. — Unita Blackwell. [Unita Blackwell goes on to become a SNCC field secretary and MFDP Delegate. In later life she becomes the first Black women in living memory to be elected Mayor of a Mississippi town, founds the U.S. China People's Friendship Association, receives a Masters degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and is awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship grant in 1992.]
By definition, social revolutions run deep, deep down to the very bottom. The worst poverty and fiercest oppression is found among the plantation sharecroppers and farm laborers enduring semi-slavery on the vast feudal domains of the richest and most powerful cotton planters. Often forbidden contact with the outside world, terrorized by the unrestrained physical and sexual violence of white foremen, forced to subsist on over-priced, shoddy goods at the company store — not even paid in money but rather working off constantly increasing debt. Yet by 1964, the Freedom Movement's social revolution has reached down even to these depths. For the organizers and volunteers sneaking onto plantations to visit the tumble-down shacks in the dead of night the deadly dangerous work is reminiscent of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railway stealing away slaves from America's "Egypt." As one summer volunteer recalled:
On a drooping cot to our right as we came in the door lay a small child (six months old). The child's eyes, nose, and mouth were covered with flies. Not being able to stand such a sight, I tried to chase them away only to be met with the reply of the mother "They will only come back again." The whole house seemed diseased, rotten, and splitting at the seams with infection. Nevertheless, the people knew what we were coming for, and the forms were filled out without our asking... This is a scene that was burned into all of our minds and which will make quiet sleep impossible." 
Violence. Across the state there is widespread violence, police repression, and economic retaliation against local Blacks and Freedom Summer participants. For example, the following violent incidents are culled from the daily WATS report for the week of July 6-12:
July 6, Moss Point. Lawrence Guyot addressing a voter registration rally. Racists shoot into the crowd seriously wounding a woman. Three Blacks arrested when they chase the attackers.
July 6, Jackson. McCraven Hill Missionary Baptist Church damaged by firebomb.
July 6, Raligh. Two churches destroyed by fire.
July 8, McComb. Freedom House bombed, wounding SNCC organizer Curtis Hayes and summer volunteer Dennis Sweeney.
July 9, Vicksburg. Young Freedom School students stoned while walking to class.
July 10, Hattiesburg. Klansmen attack Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld with steel pipes. He and two other summer volunteers hospitalized with injuries.
July 11, Canton. Firebomb thrown at Freedom House.
July 11, Vicksburg. Black cafe that served white volunteers bombed.
July 11, Browning. Missionary Baptist Church destroyed by fire.
July 12, Jackson. White man attacks Black woman at Greyhound depot. After being treated for injuries, she is arrested for "Disturbing the Peace." Her attacker is not charged.
July 12, Natchez. Jerusalem Baptist and Bethel Methodist Churches burned to the ground.
And from the same period, the following reports of police harassment and abuse:
July 6, Itta Bena. Police seize a civil rights worker and disappear him, triggering a search by SNCC and Federal agents.
July 7, Greenwood. Six local students and three volunteers arrested for peacefully picketing.
July 8, Hattiesburg. Rev. Robert Beech of National Council of Churches arrested on felony charges because his checking account is briefly overdrawn.
July 8, Columbus. Three volunteers arrested for "trespass" after stopping at a gas station to buy cold soft drinks.
July 9, Clarksdale. Cops spray cleaning chemicals on two Black girls inside the courthouse. A volunteer arrested for taking a photo of the incident.
July 9, Gulfport. Four volunteers arrested on anti-picketing charges as they escort Blacks to courthouse for voter registration attempt.
July 10, Greenwood. A cop overhears a SNCC staff member tell another activist: "We've got to get some damn organization in our office." The SNCC organizer is arrested and jailed for "Public Profanity."
COFO's assumption that the mass media and Federal government will swiftly respond to attacks on white volunteers proves correct. The disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman is headline news and lead story across the nation. Reporters flock to the state and the DOJ springs into frenzied action. But the strategy of using white students to bring attention and protection to all Movement participants — white and Black — fails.
For the most part, both the media and the Federal government are only interested in attacks and threats against the white volunteers. A massive Federal search is launched to find the missing men, and President Johnson meets with the parents of the two white activists at the White House. When white activists are beaten or shot at, the FBI quickly investigates (though they rarely arrest anyone). But both media and government show little interest in attacks on either local Blacks or Black freedom workers. Civil rights leaders demand that Federal Marshals be mobilized to protect people working on voter registration. They are ignored. The number of FBI agents assigned to Mississippi is increased from 15 to 150, but when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover opens the new FBI office in Jackson, he assures white Mississippi that the FBI will give "no protection" to civil rights agitators.
The death of Black activist Wayne Yancey and serious injury to Charlie Scales in a mysterious "car crash" is another example. SNCC staff member Cleveland Sellers of the Holly Springs project later recalled:
I remember a black man, someone I had never seen before, rushed up to us and said, "A Freedom Rider has been killed up the road in a car crash!" We had not seen an ambulance nor any emergency vehicle. We began to scout around to see what was going on. We found the badly damaged car at a service station and then went to the hospital. Oddly, the police were already at the hospital. We were shocked to find Wayne's body lying in the back of the ambulance/hearse with blood dripping into a puddle beneath. We could not tell how long the body had been there or if Wayne had died at the scene or while still in the ambulance waiting for medical attention.
Charlie was inside the hospital when we took Kathy Dahl, the project's nurse, inside to check on him. Even though the hospital had not provided extensive medical treatment to Charlie, the chief of police was trying to put him under arrest for vehicular homicide. Immediately Ivanhoe asked Kathy to work on getting Charlie to a Memphis hospital. Kathy, in her authoritative voice, said that Charlie was in need of immediate attention and if he didn't get to Memphis quickly he may die. The police chief was reluctant to let Charlie go. More negotiations were required for the sheriff to finally release Charlie, who was driven to Memphis and then flown to Chicago. Charlie maintained that he was lying on the ground immediately following the wreck, some white men walked over to him and said, "Stay still or you will get the same as your buddy.
Wayne's death had a profound impact on those of us in Holly Springs, not only because we loved him like a brother, but because for some they saw first hand how the lives of poor black males were not valued in Mississippi. There was no fanfare, no FBI, no investigation, no massive press coverage. No named civil rights leader rushed down to Paris (Tennessee where he was buried). Just us, the family and our brother. — Cleveland Sellers. 
It is no surprise then that a bitterly ironic, hand-lettered sign hangs on one wall of the SNCC office in Greenwood:
There's a street in Itta Bena called Freedom
There's a town in Mississippi called Liberty
There's a department in Washington called Justice
It is the local Black community, not the Federal government or local law enforcement, that provides protection. As volunteer Gren Whitman writes in his journal: "I am writing this at 6am. Just now coming down the hall from the bathroom, I met Mrs. Fairley coming down the hall from the front porch, carrying a rifle in one hand [and] a pistol in the other. I do not know what is going on ... [All she said was] "You go to sleep, let me fight for you."
A New Kind of Leadership. Though they are repeatedly cautioned not to act or think of themselves as leaders, the inexorable reality of day-to-day circumstances force the volunteers of both races into assuming leadership roles far greater than most of them have ever previously experienced, with greater responsibility for their own lives and safety — and that of others.
From their class background, academic & organizational experience, and familiarity with the power manipulations and media-hype of Americn politics-as-usual, the volunteers are familiar with traditional styles of leadership based on social position, organizational title, personal prestige, intellectual brilliance, verbal rhetoric, posturing, domination, and ego-gratification — and the broader civil rights movement certainly has its share of those kind of leaders.
But by their example, many of the SNCC and CORE staff who head the projects provide the volunteers with a new model of leadership that is profoundly different from the American norm. In the field, status and leadership is, for the most part, based on what people actually do, what they endure, and their success (or lack thereof) in organizing real people to do real things to improve their lives. One Freedom Movement activist later described the goal (if not always the reality): "No self-promoting, 'I'm the boss, look at me, do it my way,' type leaders. It's the concept of ego-less leadership. It was the complete opposite of the kind of leadership that seems so common today — 'I'm the leader! I'm in charge! I'm important! I'm on stage! I'm the one who goes on TV!"
At root, the difference in leadership stems from the organizer's point of view compared to that of a self-centered leader. Self-promoting leaders seek power and prestige for themselves on the promise of providing benefits to their constituents. But an organizer's goal is to find and nurture leaders among the local folk who will build their own organizations and achieve a share of political power for themselves — thereby allowing the organizer to move on to some other community to repeat the process. At least in theory. In practical reality over the long run, that concept proves difficult to achieve, but in 1964, field secretaries of the Southern Freedom Movement are doing their level best to live up to that ideal.
Kwame Ture of SNCC is COFO project director for the 2nd Congressional district (the Delta), and therefore an acknowledged leader by necessity. From that perspective, he later described the demands placed on him:
People depended on you to inspire confidence. You inspired confidence by showing confidence. Yeah, they expected clarity and decisiveness at all times. But the decisions had to be seen to be fair and intelligent. No stupid moves. No bombast, no empty guarantees: no overstated promises that you couldn't keep and which people knew you couldn't keep. You had to be credible. To keep trust, you had to perform. To keep authority, you had to earn it, over and over. To lead not by fiat, but by example and work. — Kwame Ture. 
Internal Tensions. Fear, exhaustion, heat, the passion and depth of commitment, cultural differences of wealth & poverty, black & white, north & south, urban & rural, and the enormous gap between hope and reality, all combine to create an emotional pressure cooker that intensifies inherent conflicts of race, gender, and class. As the weeks pass, the strains increase, "Fear can't become a habit," writes one volunteer — but it can, and it has. Writing late in the summer, volunteer Sally Belfrage acknowledged that "There are incipient nervous breakdowns walking all over Greenwood," and one volunteer later recalled "...crying myself to bed at night. ... I was just seeing too much, feeling too much. Things weren't supposed to be like this. I was just a mess. I just remember feeling sad, guilty and angry all at the same time."
Race. The deepest tensions are around race. Most of the white volunteers are fervently committed to the ideal of an inter-racial "beloved community." But the habits and assumptions of white superiority are deeply ingrained and often manifest despite their best intentions. In the pressure of events, some of the white volunteers fail to understand that their skills, training, and confidence are the product of privilege. In their eagerness, they sometimes push Blacks aside. Then they are bewildered and hurt when the Black staff verbally slap them down.
After three years of Mississippi's blood and brutality, and three years of failure on the part of liberal white America and the Federal Government to live up their professed ideals and oft-stated promises, some of SNCC and CORE's Black staff no longer see inter-racial brotherhood, integration, or appeals to white liberalism as a viable strategy for ending the nightmare of racism, segregation, exploitation, and powerlessness. They find it hard to trust any whites, even the summer volunteers working beside them. Some of them are moving towards Black pride, Black self-reliance, and Black Power. Inevitably, there is friction with both white volunteers and those Black activists who do not share the beloved community outlook.
The mass media exacerbates and exaggerates these internal tensions. Black organizers who have endured years on the front lines are humiliated and embittered when the white gentlemen of the press ignore them and instead milk recently arrived white volunteers for their wisdom and insight regarding America, race, and politics. And when Black anger is expressed to the white volunteers, the mass media emphasizes it out of all proportion, over-reporting the conflicts as if to deny the broader current of racial solidarity that characterizes Freedom Summer.
See Whites in SNCC for a more extensive discussion of these issues.
Gender. Beneath the surface, tensions related to gender fester — particularly among some of the white women volunteers. In 1964, the term "sexism" has not yet come into wide use, and compared to issues of race there is little articulation and even less discussion about discrimination against women in the broader society, women's roles and treatment in the Movement, or inequality and abuse in personal interactions between women and men. One woman later said: "Sexism was not something that ... had been made conscious to me at the time, but looking back on [Freedom Summer], that's ... what it was."
Some SNCC staff view the presence of white women volunteers as a mixed blessing.
Not through any fault of the women's, but because of the deeply ingrained, almost psychotic Southern male attitudes about 'white womanhood.' This was cause for real concern, Jack. Young white women in the black community would be seen as a provocation and a flash point for violence. That was reality. A security risk to themselves and everyone else in communities in which lynching was by no means a distant memory. ... One expedient was to try to 'hide' the women in libraries and freedom schools as opposed to sending them canvassing door-to-door. (Course, some women did do canvassing, but in all-women or all-white teams.) — Kwame Ture 
Yet while individual safety and project security are valid concerns, they are not the only factors. Though some Black women are involved in voter registration, most are assigned to Freedom Schools, community centers, and office jobs. For some staff and volunteers, particularly some of the men, there is a hierarchy of work-related prestige; voter-registration is the "real" work, Freedom Schools and community centers are of secondary importance, and office-clerical is the least valued (except when paychecks or operating expenses arrive late, of course). Since work assignments are skewed by gender (9% of the women are engaged in voter-registration, for example, compared to 47% of the men), this sometimes results in women being treated as second-class citizens — not unlike the way that society at large under-values women, and "womens work."
But "sometimes" is not the same as "always," and "some men" is not the same as "all men" — particularly in SNCC. Some project directors and field leaders in SNCC's area of operations are Black women, and overall the number of SNCC women in significant leadership roles is far higher than in other Freedom Movement organizations such as CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP.
See Women & Men in the Freedom Movement for a more extensive discussion of these issues.
Class. Issues and tensions rooted in class are examined the least and only rarely discussed. After a generation of red-baiting and McCarthyism, concepts of class division, class oppression, class consciousness, and class warfare are the taboo topics of American politics (as they still are today). In 1964, awareness of such issues has barely begun to stir. Most of the white volunteers are from the middle and upper-classes, but aspects of class are often overlooked, or interpreted solely as Black-white issues — or as North-South or urban-rural cultural differences.
Class divisions also exist within the Black community and among Black volunteers and staff. After years of organizing experience working in the poverty-stricken communities of the rural South, John Lewis later touched on SNCC's growing awareness of class when he wrote:
As for our black volunteers and staffers, we had to be as sensitive and careful about our behavior and appearance as the whites. We knew we could easily be resented by the local blacks as outsiders, college-educated kids from a different class, really from a different country from the one in which they lived. We had to be extremely careful about any hint of condescension or superiority, from the way we acted to the way we dressed. Overalls became the standard outfit for our black volunteers. Blue denim bib overalls and a white T-shirt underneath, became the symbol of SNCC. And it was practical. It fit our lifestyle of sleeping on sofas and floors and walking miles and miles of dusty back roads. It also identified us with the people we were working with — farmers and poor people. — John Lewis. 
Direct-Action and the Civil Rights Act. Shortly after the volunteers arrive in Mississippi, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed into law on July 2nd. Though its passage is a huge victory for the Freedom Movement as a whole, it presents serious problems for the Summer Project.
From the beginning, with the first voter-registration effort in McComb after the Freedom Rides in 1961, SNCC's Mississippi strategy has been based on two basic premises: First, that the fundamental goal has to be achieving political power for Blacks, which requires voter-registration. Second, that most Mississippi Blacks cannot afford to patronize white restaurants and hotels, so integrating them is for the most part a symbolic victory. But there is a long-standing disagreement between those who argue that integration efforts provoke so much white violence and state repression that voter-registration is crippled, and those who believe that defiant direct-action by students and young people awakens courage in adults, and by helping them rise above their fears it encourages them to register.
After passage of the Act, Black youth across the state are eager to defy segregation and exercise their new rights, they want to "spit in the eye" of the white racists by integrating hamburger joints and movie theaters. Three years of Movement activity have filled them with courage and the law is now on their side. But whites are already enraged by the mere existence of Freedom Summer and further inflamed by Johnson signing the Act. In Greenwood and other communities, carloads of armed whites prowl the streets looking for trouble, some are members of the Sheriff's posse, others are outright Klan. One of the "auxiliary" deputies is Byron De la Beckwith, and everyone, Black and white, knows he's the assassin who murdered Medgar Evers. The COFO leadership fears that testing the Civil Rights Act will result in mass arrests and increased violence which will disrupt or halt the work of building the MFDP and that desperately needed funds will have to be diverted to bailing protesters out of jail.
The question is thrashed out in meeting after meeting. The majority of SNCC/COFO staff agree with Bob Moses that they have to remain disciplined, stick to the plan, and not let themselves or the Movement become distracted. But some staff (and some summer volunteers) argue that it was the sit-ins and Freedom Rides of the early 1960s that sparked and energized the Movement and that if the Civil Rights Act is not tested and enforced immediately it will wither away and become just another unenforced law. By and large, adults in the community agree that now is not the time for integrating coffee shops, but the youth are restless. In some communities they take independent action on their own, and when they are arrested or beaten, a portion of Movement time and resources are diverted in response, but their courage and defiance does encourage and inspire the adults.
The issue is most acute in Greenwood which has been a center of Freedom Movement activity since early 1962. It comes to a head after national NAACP leaders swoop into town accompanied by reporters and FBI agents. They integrate a few upscale establishments to great media acclaim and then drive off. Afterwards, no one, not even SNCC, can restrain Greenwood's Black youth from direct action at "white-only" establishments. Then Silas McGhee goes to the movies, touching off a new front in the struggle. There are arrests and beatings and shootings, and SNCC Staff are assigned to keep protests disciplined, focused, and nonviolent.
Freedom Day in Greenwood. Martha Lamb is the Registrar of Voters for Leflore County. She is notorious for her refusal to register Black voters. To dramatize her violation of Black voting rights and pressure her to obey Federal law, Federal court rulings, and the U.S. Constitution, July 16 is declared "Freedom Day" in Greenwood. For more than a week mass meetings and house-to-house canvassing urge Greenwood's Black citizens to sign up as members in the MFDP and then attempt to register at the courthouse en masse on Freedom Day. To support those trying to register, and call attention to the denial of basic human rights in Mississippi, Black students eager for direct action are asked to peacefully picket the courthouse in violation of the state's anti-picketing law — they know they will be arrested. Most of the summer volunteers want to join the line, but if everyone is in jail the main work of the project halts, so a limited number are chosen at random.
On July 16, the line of Black adults waiting to register stretches down the courthouse steps and around the corner. Only three at a time are allowed into the courthouse, the line crawls forward at a snail's pace — most will not even reach the door. A swarm of local and state police harass and intimidate them, as do "deputized" toughs and furious white citizens.
The first wave of young pickets and summer volunteers walk single file
along the sidewalk singing freedom songs. They are quickly arrested.
One Man/One Vote" and "
discrimination" signs are torn from their grasp and they are
shoved into a police bus. Their singing intensifies: "Ain't gonna
let nobody turn me 'round, turn me 'round..." The pickets are
staggered throughout the day, wave after wave are arrested, 111 in
all, including 13 summer volunteers and some SNCC staff. Those
arrested are sentenced to 30 days in jail and $100 fine. They go on
hunger strike. After 6 days they are released on appeal bond of $200
each. The work of the project — voter registration,
building the MFDP, Freedom Schools, and community organizing
Commenting later, Kwame Ture concluded:
In many ways, the Mississippi Summer Project was a turning point for a whole generation of us. It was certainly the boldest, most dramatic, and traumatic single event of the entire movement. It certainly had the most far-reaching effect: for national party politics, for that activist college generation, for the state of Mississippi and the movement there, and especially for SNCC as an organization. After the summer, none of those would be the same. — Kwame Ture. 
Voter Registration. During the 10 weeks of the Summer Project, more than 17,000 Blacks defiantly line up at their county courthouse to register. But the Registrars add only 1600 to the voter rolls (just 9% of those who apply), and most of them are in counties where whites solidly outnumber Blacks. While 1600 is three or four times the number who have been registered over the preceding years of Movement struggle, it is still just a drop in the bucket. The DOJ files more lawsuits to wend their weary way through the courts, but the white power-structure is adept at circumventing rulings they do not wish to obey. No Federal Marshals are sent in to enforce previous rulings or defend Black voting rights. Except in the case of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, the FBI fails to pursue or arrest those who commit violence against civil rights workers or Black voters. Nor do they make any effort to rein in or punish rampant police repression or the economic terrorism of the White Citizens Council. In the short-run then, the Summer Project fails to achieve its goal of registering a significant number of Blacks and prodding the Federal government into effective action.
The Black Community. Though few voters are added to the rolls, the pall of fear that has held generations in thrall is beginning to lift. The signs are unmistakable. To take just one example, as an act of intimidation local newspapers routinely publish the names of Blacks who try to register to vote — thereby alerting white employers, landlords, and businesses who to fire, evict, boycott, and foreclose. But as one volunteer deep in the Delta writes, "In Panola County now the Negro citizens look with pride at their names in the Panolian, they point out the names of friends and neighbors and hurry to the courthouse to be enlisted on the honor roll." Where once it was a signal victory to find three courageous souls willing to go down to the courthouse, now Blacks in the dozens and hundreds are putting on their Sunday best to defiantly demand that they be allowed to vote.
And despite initial fears of unconscious racism and culture-clash, the Black community welcomes the white volunteers and takes them into their homes and hearts. Looking back, Fannie Lou Hamer later tells an interviewer:
It was these kids what broke a lot of this [racism and class distinctions] down. They treated us like we were special and we loved 'em. ... We didn't feel uneasy about our language might not be right or something. We just felt like we could talk to 'em. We trusted 'em, and I can tell the world [that] those kids done their share in Mississippi. — Fannie Lou Hamer. 
National Political Effect. Though the mass media focuses almost exclusively on the white volunteers, the nation is nevertheless becoming aware of voter registration and denial of basic human rights in the South as important issues. Just as the Freedom Rides, Birmingham Campaign, and St. Augustine Movement forced segregation onto the national agenda, the news stories and letters from Freedom Summer volunteers raise voting rights to a new level of public concern. And that concern is now being brought to the attention of Congress and the White House by northern voters — white as well as Black. As Freedom Summer ends, Johnson is still saying that no new civil rights legislation is needed, but pressure is building, pressure that explodes in Selma, Alabama, just four months later.
MFDP. During the summer, 80,000 Mississippi Blacks (and a handful of whites) join the MFDP. Though that does not represent any significant increase over the number who participated in the Freedom Ballot the previous Fall, now there is a formal political party, with a solid membership base, a statewide structure, and an extensive network of activists down at the grassroots level. The MFDP thus becomes the vehicle for statewide and national political action.
As is the case with all other parties, there are political conflicts within the MFDP. The NAACP remains closely allied with the national Democratic Party and at the end of the summer the national NAACP leaders are furious over the MFDP's rejection of the so-called "compromise" at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Moreover, SNCC's organizing work in states other than Mississippi is moving toward independent politics and strategies that increasingly challenge and confront the Johnson administration. On the national level therefore, SNCC-NAACP relations are strained. In Mississippi, the MFDP continues to consider itself the true Democratic Party of the state, which leads it to organize the MFDP Congressional Challenge to the Mississippi members of Congress, which puts it in conflict with both Johnson and the national Democratic Party leadership.
COFO. Originally established to coordinate civil rights activities in the state and administer & distribute VEP grants, by the end of Freedom Summer COFO as an organization has outlived its usefulness. There is no longer any VEP grant money to divide up, so that function is gone. After Johnson's election victory in the Fall, NAACP participation in COFO dwindles away. While CORE is still active in the 4th Congressional District, most of its southern resources continue to be concentrated in Louisiana. SCLC is focusing more and more on Alabama, and SNCC's primary work in Mississippi is the MFDP. So COFO's importance as a coalition of national organizations diminishes. Over the next year, the MFDP and the Delta Ministry supplant COFO as the main organizations for grassroots action and organizing in the state.
SNCC & CORE Staff. The brutal violence, the stark contrast between the Federal government and the media's concern for the safety of white college kids and their indifference to Black suffering, the refusal of Washington to offend segregationists by upholding Black rights, and above all the white liberal establishment's betrayal of the MFDP at the Democratic Convention embitters and radicalizes most of the field staff. After Atlantic City, integration as a goal, appealing to the conscience of the nation as a method of change, and nonviolence as a strategy are all called into question by more and more of the veteran organizers. SNCC Chair John Lewis later identified Atlantic City (and by extension, Freedom Summer) as "the turning point." Going forward, both SNCC and CORE begin to move in new directions, away from integration, away from nonviolence, towards Black self-reliance and Black Power. And the human cost of the Summer Project on the organizing staff is high.
[By the end of the summer] the staff, as Mrs. Hamer would say, 'was all wore out.' All of us were physically exhausted from the sheer burden of all the organizing work. Many more of us than we knew then were totally burned out. Emotionally scarred, spiritually drained from the constant tension, the moments of anger, grief, or fear in a pervading atmosphere of hostility and impending violence. — Kwame Ture 
Volunteers. The out-of-state volunteers are profoundly affected by Freedom Summer. Over and over, they report the same reactions:
It was the most intense moment of my life.
It changed my life, I'm still here [in Mississippi]
[It was] the most creative and powerful time of my life.
It was the most meaningful time of my life, and the activities I am most proud of.
[It] changed my life in so, so many ways — all for the better.
In many ways it set me on a path continues to this day.
My brief time in the movement changed and has guided my life and how I try to be in the world.
[It] was a significantly defining experience in my life.
The greatest public contribution I have ever made...
The experience has continued to shape my life ...
Life was never the same after being in Mississippi and I carry my experiences with me to this day.
[It] changed the course of my life. I became committed to working for a different and better world, one with racial equality, economic justice, and peace.
The personal, emotional, and political metamorphosis experienced by the volunteers is enormous. Most obvious are changes in their political awareness of poverty, systemic racism, widespread injustice, media bias, and government complicity in oppression and exploitation — not just by the state of Mississippi, but by the Federal government as well.
Years later, Kwame Ture observed of white SNCC staff and volunteers:
Upon joining us, those comrades stopped being "white" in most conventional American terms, except in the most superficial physical sense of the word. To start with, for these young "white" Americans even to seriously think about joining the struggle in the conditions that prevailedmeant that they were unusually conscientious and socially aware young people. Then, quite apart from the danger, the ones who joined were "whites" who had no problem working happily in a black organization with black leadership and that worked mostly in rural black communities at considerable risk. That alone would separate them from the general run of their white countrymen — then and now — and entitles them to our respect.
And, while all of us would be changed by the experience, our "white" staffers had at least three particularly attitude-changing experiences that "white" Americans almost never have: working with blacks in complete equality; being on the receiving end of white racial hostility; and being immersed in the highest expressions of black culture while meeting the black community at its very best. What thinking young person could avoid being changed by even one of these experiences, much less by all three together? Socially and politically our comrades of lighter complexion stopped being "white." When they experienced the full force of racist hostility from Southern white politicians, police, and public opinion, compounded by the indifference or paralysis of the national political establishment, whatever class and color privileges they might have taken for granted were immediately suspended. At moments of confrontation they were at as great a risk as any of us, and as "race traitors" were sometimes in even greater jeopardy. — Kwame Ture 
For most of the volunteers, Freedom Summer is the beginning of a lifetime commitment to social activism in a variety of forms. "I became political in Mississippi. I began to see the world in strictly political terms" explained one volunteer. The volunteers who leave Mississippi join protest movements, run for office, become community organizers, and engage in humanitarian work; many dedicate themselves to ongoing struggles against racism, colonialism, and the Vietnam War, for women's liberation, student rights on campus, the environment, economic justice, and a host of other causes great and small.
The Human Cost
The human cost of Freedom Summer is high:
Staying On. Not all the volunteers leave at the end of summer. More than 80 — most white, some Black — cancel their college plans and remain in the Freedom Movement. Some stay in Mississippi working with the local people they have come to love, others become activists in the broader struggle, moving from place to place as circumstances require. For the most part, those who stay are welcomed by the local Black communities who value their dedication and service and also the access northerners provide to skills, resources, and political support that are desperately needed. But SNCC and CORE are ill-prepared to absorb a large influx of mostly northern, mostly white, activists into what had previously been overwhelmingly Black and southern organizations. Black-white and North-South cultural tensions escalate, causing internal friction and conflict.
Down at the Grassroots. The social revolution and organizing work at the community level does not halt at the end of the summer. In counties and local communities, a variety of post-summer activities are undertaken. Some are continuations of the Summer Project, others are aimed at controlling the poverty program in Mississippi — or at least gaining pieces of it for local endeavors. SNCC & CORE staff and volunteers who stay in the state continue working on voter registration, building the MFDP, local political action, freedom schools and community centers. And going forward, new ideas and activities emerge including coops, ASCS elections, Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) which is the state's Headstart program, the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union, and other efforts.
Organizational Structure of Freedom Summer
Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman
MFDP Congressional Challenge to the Democratic Convention
For more information on Freedom Summer:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
1964 Freedom Summer Project (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Documents: Freedom Summer & Freedom Schools
Personal Remembrances of Freedom Summer
CORE field secretaries Mickey and Rita Schwerner arrive in Meridian at the beginning of 1964. Meridian is the seat of Lauderdale County and the center of CORE organizing in east-central Mississippi. Along with local CORE leader James Chaney of Meridian, they meet frequently with Freedom Movement supporters in adjacent Neshoba County, and Mt. Zion Church in the unincorporated Longdale community agrees to host a Freedom School for the upcoming Summer Project. On the evening of June 16, while CORE staff is in Ohio for the orientation of the summer volunteers, Klansmen attack the church, beat members of the congregation, and destroy the building.
On Saturday, June 20, Schwerner and Chaney return to Meridian with the first wave of volunteers. They enter a state where press and political leaders from the Governor on down are whipping up a frenzy of hate and violence among the white population. Instead of countering their incitements, FBI Director Hoover tells white Mississippi, "We will not wet-nurse troublemakers."
The next day, Schwerner, Chaney, and summer volunteer Andy Goodman, drive up to Neshoba County to meet with local Blacks about the church burning and continuing the Summer Project. Sheriff's deputy Cecil Price — who is also a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — stops them for "speeding" (their car is well known to both cops and Klan as a CORE vehicle). But instead of issuing a ticket to the driver, he arrests all three men, incarcerating them in the county jail in Philadelphia where they are not allowed to make any phone calls. While the three are held incommunicado, Price contacts his KKK associates and the Klan gathers. They arrange with Sheriff Lawrence Rainey to release the civil rights workers once an ambush has been set up on the road back to Meridian.
Search procedures are initiated at the Meridian CORE office when the three miss their check-in time. Summer volunteer Louise Hermey, on her first day in Mississippi, begins calling jails and hospitals. The Neshoba County jail denies all knowledge of the three, though in fact they are being held there. The SNCC office is notified, and Mary King alerts the FBI and Justice Department — who show little interest. Had the Federal government bestirred itself during the five hours Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman are held in jail, the Sheriff might have hesitated before turning them over to Klan lynch mob. But the Feds do nothing (as usual).
Around 10:30pm, when the Klan is ready and Price is positioned on the road in his squad car, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman are released from jail and told to "get out of town." As they drive the dark road towards Meridian, Price pulls them over with his police siren. He then turns them over to the Klan murder squad. They are taken to an isolated spot where James Chaney is savagely beaten and all three are shot to death. In the early morning hours of Monday, June 22nd, their bodies are buried in an earthen dam on the property of wealthy landowner Olen Burrage. Their car is driven into Bogue Chitto swamp and set on fire.
By Tuesday, the story of their disappearance is on the front page of the New York Times and the burned out car is discovered in Bogue Chitto swamp. Now Lyndon Johnson and the Federal government suddenly wake up — two white men (and a colored kid too) are missing, probably murdered. The FBI and military search teams are ordered into action. LBJ meets with the parents of Goodman and Schwerner who have come to Washington from New York to plead for Federal action. Johnson assures them that "everything possible" is being done. In Mississippi, Chaney's mother waits for word of her son. There is no White House invitation for her.
Secure in their certainty that bodies buried beneath an earthen dam can never be found, Mississippi officials claim it is all a hoax, a Communist plot to stir up sympathy for agitators, and that the missing men are hiding in Mexico. Or, as Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson tells reporters: "Those boys are in Cuba."
The Freedom Movement, of course, knows different, and the murders hit hard. Like most Freedom Movement activists, the three are young — one is a native Mississippian, one a staff field secretary, and one a summer volunteer — and all those who are putting their bodies on the line know that next time it could be them. Protests and sit-ins are mounted at Federal buildings around the country — New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco — and speaking for the Goodman family, attorney Martin Popper tells the press: "The murder of the boys is the first interracial lynching in the history of the United States."
The number of FBI agents assigned to Mississippi is increased ten-fold, from 15 to 150, and for the first time an FBI office is established in the state. But Hoover again reassures white Mississippi that the FBI will give, "no protection," to civil rights workers.
Throwing the corpses of murdered Blacks into the nearest river is a traditional component of the "southern way of life," so hundreds of Navy sailors are assigned to search the swamps, and Navy divers drag the rivers. Soon Black bodies are being pulled from the waters. Among them are Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, lynched by the Klan after Moore is expelled from Alcorn A&M for participating in civil rights protests. The Klansmen falsely believe that Dee and Moore are "Black militants" collecting guns for a race war against whites and for this imaginary crime they are murdered. Another young victim, tentatively identified as 14-year old Herbert Oarsby, is found wearing a CORE T-shirt. The remains of five other Black men are never identified. But none of the bodies are those of the missing white men, and both the media and the FBI quickly loose interest in them. (Forty- three years later, in 2007, a Klansmen is convicted in the Moore and Dee murders after Jackson Free Press and Canadian Broadcast Corporation reporters locate the killer and uncover new evidence. Their stories prod the Justice Department to finally reopen the case.)
In Neshoba County, a paid informant directs the FBI to the dam where the three are buried, and their bodies are recovered on August 4th. Rita Schwerner tells the press: "My husband, Michael Schwerner, did not die in vain. If he and Andrew Goodman had been Negroes, the world would have taken little notice of their deaths. After all, the slaying of a Negro in Mississippi is not news. It is only because my husband and Andrew Goodman were white that the national alarm has been sounded."
At his eulogy for James Chaney, CORE leader Dave Dennis voices the rage, anguish, and turmoil of Movement veterans and summer volunteers alike:
I want to talk about right now the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only in the state of Mississippi but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don't care, those who do care but don't have the guts enough to stand up for it, and those people busy up in Washington and other places using my freedom and my life to play politics with. That includes the President on down to the Governor of the state of Mississippi. ... I blame the people in Washington DC and on down in the state of Mississippi just as much as I blame those who pulled the trigger. ... I'm tired of that! Another thing that makes me even tireder though, that is the fact that we as people here in the state and the country are allowing it to continue to happen. ... Your work is just beginning. If you go back home and sit down and take what these white men in Mississippi are doing to us. ...if you take it and don't do something about it. ...then God damn your souls! — Dave Dennis. 
After the bodies are recovered, their families ask Freedom Movement attornies Arthur Kinoy and William Kunstler to ensure that the legally-required autopsies be done correctly and reported accurately. They ask that MCHR doctors be allowed to inspect the bodies and observe the procedure. But when MCHR doctors Charles Goodrich and Alfred Kogon attempt to do so, they are blocked by the cops — Mississippi officials refuse to allow access to anyone representing the Freedom Movement or the families.
The autopsy results are not released to the public, but mysterious leaks to the press imply that the three men were shot but not tortured or mutilated. The MCHR suspects a cover-up. They ask Dr. David Spain, a respected New York pathologist to inspect the bodies. State officials try to block a second autopsy, but the families hold firm and prevail. The first autopsy done under FBI and state authority had reported no injuries other than the fatal gunshots, but Dr. Spain discovers obvious evidence of horrendous torture and brutality suffered by James Chaney. He tells reporters:
I could barely believe the destruction to these frail young bones. In my 25 years as a pathologyist and medical examiner, I have never seen bones so severely shattered, except in tremendously high speed accidents or airplane crashes. It was obvious to any first-year medical student that this boy had been beaten to a pulp. — David Spain. 
Mickey Schwerner's parents ask that his body be buried next to James Chaney, but that violates Mississippi's rigid code of segregation extending even unto death — whites and Blacks cannot be layed to rest in the same cemetary.
On December 4, the FBI arrests and charges 19 suspects (and, incidentally, demonstrates what everyone has always known, that the FBI does, in fact, have the power to make arrests in civil rights cases). The charges against all of them are dismissed six days later.
On January 15, 1965, most of the first group are rearrested. A total of 18 men are charged with conspiracy to deny the three their civil rights. But no one is charged with murder. Murder is a state crime that has to be prosecuted by Mississippi law enforcement officials who are themselves segregationists committed to white-supremacy. On October 20, 1967, seven of the defendants are convicted of Federal conspiracy charges, the others are either acquitted outright or receive a mistrial. Among the convicted are Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. Sentences range from 3 to 10 years. Sheriff Rainey is among those acquitted.
After exhausting their appeals, the seven begin serving their sentences in March of 1970. None serve more than six years for lynching three young men. Meanwhile, the other murderers who were acquitted or had mistrials go about their lives, though everyone knows who they are and what they did. Rainey continues in office as Sheriff until his term ends and acquitted defendant E.G. Barnett is elected in his place.
Thirty years pass. Across the South, white Southerners are eager to ignore and suppress all memory of lynchings, assassinations, and oppression. Most white politicians and law enforcement officials switch parties from Democrat to Republican, but regardless of party they show no interest at all in investigating or prosecuting murder cases involving Movement-related killings in Mississippi or anywhere else.
But Black communities in the South do not forget, they know who the murderers are. Voter registration rises, Blacks are elected to office and begin to gain a share of political power. In both North and South a new generation of young activists, attorneys, journalists, and community leaders begin to demand belated justice. Journalist Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger plays a key role in reawakening public interest in cases long buried by political expediency — he finds witnesses, uncovers concealed evidence, and locates suspects. As the 20th Century fades into history and the new century begins, public pressure forces Southern politicians and prosecutors to reopen old cases. Byron De La Beckwith is convicted for assasinating Medgar Evers and dies in prison in 2001, and two of the Birmingham church bombers are also sent to prison.
In 2001, former Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price begins to cooperate with state authorities who have reopened the Chaney, Schwerner, Goodman case. He suddenly dies in a mysterious "accident." In June of 2005, a Neshoba County jury convicts Edgar Ray Killen for manslaughter in the lynching of the three civil rights workers. He is sentenced to 60 years in prison. But as of 2008, activists continue to demand that charges be brought against the other murderers who still remain free despite a finding by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court that:
There is ample — in fact, overwhelming — untainted evidence that the defendants conspired together to have Price, a deputy sheriff, arrest Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, United States citizens; that Price would hold them in custody until such time that when released, Price, Arledge, Barnette, Roberts, Snowden, Jordan and Posey could and would intercept them, assault and kill them; and that each was present at and participated in the murder of the three men and the disposal of their bodies by burial fifteen feet beneath the top of an earthen dam deep in the woods. ... Specifically, we find ample proof of conspiracy and each appellant's complicity in a calculated, cold-blooded and merciless plot to murder the three men.
For more information on Freedom Summer:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
1964 Freedom Summer Project (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Documents: Freedom Summer & Freedom Schools
Personal Remembrances of Freedom Summer
Prior to Freedom Summer, most Movement education efforts are aimed at adults. To one degree or another, the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC are all involved in teaching adult literacy, political education, and how to pass the various literacy tests, with the largest and most sustained effort coming from thousands of SCLC's Citizenship School teachers.
But as more and more young people become active in the Freedom Movement, student-oriented educational activities begin to emerge and evolve. When more than a hundred Black high school students in McComb are expelled from school in 1961 for Movement activities, SNCC briefly establishes "Nonviolent High" to carry on their education. In Greenwood, the SNCC office is just down the street from the Black high school and SNCC field secretaries begin teaching impromptu after-school classes in 1962 and '63.
The need is self-evident. On average, the state of Mississippi spends
four times as much educating whites as Blacks ($81.66 per pupil vs
$21.77). Mississippi does not have a mandatory education law.
Plantation owners can work Black (and poor white) children in the
fields whenever they wish. And when Black students do manage to attend
a dilapidated "Colored" school, the state-mandated curriculum
glorifies the "Southern way of life," ignores Black contributions,
distorts history and science to justify segregation and exploitation,
and instructs them to be grateful, happy, and contented with "their
place in life." Mound Bayou, for example, is an all-Black town, yet
the county school board requires that "
Neither foreign languages
nor civics shall be taught in Negro schools. Nor shall American
history from 1860 to 1875 be taught." Those Black teachers who
courageously try to counter or subvert this carefully calculated
socialization risk being fired, arrested on some trumped up charge, or
In the Fall of 1963, SNCC field secretary Charlie Cobb proposes that Freedom Schools be set up:
To fill an intellectual and creative vacuum in the lives of young Negro Mississippians, and to get them to articulate their own desires, demands, and questions ... to stand up in classrooms around the state and ask their teachers a real question ... to create an educational experience for students which will make it possible for them to challenge the myths of our society, to perceive more clearly its realities, and to find alternatives — ultimately new directions for action.— Charlie Cobb. 
In March of 1964, the National Council of Churches (NCC) sponsors a Freedom School conference in New York. Freedom Schools are incorporated into the Summer Project, and Spelman College history professor Staughton Lynd is appointed director of the Freedom School program. But after years of struggle on the front lines, activists have no illusions. They know how tough it's going to be. At the Summer Project orientation in mid-June, Lynd warns volunteers assigned to teach in Freedom Schools:
You'll arrive in Ruleville, in the Delta. It will be 100 degrees, and you'll be sweaty and dirty. You won't be able to bathe often or sleep well or eat good food. The first day of school, there may be four teachers and three students. And the local Negro minister will phone to say you can't use his church basement after all, because his life has been threatened. And the curriculum we've drawn up — Negro history and American government — may be something you know only a little about yourself. Well, you'll knock on doors all day in the hot sun to find students. You'll meet on someone's lawn under a tree. You'll tear up the curriculum and teach what you know. — Staughton Lynd. 
Freedom School Curriculum
The over-arching goal of SNCC organizing in Mississippi is to build political power that defends the interests of those at the bottom of society. But to create parties and organizations that not only represent the disempowered but are led and controlled by them requires a long-term effort to develop political awareness, self-confidence, and organizational skills within the community — not just among adults but among young people too. In Mississippi in 1964, the immediate goal is to build the MFDP as a Black-led party of the disenfranchised, and the Freedom School curriculum is directly linked to that effort. Said Rev. Edwin King, MFDP candidate for Lieutenant Governor: "Our assumption was that the parents of the Freedom School children, when we met them at night, that the Freedom Democratic Party would be the PTA."
I just loved going to talk about the movement or to conduct lessons in those classes. But I also saw something that has stayed with me all my political life. All real education is political. All politics is not necessarily educational, but good politics always is. You can have no serious organizing without serious education. And always, the people will teach you as much as you teach them — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) 
Rather than being built around facts to be memorized for answers to standardized tests, Freedom Schools are based on asking questions. Questions whose answers are found within the lives and experiences of the students and their families, and which are crucial to building the Movement. The instructions given to Freedom School teachers makes it plain:
In the matter of classroom procedure, questioning is the vital tool. It is meaningless to flood the student with information he cannot understand; questioning is the path to enlightenment... The value of the Freedom Schools will derive mainly from what the teachers are able to elicit from the students in terms of comprehension and expression of their experiences.
The initial focus is on two related sets of questions:
A Different Kind of School
Freedom School planners hope for 1,000 students. They get two or three times that number. Statewide, there are 41 schools with students ranging in age from small children to the elderly. The average age is around 15. The teachers are summer volunteers, mostly college students themselves, and in most of the schools the older kids help teach the younger. Ever-present is police harassment and the threat of violence from hostile whites. There is little money and limited supplies, few blackboards, and even fewer desks. The public libraries won't admit Blacks, so books have to be sent by supporters in the North — so many that the Holly Springs project assignes two full-time volunteers to sort donated books and send them on to Freedom Schools and community centers.
Not surprisingly, the more active a community has been in the struggle, the more students want to participate in a Freedom School. In Hattiesburg they expect and plan for 100 students. Ranging in age from 8 to 82, more than 600 show up for class on the first morning. More teachers are hurriedly dispatched from COFO headquarters in Jackson. In charge of the Hattiesburg effort, Mrs. Carolyn Reese explained, "The Freedom Schools mean an exposure to a totally new field of learning, new attitudes about people, new attitudes about self, and about the right to be dissatisfied with the status quo."
In the (relative) cool of the morning session, the focus is usually on the questions of the core curriculum — particularly around Black history, citizenship, political power, and the Freedom Movement. Later, depending on the interests of the students, there are classes in academic subjects rarely offered in the segregated "Colored" schools of Mississippi such as French, chemistry, algebra, journalism, and drama, or practical courses in typing, health care, and other skills not normally available to Black students. In the evening after work, classes are held for adults who have come in from the fields and out of the kitchens — and for teenagers working full-time to support their families.
Freedom School teacher Pam Parker (Chude Allen) describes the school in Holly Springs:
The atmosphere in the class is unbelievable. It is what every teacher dreams about real, honest enthusiasm and desire to learn anything and everything. The girls come to class of their own free will. They respond to everything that is said. They are excited about learning. They drain me of everything that I have to offer so that I go home at night completely exhausted but very happy in spirit. ... Every class is beautiful. The girls respond, respond, respond. And they disagree among themselves. I have no doubt that soon they will be disagreeing with me. At least this is one thing I keep working towards. They are a sharp group. But they are under-educated and starved for knowledge. They know that they have been cheated and they want anything and everything we can give them. — Chude Allen. 
The McComb Freedom School
Public schools in America are run as separate, self-contained realities, isolated from work and family. For students, there's "school life" and "real life," and those in charge of the system are determined that never the twain shall meet. Freedom Schools operate on a different premise. Students are encouraged to bring back what they are learning and teach their parents. They are expected to attend — and participate in — the Movement mass meetings alongside the adults. What they learn in the morning, they put into practice in the afternoon as they help with voter registration and organizing the MFDP. And the grown-ups are just as involved in the school, hosting and protecting the volunteer teachers, discussing the curriculum and what they want for their children's future, and preparing or building (and when necessary, rebuilding) the school itself.
Nowhere is this interaction between Freedom School and community more dramatic than in McComb — site of SNCC's first voter registration project in 1961. The Klan is strong and vicious in the Pearl River region of SW Mississippi, the cops are brutal even by Mississippi standards, and after the assassinations of Herbert Lee and Louis Allen, the jailing of the SNCC staff, and the expulsion of the Black high school students in 1961, fear lies heavy on the land. Initial plans to establish projects in the area are put on hold because it's considered "too dangerous."
But memories of McComb's short-lived "Nonviolent High" have not died, and the young people of McComb want a Freedom School. A church courageously steps up, and a couple of weeks after the start of Freedom Summer, a small group of SNCC staff and volunteer teachers are sent in. The school opens with 108 students. The church is bombed by the Klan. No one else dares offer another space, so classes are held on the scorched earth next to the blown-out wall.
Joyce Brown, 16 years old, a teacher/student writes The House of Liberty, a poem about the school, the bombing, and the fear paralyzing the adults. Hand to hand it is passed through the community, inspiring courage, stirring hope. McComb Freedom School director Ralph Featherstone reports, "Old people are looking to the young people and their courage is rubbing off."
Churches begin to open their doors, adults begin attending meetings and joining the MFDP, the project expands. Klan and cops retaliate, there are more bombings, more arrests, more beatings, more intimidation, but the Movement carries on. Staughton Lynd later cites McComb as a case where "The presence of a Freedom School helped to loosen the hard knot of fear and to organize the Negro community."
The Freedom Schools are a great success. By the end of the summer,
most schools are publishing mimeographed newspapers written and edited
by the students themselves. Holly Springs students write and perform a
play. Students in Hattiesburg author a new "Declaration of
Independence" that begins:
"In the course of human events,
it has become necessary for the Negro people to break away from the
customs which have made it very difficult for the Negro to get his
God-given rights," it goes on to enumerate the abuses Blacks
have endured and the rights they have been denied, and ends:
"We, therefore, the Negroes of Mississippi assembled, appeal to
the government of the State, that no man is free until all men are
free. We do hereby declare independence from the unjust laws of
Mississippi which conflict with the United States
A statewide convention of Freedom School students in early August drafts and adopts resolutions on enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, the need for low-cost housing, urban renewal, free medical care, economic sanctions against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, a Federal jobs program, better employment opportunities, aboliton of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and ending the poll tax (See Platform: Freedom School Convention).
And in the Fall, when regular school resumes, Freedom School students carry the spirit forward. In Philadelphia MS, where Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman had been lynched, Black students show up on the first day of class wearing "One Man, One Vote" buttons. And in Issaquena and Sharkey counties students mount an 4-month school boycott when administrators try to stop them from wearing their SNCC buttons.
White Mississippi does not approve. The state legislature passes a law
prohibiting schools not licensed by the county superintendent of
education, and forbidding a license to any school that "
and encourages disobedience to the laws of the state." Klan
night riders burn and bomb churches and other buildings housing
Freedom Schools, students are attacked on the way to class, teachers
are harassed and arrested on phony charges, and parents threatened.
But their efforts fail — the Freedom Schools flourish.
The Freedom Schools challenged not only Mississippi but the nation. There was, to begin with, the provocative suggestion that an entire school system can be created in any community outside the official order, and critical of its suppositions. The Schools raised serious questions about the role of education in society: Can teachers bypass the artificial sieve of certification and examination, and meet students on the basis of a common attraction to an exciting social goal? Is it possible to declare that the aim of education is to find solutions for poverty, for injustice, for racial and national hatred, and to turn all educational efforts into a national striving for these solutions?— Howard Zinn 
For more information on Freedom Summer:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
1964 Freedom Summer Project (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Documents: Freedom Summer & Freedom Schools
Personal Remembrances of Freedom Summer
See Medical Committee for Civil Rights Pickets AMA for preceding events.
In 1964, there are roughly 50 Black medical doctors in Mississippi — but only a handful are willing to publicly support the Movement. Among them are three in Jackson — Drs. Robert Smith, A.B. Britten, and James Anderson (who had supported the movement in McComb in 1961), along with Aaron Shirley in Vicksburg, Matthew Page in Starkville, Cyril Walwyn in Yazoo city, and Gilbert Mason in Biloxi. Of the remaining Black physicians, some are afraid to treat Movement activists at all, some will only do so for cash in hand immediate payment, and others are afraid to violate the rigid customs of segregation by treating white activists — particularly white women. As for white MDs, with but a few exceptions they refuse to treat "outside agitators" at all.
A thousand Freedom Summer volunteers are scheduled to begin confronting the "closed society" of Mississippi at the end of June and the need for medical care is critical — not just to care for those injured by racist violence and brutality, but also for stress-related illnesses, and the normal ailments of suffocating heat, inadequate diet, and a strange environment. The few Black physicians willing to treat Freedom Movement activists are already overloaded — they cannot meet the needs of Freedom Summer without assistance.
Doctors Smith and Anderson meet with Summer Project Director Bob Moses to discuss the problem. On June 18, SNCC staff member Carol Rogoff writes to Dr. Tom Levin — who had formed the short-lived Committee of Conscience to support protests in Alabama and Mississippi the year before — asking him if he would mobilize northern health professionals to volunteer in Mississippi in support of Freedom Summer. He agrees. On June 24, just days after the disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, twelve doctors meet at Levin's home in New York City. Like Levin, most of them are Jewish, and some know the Schwerner and Goodman families. They agree to go down to Mississippi. At a larger meeting the next day, they elect a committee that includes Dr. Edward Barsky the medical director of the Lincoln Brigade during Spanish Civil War. The committee issues a call for doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and support staff to join them on the front lines of Freedom Summer. Shortly thereafter, they adopt the name Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR).
On July 5th, Levin, Dr. Elliott Hurwitt (Chief of Surgery at Montefiore Hospital), and Dr. Leslie Falk (head of the United Mine Workers health program) arrive in Jackson to meet with COFO and the Black doctors who have been caring for the Freedom Movement for so long. An office is rented on Farish Street near the COFO headquarters, COFO appoints Lois Chafee as medical liaison, Claire Bradley becomes the MCHR office manager, and a four point program is agreed on:
Levin returns to New York to coordinate recruitment and fund-raising while Falk takes charge in Jackson. But there's a snag. The head of the Mississippi Department of Health is Dr. Archie Gray, a staunch segregationist. He makes it clear that no one who comes south to support Freedom Summer will be allowed to practice medicine in his state. Any doctor, nurse, or other licensed professional who does so risks arrest on felony charges. This means no prescriptions, no shots, no procedures. But any citizen — licensed professional or not — can give emergency first-aid to those in need, and in the months and years to come, MCHR medics stretch that concept as far as possible.
By mid-July, MCHR-staffed health centers are up and running in Jackson, Greenwood, Meridian, Canton, Hattiesburg, and McComb. Over the course of Freedom Summer, 57 doctors, 18 nurses, and 35 other health practioners volunteer in Mississippi. Reflecting the demographics of the health professions in 1964, only a few are Black, most are white, many of them Jewish.
Some MCHR volunteers are experienced activists who have been supporting the Freedom Movement in the North for years. Some, like Dr. Martin Gettelman, work through the summer, and a few like MCHR leader Dr. June Finer, soldier on for years. MCHR officer and New York physician Alfred Moldovan who serves in Meridian and later Selma Alabama, recalled:
I, like many of my colleagues who were in the MCHR, were solo practitioners. We had no vacation time. We did not have fancy practices. My practice was in East Harlem and remained in East Harlem until I retired. When the Movement needed us we came. We closed our practices, left our families without knowing when we would return, and lost all income for the period we were in the South. When I walked out the door, I kissed my wife and children and handed my wife a stack of cash to be used to bail me out of jail if I got arrested, which I expected would likely happen. I knew I was not going on vacation. — Alfred Moldovan. 
Other MCHR volunteers work in the state for just a week or two, some of them spending their vacations for freedom rather than pleasure as do many of the volunteer lawyers who work with the legal support organizations.
Inevitably, just as with other Freedom Summer volunteers, misunderstandings, culture clashes, and racial tensions sometimes rise between the mostly white MCHR volunteers and Black activists, health professionals, and local communities. While some MCHR volunteers are familiar with the Freedom Movement others know little about it or the realities of Black life in Mississippi. Many MCHR doctors are from elite schools and hold prestigious appointments, and a few are arrogant in their assumption of superior medical knowledge and experience. Culture clashes also occasionally arise between doctors in suits used to the order, cleanliness, and strict hierarchical protocol of major urban hospitals and overall-wearing young activists filled with the spirit of rebellion and defiance who daily put their lives on the line in hard, risky work.
But these inevitable tensions exist in the shadow of much greater tensions from shared danger, Klan violence, police brutality, and economic retaliation by the Whites Citizens Council. MCHR doctors and nurses put their bodies on the line alongside everyone else, they face violence, jail, and abuse, some are arrested, some are beaten. Out of several hundred thousand American doctors, and more than a million nurses, these are the few — the very few — who come south to stand for freedom. And though for most of them their sojourns are short, for that brief time they are embraced by Black communities as fellow soldiers in the struggle.
As Freedom Summer progresses, MCHR volunteers engage in a wide range of activities as illustrated by excerpts from Dr. Lee Hoffman's report of a week in Clarksdale:
Attended a COFO worker who was beaten over the head ... gave first aid ... accompanied him to the hospital ... Played football with the local high school boys ... Visited several sick local people with nurse ... Was arrested for being out after curfew ... Visited citizen of Marks in jail at request of COFO to give her reassurance (I could not have gotten in without positive identification as an MD) ... Repaired a dangerous electrical connection in a local home ... put a lock on window in Freedom House ... Attended funeral at request of family of a terminal patient I had seen earlier.— Lee Hoffman. 
Other volunteers conduct health-education and pre-natal classes at COFO community centers, provide a medical presence in Black communities (some of which have never had a visit from a doctor), document the health consequences of poverty and deprivation, and begin laying the groundwork for future struggles against the vast inequality of the South's segregated health care. And late in the summer, MCHR doctors help expose the state's cover-up of the brutal torture inflicted on James Chaney before he was killed by the Klan (see Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman).
Except for wounds sustained in the course of their work, most of the young COFO organizers and Freedom Summer volunteers are physically healthy, requiring little medical care. But some activists suffer from what psychologist Robert Coles terms "battle fatigue." SNCC and CORE's dedicated field secretaries have been on the front line for months and years — enduring arrests, beatings, imminent threat of death, and also the painful betrayals of the Federal government and the broken promises of white liberals. Some COFO staff, local activists, and summer volunteers show symptoms of what today we call "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSD) — insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, outbursts of rage, acting-out, loneliness, depression, anorexia, and excessive drinking. MCHR arranges for those in most need to be sent north for treatment, and a rest & rehabilitation center is established in Jackson where freedom fighters can temporarily relax and decompress from the struggle. In Greenwood and elsewhere, Martin Gettelman and others begin to experiment with group-therapy as a method of addressing psychological wounds inflicted by society on the individual. A collective approach which recognizes that social causes and shared experiences can underlie individual symptoms.
MCHR volunteers provide critical medical support for protests, marches, and political rallies. Like World War II combat medics, they wear armbands displaying a prominent red-cross. Their presence reassures participants facing imminent violence and inhibit attacks from cops and white mobs. And visits to jailed demonstrators by MCHR doctors deter jailhouse beatings, brutalities, and assaults. In the years to follow, MCHR volunteers with their canvass first-aid satchels become familiar sights at protests in southern hotspot like Selma Alabama, Bogalusa Louisiana, and the Meredith Mississippi March.
For more information on MCHR:
Book: The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care
Web: Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR)
Documents: MCHR Manual for Volunteers [PDF]
Despite the posturing of urban centers like Atlanta, the South of the 1960s is still primarily a landscape of small towns and rural villages. It is in these small communities — far from the eyes of the media — that the Freedom Movement takes deep root. The cameras focus on the White House, Congress & the Supreme Court, Dr. King, and the dramatic marches and protests, but in a thousand country hamlets it is quite acts of stubborn courage and revolutionary defiance that begin to fundamentally alter a "Wouthern Way of Life" based on overt white-supremacy and terror-enforced Black subservience.
On July 2nd, President Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some Movement battlegrounds segregation of public facilities begins to collapse. The St. Augustine business community defies Klan threats by agreeing to end "white-only" policies. In Albany, Blacks are served instead of arrested, and SCLC holds its convention in Birmingham with Dr. King and other Black ministers staying at the brand-new Parliment House hotel. But in Selma, whites violently attack young Blacks who dare to defy the color-line, in Jackson the Robert E. Lee hotel converts from a public facility to a "private club" rather than admit Blacks, and across the South deeply entrenched customs of racial segregation remain in place until they are directly challenged — as the old saying goes: "Where the broom don't sweep, the dirt don't move."
In many ways, Greenwood is the epicenter of Freedom Summer activity, it is the heart of the Delta and SNCC's national office temporarily relocates there from Atlanta. The strategic priorities are clear — voter registration, community organizing, and building the MFDP towards the challenge at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Human and financial resources are desperately thin. Sit-ins to test the Civil Rights Act divert organizer time and attention, cost bail money, and inevitably result in activists languishing in jail. Mississippi whites are already enraged over the "invasion" of "outside-agitators" and Blacks socially interacting with white college students. COFO leaders fear that direct-action for hamburgers and library cards will intensify both violent retaliation and police repression. But "freedom is in the air," courage is contagious, and the daily humiliations of "white-only/colored-only" cry out for defiance.
Silas McGhee, 21, is Chair of the Greenwood NAACP Youth Council's "testing committee." His brother Jake is Assistant Chair. On July 5th, Silas walks three miles from his family's farm to the Leflore Theater in Greenwood. Defying a century of rigid segregation, he takes a seat on the "whites-only" main floor rather than the "Colored" balcony. He is attacked and harassed. The cops haul him home with a warning. When his brothers ask why he went by himself he tells them, "Well, you wasn't nowhere around when I decided to go. I just went."
Greenwood is a small town and word of his attempt to break the color-line spreads quickly through the Black community — and among whites as well. On July 16, Silas observes Freedom Day from across the street. He is not one of the 111 people arrested. As he walks home alone, three Klansmen ambush him and force him at gunpoint into their car. They beat him with clubs and try to lock him in a shed, but he manages break free. He evades their pursuit and reaches the FBI office Greenwood. Agents arrest the three attackers under the new civil rights law — the first case of its kind in Mississippi.
The McGhees are a tight-knit family and they're not known for backing down. Silas' mother and brothers join him in action and the cops discover that arresting the McGhees just makes them more determined.
The rest of July was a running battle between the McGhees, the theater, the mob, and the cops. ... Silas and his brother Jake kept going back to the theater. Five or six times. Each time when they tried to leave, a mob greeted them. ... Another night Jake and Silas went back to the movies, but this time when the mob formed, a towering (6'8"), linebacker-built paratrooper in full dress uniform appeared and faced down a member of the mob. Turned out it was their older brother, Clarence (Robinson), a decorated Korean War veteran on active duty at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A trained American fighting man, taking leave to come defend freedom, democracy, the Constitution, and his younger brothers in his hometown. Then he got himself jailed for assault. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). 
On Monday evening, August 15, after being released from jail, Silas is resting in a car outside of Lulu's Cafe on Avenue H in the Black community. Rain is pouring down and the night is dark. Two white men in a car drive slowly by, they shoot Silas in the head and speed off. SNCC field-secretary Bob Zellner and summer volunteer Mark Winter strip off their shirts to try to stop the bleeding. With volunteer Linda Whetmore Halpern, they rush Silas to the segregated Greenwood public hospital. Cops at the hospital won't let them in because they're using the "wrong" entrance. They drive around back to the other door, but the cops again bar them — this time because Bob and Mark are not wearing shirts. Linda has to go in alone, her blue dress drenched red with blood. She gets a stretcher and brings Silas inside.
The white doctors in this tax-financed hospital won't treat a wounded Black man, so Dr. Jackson — the only Black MD in Greenwood — is summoned. While he works to save Silas' life, officer Logan of the Greenwood police department tells another cop "Well, they finally got that nigger Silas!" Other cops make it clear that if Silas doesn't die on the operating table he'll be killed during the night. As soon as Silas is stabilized, he is transferred to a hospital in Jackson.
Greenwood's Black community is enraged. More than a dozen young Black men armed with rifles ask SNCC field-secretary Wazir Peacock about invading North Greenwood — a white neighborhood — and retaliating in kind. He tells them that it wouldn't be right to attack whites who had nothing to do with the shooting. He also understands that doing so would bring down a wave of violent repression against the entire Black community. The Klan is known to have been stockpiling military-type weapons, and it's possible that the shooting of Silas is intended to provoke just such a war. The young men agree to concentrate on defending the Black community from further KKK attack.
The shooting of Silas McGhee halts neither the McGhee family nor the work of the Freedom Movement. Voter registration and building the MFDP continue, as do efforts to implement the Civil Rights Act.
For more information on Freedom Summer and the Greenwood Civil Rights
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web: Mississippi Movement
See Voter Registration & Direct-Action in McComb MS for preceding events.
Back in the Fall of 1961, the McComb voter-registration project — SNCC's first — was temporarily suppressed by the brutal murder of Herbert Lee, Klan violence, economic retaliation, the expulsion of more than 100 high-school student protesters, Federal indifference, and the incarceration of the SNCC staff on trumped up charges. But SNCC has neither forgotten, nor abandoned McComb. In the Fall of '63, SNCC workers briefly return to mobilize support for the Freedom Ballot, and again in January of '64 to for voter-registration classes. But Klan repression is unrelenting, threats and intimidation are constant, night-riders shoot up Black homes and businesses, and on January 31st Louis Allen who witnessed Herbert Lee's murder is assassinated.
As they begin planning the Summer Project in early 1964, SNCC activists are determined to re-establish a permanent Freedom Movement presence in McComb — though they know with dead certainty that doing so means a showdown with the Klan. The forces of white-supremacy are of the same opinion. Pike County sheriff R.R. Warren tells a meeting of Americans for the Preservation of the White Race (APWR) that he expects a "long hot summer" and that he may need to recruit their assistance if law enforcement is unable to suppress the COFO "threat." Rumors swirl through the white community that Black men identified by white bandages on their throats have been specifically assigned to rape white women, parents are warned to know where their small children are at all times, sales of guns and ammunition spike upward, and Klan membership soars. The oilman who financially backs the Klan has easy access to dynamite, and on the night of June 22nd — 24 hours after the lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman — explosions blast through the Black community, damaging the home of NAACP leader C.C. Bryant who grabs his rifle and fires back at the bomber's car.
Led by SNCC project director Curtis Hayes (today, Curtis Muhammad), the first contingent of Freedom Summer workers arrive in McComb on July 5th. They open a COFO freedom house on Wall Street in the Black community. Two nights later a dynamite bomb damages the house, injuring Curtis Hayes and volunteer Dennis Sweeney. The FBI "investigates" and does nothing. Over the following days, Black churches are burned in Pike and Amite counties, SNCC field secretary Mendy Samstein is attacked and beaten on a McComb street, and the home of C.C. Bryant's brother is bombed. With no protection from police or the Federal government, local Blacks active with the Movement stand armed guard each night against Klan bombers and night riders.
Except for a core of dedicated and courageous activists like the Bryants, Aylene "Mama" Quin, Webb Owens, Willie Mae Cotton, Ernest Nobles, Joe Martin, and a handful of others, fear is pervasive in McComb's Black community. No churches are willing to open their doors for mass meetings, voter-registration classes, or Freedom Schools. The few Blacks who dare the short trip to the county courthouse in Magnolia on voter- registration days face threats of violence and economic retaliation, and COFO canvassers are hard pressed to find any willing to take that risk.
But as it was back in '61, it's the Black youth who stand up and move forward. With no church or other building open to it, the McComb Freedom School meets in the dirt yard of the bombed freedom house. Joyce Brown (16), a Freedom School student-teacher pens The House of Liberty, a poem addressed to the community's adults that reads in part:
I asked for your churches, and you turned me down,
But I'll do my work if I have to do it on the ground,
You will not speak for fear of being heard,
So you crawl in your shell and say, "Do not disturb,"
You think because you've turned me away,
You've protected yourself for another day.
— Joyce Brown.
Young activists and COFO organizers circulate her poem throughout the Black community and the elders respond. A church opens its doors to the Freedom School and soon more than 100 students overflow the space — some of them the younger sisters and brothers of the those who had protested and been expelled from Burgland High three years before. "The Freedom School is inspiring the people to lend a hand in the fight," reports school director Ralph Featherstone. "The older people are looking to the young people, and their courage is rubbing off." Ten Black businessmen secretly gather in Aylene Quin's South of the Border cafe. Inspired by Joyce Brown's poem, they form a movement support committee and contribute $500 (equal to $3,700 in 2012) towards buying land and materials for a community center that will become movement headquarters. Soon churches open their doors to mass meetings and attendance begins to grow. Local families contribute food and money to support the COFO staff and volunteers.
Ku Klux Klan, White Citizens Council, and APWR retaliation is not limited to Blacks and civil rights workers, they also target local whites suspected of being insufficiently committed to white-supremacy — the family of Albert and Malva Heffner, for example. He's a successful McComb insurance salesman and his daughter is the reigning "Miss Mississippi" beauty queen. Though they support racial segregation and are not involved in civil rights activity of any kind, they're concerned about the rising tide of Klan violence. As a gesture of conciliation they invite the Rev. Don McCord of the Delta Ministry and summer volunteer Dennis Sweeney (both white) over for dinner. For this "crime" his insurance business is boycotted and destroyed and the entire family ostracized, they are subjected to threats of violence and death, their dog is poisoned, and they are soon forced to flee the county.
The McComb Movement calls for a mid-August "Freedom Day," an attempt to get as many people as possible to attempt to register at the courthouse in Magnolia. Klan opposition is fierce — crosses are burned, threats of violence and economic retaliation increase, and two dozen cops raid the freedom house in the middle of the night — looking for "illegal liquor" they claim [McComb is a "dry" city]. On August 14, the Black-owned Burgland market is bombed (in '61 the market's 2nd floor was used for "Nonviolent High" the freedom school for the expelled high-school students). Undeterred, several hundred Blacks attend a Freedom Day rally in McComb, and on August 18th, 23 Black men and women manage to take the voter-test at the courthouse in Magnolia. Their voter applications are denied by registrar Glen Fortenberry.
The following week, local activists, SNCC staff, and summer volunteers head north to Atlantic City for the MFDP Challenge to the Democratic Convention. On the night of August 27-28, as the betrayed MFDP delegates are bitterly making their way back to Mississippi, a bomb explodes near the home of Willie and Matti Dillon in McComb. She is active in the MFDP, two of their children attended the Freedom School, and Willie repaired a COFO car. Sheriff Warren warns them, "If you don't cooperate with us more than the COFOs, more than [the bombing] is going to happen to you." Warren and FBI agent Frank Ford accuse the Dillons of planting the bomb themselves, then arrest Willie Dillon for "operating a garage without a license" (for fixing the COFO car) and "stealing electricity" because he had rigged a temporary flood light in defense against Klan night riders. He is quickly tried without a lawyer and sentenced to a $600 fine (equal to $4,400 in 2012) and nine months in jail.
By the end of August, the Black community in McComb has endured more than a dozen bombings since the start of Freedom Summer in late June — people now call the small town of 12,000 the "Bombing capitol of the world." Chief FBI agent Frank Ford and his 15 junior G-men have not solved a single case — perhaps because they tend to accuse the victims of bombing their own homes and churches. As August ends, most of the summer volunteers return to school and with their departure media interest declines. The FBI takes the opportunity to reduce their 16 agents to 4. This further emboldens the Ku Klux Klan who rest secure in the certainty that they are immune from arrest by both local and Federal law enforcement.
But SNCC organizers Jesse Harris, Mendy Samstein, and Cephus Hughes, the Rev Harry Bowie from the Delta Ministry, and several summer volunteers remain in McComb. Along with local leaders like the Bryants and Aylene Quin, they are determined to keep the movement moving forward.
Mama Quin is kind and good to everyone, but more than that, she is a towering figure of strength. She can't be intimidated. Three years ago she was one of the first to welcome Moses and lend him and the SNCC workers her support. Her cafe has always been open — despite the threats. And this summer, again she leads the community. She serves Black and white, night after night. — Mendy Samstein. 
On August 30, the cops plant illegal liquor in Mama Quin's cafe and then arrest her. The white landlord evicts her, and the cafe is closed. Violence and beatings continue. Unable to intimidate Movement leaders, the Klan expands their terror campaign to Blacks who have never been involved in civil rights activities, bombing their homes and businesses to turn them against the Freedom Movement. SNCC writes to Washington, pleading for Federal intervention. The Justice Department does nothing.
On the night of September 20, a bomb shatters Aylene Quin's home injuring her children. A second dynamite blast destroys the wood-frame Society Hill Baptist Church which had opened its doors to freedom meetings (when the congregation later reconstruct the church they build it with fire-proof brick). Several hundred angry Blacks, many of them armed, pour into the streets, throwing rocks at the cops and threatening retaliatory violence. Only the desperate efforts of COFO organizers and local activists to calm the crowd avert a blood-bath as 100 heavily armed Mississippi State Trooper swarm into town. Sheriff Warren accuses Mama Quin of planting the bomb that destroyed her home and almost killed her young son and daughter. Dozens of Black leaders, activists, and students are arrested, many are charged with "criminal syndicalism" — a new state law that prohibits public speaking and political organizing by "subversive" groups. Soon the number of troopers stationed in McComb as an occupying army to suppress the Black community rises to almost 150 — one-third of the entire state force — and the number of Blacks arrested on various bogus and illegal charges tops 200. The number of Klansmen arrested for terrorism and bombings remains at zero.
With money from the National Council of Churches, SNCC/COFO sends Mama Quin, Matti Dillon, and Ora Bryant — all bombing victims — to Washington to meet with officials and the national press. The Justice Department brushes off the three women with the usual "doing all we can" platitudes, but a news conference and their meetings with members of Congress generates enough pressure that President Johnson meets with them privately. He's in the middle of his campaign against Goldwater and reluctant to take any action that might stir up more resentment among southern white voters, but he also fears that some dramatic escalation of violence in McComb — the assassination of civil rights workers or a violent confrontation between armed Blacks and the Klan/cops — could damage his reputation. He expresses his concern but makes no promises.
Meanwhile, more bombs explode at Black churches and homes in Pike County. In response, the Delta Ministry mobilizes clergymen from around the country to come to McComb. Over the next three months almost 100 ministers respond, and with them comes renewed attention from the national media. A dozen visiting ministers are among the 30 people arrested at a second Freedom Day in Magnolia and more are jailed for voter-registration efforts.
Back in McComb, the Black boycott of white businesses, the general sense of violence and tension, and renewed attention from the national media is depressing economic activity. The shopping district is deserted as both whites and Blacks avoid McComb stores. New industry won't consider investing in Pike County, and existing manufacturers ship their products from elsewhere so they won't bear a "made in McComb" label. Enterprise-Journal editor Oliver Emmerich warns of financial and political consequences and business leaders begin meeting to discuss the economic importance of law and order.
On September 29, a rumor flashes through the white power-structure that the Federal government has alerted a battalion of troops to declare martial law in McComb. Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson hears the same rumor and within minutes calls a meeting with local officials. He informs them that he is going to mobilize the state National Guard into McComb to forestall Federal action. The McComb and Pike County leaders ask him to hold off for two days to give them a chance to end the violence. Within 24 hours Klan members are being arrested for the bombings, within a few days 11 of them are in jail and huge amounts of explosives, weapons, and ammunition have been seized.
As described by author John Dittmer in Local People, the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, a sweet-heart plea bargain is quickly granted to the terrorists:
... they pleaded either guilty or nolo contendere to charges ranging from attempted arson to bombing. Under Mississippi law the maximum penalty was death, yet the presiding judge, W.H. Watkins, gave the defendants suspended sentences and immediately released them on probation. In justifying his leniency, Judge Watkins stated that the men had been "unduly provoked" by civil rights workers, some of whom "are people of low morality and unhygienic." The bombers, on the other hand, were from "good families..." That afternoon, thirteen COFO staff members were jailed on charges of operating a food-handling establishment (the freedom house, where they lived) without a permit. On the same day federal judge Sidney Mize rejected Willie Dillon's appeal to have his trial removed to federal court. Judge Mize ruled as he did because "there is no hostility among the general public in Pike County to the Negro race."
Despite "punishments" that don't even amount to a mild slap on the wrist, the sudden arrest of the Klansmen does accomplish three things. First, it proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the authorities knew who the bombers were all along and could have stopped them at any time. Second, it puts the Klan on notice that the power-structure wants the bombings to stop — and they do, the dynamiting of Black homes, churches, and businesses comes to an abrupt halt. Third, talk of martial law in McComb ends, and the press trumpets a great victory over the KKK.
But denial of voting rights, segregation, poverty, exploitation, and virulent racism still persist in McComb and Pike County and the Freedom Movement continues. Dynamite has failed to break it, violence has failed to halt it. The struggle for justice in the Pearl River region ("Klan nation") continues (see Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense). In November, McComb Blacks participate in another mock Freedom Vote to protest denial of voting rights and lay the foundation for a MFDP Congressional Challenge In February and March of 1965, at the height of the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, Black high-school students organize and lead protests at the county courthouse in Magnolia against Voter Registrar Glen Fortenberry who continues to deny Black voting rights. More than 90 people are arrested. The Freedom Movement soldiers on.
See Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Founded for preceding events.
Building the MFDP
Showdown in Atlantic City
The Significance of the MFDP Challenge
The Political Fallout
Some Important Points
As 1963 fades into history, 1964 dawns with Mississippi's white power-structure still continuing to deny Blacks the right to vote — no more than 5% of the state's Black population have been able to add their names to the voter rolls. And those few Blacks who are registered are shut out of the political processes. In many cases they face Klan violence, arrest by police on phony charges, and economic retaliation organized by the White Citizens Council if they actually try to cast ballots.
Mississippi is a one-party state, all office-holders and political power-brokers are Democrats. The Democratic Party of Mississippi is the party of state legislator E.H. Hurst who murdered Herbert Lee in 1961. It is the party of delta plantation owner and U.S. Senator James O. Eastland who preaches that "Segregation is the law of nature, is the law of God." It is the party of Governor Ross Barnett who incited whites to riot and kill when James Meredith Desegregated 'Ole Miss. They call themselves "Dixiecrats" — meaning that their true loyalty is to the southern social traditions of slavery and segregation and that they are loyal to the Democratic party only insofar as it defends white-supremacy.
In the first half of 1964, MFDP supporters attempt to participate in Democratic Party precinct, county, and state meetings, caucuses, and elections for committees and delegates. They are excluded. In April, the MFDP nominates Fannie Lou Hamer to run in the Democratic primary for Senator, and Victoria Gray, John Houston, and Rev. John Cameron for three of Mississippi's five seats in the House. With Blacks denied the vote, they are easily defeated. They file to run in the November general election as Independents. The Board of Elections rejects their petition. These outcomes are all expected, but they build a record of proof that Blacks who try to participate in Democratic Party and general election activities are systematically blocked at every turn.
Historically, like other Deep-South states, Mississippi sends all-white (and male-only) delegations to the national Democratic conventions. Despite the fact that these delegates are members of the Democratic Party, in 1960 they refused to support party nominee John Kennedy — instead they voted for Robert Byrd the "Dixiecrat" candidate. Now in 1964, they oppose President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), their party's presumptive nominee, because they consider him a supporter of civil rights for Blacks. Instead, these Mississippi "Democrats" openly campaign for Goldwater the Republican.
With Black voter registration and political participation blocked, the Freedom Movement adopts a three-part strategy:
The MFDP challenge to the all-white regular delegation rests on a firm foundation of four solid arguments:
These are strong, powerful arguments. But arrayed against them is the political opportunism of the national Democratic leadership who fear alienating white segregationists — not just in Mississippi, but across the entire South. Johnson and his power-brokers worry that if the national party recognizes the MFDP, white Democrats in many southern states will bolt the party as they did during the "Dixiecrat" revolt of 1948 when they voted for Strom Thurmond of South Carolina rather than Harry Truman.
On the national level, SNCC, CORE, and SCLC all support the MFDP challenge, as do most of Mississippi's NAACP chapters. But the NAACP's national leaders oppose the idea. NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkens tells reporters, "We're sitting this one out." Some Movement activists attribute this opposition to Wilkens' close alliance with the Johnson administration — Wilkens calls for a moratorium on all civil rights protests so as not to stir up a "white-backlash" that might hurt LBJ's chances against Goldwater. Other activists see it as a continuation of the NAACP's long-standing hostility to the formation of any mass-membership organization in any Black community that might compete with them for dues-money and political influence. (CORE, SCLC, and SNCC are not mass-membership organizations in the way that the NAACP and MFDP are.)
Building the MFDP
On June 20th, the first wave of Freedom Summer volunteers arrive in Mississippi Black communities. The next day they begin canvassing door-to-door on two simultaneous voter registration campaigns — regular registration for the official voter rolls and "freedom registration" to join the MFDP.
If you're Black in Mississippi, official voter registration is a courageous public act that challenges the established order. You can only register at the court house at certain times, the cops are always there to threaten, intimidate, and arrest you on trumped up charges. You have to pass the humiliating, so-called "literacy test," which is not really a test at all, but rather a bogus sham explicitly designed to deny voting rights to Blacks. If you dare try to register, your name is published in the local paper so that the White Citizens Council, your employer, your landlord, and your white business associates know to target you for economic retaliation.
Over the course of Freedom Summer, 17,000 courageous Blacks don their Sunday-best to defy these threats and a century of repression by attempting to register. Most are denied. Only 1600 — less than 10% — manage to become voters. COFO had hoped that the presence of summer volunteers would pressure the Federal government to finally enforce the Constitution, but — as usual — Washington takes no effective action to protect the voting rights of Blacks. By mid-July it is clear that even under the glare of national publicity the white registrars at the courthouse are determined to deny Black voting rights, so the Movement shifts focus to concentrate on "freedom registration" to build the MFDP.
Registering to join the MFDP is much simpler and can be done anywhere at any time — in the privacy of a home, a barber shop, even a "jook joint." All it requires is filling out a short form that just asks name, citizenship, age, and residency (similar to the voter-registration cards used in most states today). But in the closed society of Mississippi even this is an act of defiance and a test of courage. By the end of summer, 80,000 have become MFDP members.
In mid-July, Dr. King comes to Mississippi in support of the MFDP, speaking to mass meetings in Greenwood, Jackson, Tougaloo, Meridian, Vicksburg, and Philadelphia in Neshoba county where the three freedom workers were lynched. In pool halls and cafes, churches and Masonic temples, he tells audiences large and small that "America needs at least one party which is free of racism," and he asks them to join the MFDP. Klan threats to assassinate him are numerous and credible. President Johnson forces J. Edgar Hoover to assign FBI agents to protect King, and armed Black men stand night-guard while sleeps.
But membership recruitment is just the first step in building the MFDP into a solid political organization that can achieve and wield political power. Precinct meetings open to all MFDP members are held where members form ongoing precinct structures and elect delegates to the county meeting. While some Black churches "call" (elect) their pastors, for most Mississippi Blacks these precinct meetings are the first time they have ever voted or democratically chosen their leaders in a political context. In many areas, the precinct meetings take on the fervor and excitement of a social revolution.
The county delegates elected at the precinct level are a cross-section of the Black community — sharecroppers, farmers, housewives, teachers, maids, deacons & ministers, factory workers, and owners of small businesses — a far cry from the white-only regular Democrats whose delegates represent wealth and power, excluding not just Blacks but poor-whites as well. One Freedom Summer volunteer writes home from Vicksburg:
Hundreds of people risked their lives and jobs to come. Representatives were elected after the election of a permanent chairman and secretary. Resolutions were introduced, minutes were kept ... The precinct meeting was one of the most exciting events of my life ... 
The MFDP holds county meetings in half of Mississippi's 82 counties. County Central Committees are elected, as are delegates to the Congressional district caucus. A volunteer writes from Moss Point:
The county convention was held here last Saturday. It was just amazing seeing these people, many, or rather most, of whom had never had any experience at all in politics running the meeting, electing the people and passing resolutions for a state platform. These people, housewives, unskilled workers, many, but not all, uneducated, are fantastic. People who have never spoken publicly before get up and make the greatest speeches... 
At the five Congressional district caucuses the process is repeated, and delegates are elected to the state-wide convention. On the eve of the state convention, Joseph Rauh, Chief counsel for United Auto Workers (UAW), friend and ally of Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), and a leader of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) the liberal faction of the Democratic Party, arrives in Jackson. He's a member of the party's national Credentials Committee and he agrees to present and argue the MFDP's case for replacing the "Regular" Mississippi delegates before the committee. Along with Bill Kunstler (whose daughter Karen is a summer volunteer), Arthur Kinoy of the National Lawyers Guild, and ACLU attorneys, they review every party rule to make sure that the MFDP has correctly crossed every regulatory "t" and dotted every procedural "i."
On the morning of August 6, the MFDP's state convention comes to order in the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street in the heart of Jackson's Black community — the same hall from which Medgar Ever's massive funeral march issued just one year earlier. With state NAACP leader Aaron Henry of Clarksdale presiding, over 800 elected delegates and more than 1,000 supporters fill the building with energy and excitement.
It was a beautifully-organized, crowded, singing assembly of laborers, farmers, housewives, from the farthest corners of Mississippi, and made the political process seem healthy for the first time in the state's history. It was probably as close to a grassroots political convention as this country has ever seen. Most delegates were Negroes, but there were a few whites: one was Edwin King, Mississippi-born white minister at Tougaloo College; another was a husky former fisherman from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. — Howard Zinn. 
Ella Baker gives the keynote address.
Miss Baker talked about the way the rest of the country tacitly supported white-supremacy in Mississippi: "At no point were the southern states denied their representation on the basis of the fact that they had denied other people the right to participate in the election of those who govern them." She warned the delegates that when they were able to elect their own representatives, that wouldn't be the end of their troubles; elected representatives had to be watched: "Now this is not the kind of keynote speech, perhaps, you like. But I'm not trying to make you feel good." She urged them to spend less time watching television and more time reading about political and social issues; uninformed people cannot participate in a democracy. She reminded them that young people want some meaning in their lives, and they weren't going to get it from owning big cars and having a place in the power-structure. Echoing the theme of the summer project, she said, "Until the killing of Black mothers' sons is as important as the killing of white mothers' sons, we must keep on." The delegates, one journalist observed, gave "Miss Baker, the party, themselves a traditional placard-waving march, the first in American political history that stepped off to the tune Go Tell It On the Mountain and This Little Light of Mine.— Charles Payne. 
SNCC field secretary Lawrence Guyot is elected state chairman of the MFDP, Fannie Lou Hamer is chosen vice-chair, and a full slate of 68 delegates and alternates (64 Black, 4 white) are democratically elected strictly according to the rules of the Democratic Party. Among the national delegates are Charles McLaurin of SNCC, Annie Devine from Canton, Hartman Turnbow from Holmes County, E.W. Steptoe from Amite County, Unita Blackwell from the heart of the Delta, and Victoria Jackson Gray of Hattiesburg and Palmer's Crossing. When Lawrence Guyot is jailed in Hattiesburg before the convention, Mrs. Hamer — the MFDP Vice-Chair — steps up to become the public voice for Mississippi's disenfranchised Blacks.
Showdown in Atlantic City
While the MFDP prepares in Mississippi, Ella Baker, John Lewis, Marion Barry, and Friends of SNCC and CORE chapters in the North, begin contacting party officials, officeholders, and convention delegates. By the beginning of August, they report that 9 state delegations from the North and West, and 25 Democratic members of Congress, have promised to support the MFDP.
But others are also preparing. Segregationist Dixiecrats from Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and other southern states adamantly oppose seating the MFDP delegation in any way, shape, or form. Rejecting, or even questioning, the all-white, "good 'ole boy," process in Mississippi threatens the same practices across the South. The Dixiecrat delegates explicitly threaten to bolt the party as they did in 1948 against Truman. President Johnson knows that most of the white Mississippi delegates will end up supporting Goldwater in November, but he is determined to prevent a southern walkout, or any large-scale public break in party unity. All of the polls show him cruising to an easy victory over Goldwater even if the South deserts him, but a multi-state southern defection would be a slap in the face to him personally, and he yearns for a massive landslide victory that affirms his legitimacy as JFK's successor.
On August 19 — five days before the convention convenes in Atlantic City — Johnson meets with civil rights leaders in the White House. As a sign of his opposition to seating the MFDP, he refuses to even discuss the matter.
The Freedom Movement leaders are not informed that LBJ has ordered the FBI to illegally bug their rooms and offices and tap their phones so that he and his political operatives can spy on the MFDP's strategy discussions. When the convention gets under way, NBC helpfully provides FBI agents with press-passes allowing them pose as reporters who trick unsuspecting MFDP delegates into giving them "off-the-record" information that goes straight to Johnson's hatchet men. Eventually, 27 FBI agents, two stenographers, a radio operator, and an unknown number of informants are assigned to secretly gather political intelligence for use by those who oppose the MFDP challenge
Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (HHH), the champion of the party's liberal wing, is idolized by the progressives who have promised to vote for the MFDP challenge. Johnson has yet to name his Vice-President, and HHH desperately wants the job as a stepping stone for his own presidential ambitions. LBJ dangles the prize before him, but only if he influences liberal delegates to abandon the MFDP. Congresswoman and Credentials Committee member Edith Green later recalled:
I am absolutely persuaded that the scenario was as follows: that LBJ said to Hubert Humphrey, 'If you can prevent a floor fight over civil rights, you will be the next Vice President of the United States.' And Hubert Humphrey said to the then-Attorney General of Minnesota [Walter Mondale], 'If you can prevent a minority report from coming out of the credentials committee on civil rights, you will be the next senator from Minnesota.' — Edith Green. 
On Friday, August 21st, chartered busses carrying the MFDP delegation pull up to the old, run-down, Gem hotel, the only lodgings they can afford. Three and four to a room, they bed down after their long journey. They are short of cash but high in hope.
On Saturday, August 22nd, the MFDP presents its case to the Credentials Committee. Johnson and Humphrey have eroded the MFDP's support. Hope that the committee will reject the all-white Mississippi delegates and seat the MFDP in their place fades. But it only takes 10% of the Credentials Committee members (11 votes) to issue a "minority report" supporting the MFDP's challenge. Eight state delegations can then demand that the minority report be debated and voted on by the entire convention before the eyes of the world. They know — as does LBJ — that the MFDP might very well win such a floor fight. Winning 11 votes for a minority report becomes the crux of the battle.
Pennsylvania party boss David Lawrence is Chair of the Credentials Committee. He tries to hold the MFDP hearing in a room too small for their supporters and TV cameras, but Joseph Rauh manages to block him. In 1964, the networks still cover the entire convention proceedings which means that the MFDP supporters are able to testify before a national audience. Rauh, Aaron Henry, Rita Schwerner, James Farmer of CORE and even Roy Wilkins of the NAACP speak for seating the MFDP. Dr. King tells the committee: "If you value your party, if you value your nation, if you value the democratic process, then you must recognize the Freedom party delegation."
With MFDP Chairman Lawrence Guyot in a Mississippi jail cell, Vice-Chair Fannie Lou Hamer testifies for the disenfranchised Blacks of Mississippi, and by extension all those at the bottom of society who have been excluded from political power and full participation in civil society.
It was Fannie Lou's testimony that everyone had been waiting for. Under the heat of the glaring television lights, with sweat rolling down her face, she began slowly, ... Finally Fannie Lou detailed her own experiences — the savage beatings she had endured in pursuit of the vote, the cruel humiliations, the violent violations of her basic rights as a human being and as an American citizen. With tears welling in her eyes — with tears filling the eyes of almost everyone watching — she asked, in the unrehearsed, down-to-earth, plain language of an everyday American, the question we all wanted answered: — John Lewis. 
If the Freedom party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America? — Fannie Lou Hamer.[ Full Text of Mrs. Hamer's Testimony]
Watching TV coverage of the hearings in the Oval Office, LBJ realizes how powerful Mrs. Hamer's testimony is. To divert the cameras, he calls a spur-of-the-moment live press conference to announce nothing of any great importance, and the networks cut away from the conclusion of her statement. But that evening the networks replay her words to a prime-time audience, and next day the Sunday papers feature the story with photographs and quotes. Friends of SNCC and CORE chapters mobilize Movement supporters to flood the White House and convention headquarters with telegrams. They swamp the operators with phone calls.
With the convention set to convene in full session on Monday evening, Johnson's political operatives pressure the MFDP's supporters on Credentials Committee. He offers a "compromise," the MFDP delegates can attend the convention and participate vocally (that is, they can be part of the crowd cheering Johnson), but with no right to vote. The MFDP delegates and their supporters reject this offer.
By Sunday afternoon, Rauh has promises from 17 committee members to vote for a pro-MFDP minority report in defiance of LBJ. But he's a close friend and ally of Humphrey, and he's under heavy pressure from the national Democratic Party leadership to abandon the challenge. Rauh is warned that if he sticks with the MFDP, HHH won't be chosen as Vice-President. Rauh offers a compromise which the MFDP is willing to accept — seat both the MFDP and the "regular" Mississippi delegations as had been done in previous conventions where there were rival delegations. The White House refuses.
Knowing that the MFDP has the votes for a minority report at the Sunday session, committee Chair Lawrence postpones the vote. Instead, he appoints a five-member subcommittee to study and resolve the issue. The subcommittee is chaired by Humphrey protege Walter Mondale who has been promised HHH's Senate seat if Humphrey becomes Vice-President. To stall for time, Mondale adjourns the subcommittee until Monday.
Outside the convention hall on Sunday night, Freedom Movement supporters begin a continuous protest in support of the MFDP challenge.
On the boardwalk outside the convention hall, staff, local folk, and Northern supporters had set up a round-the-clock vigil. Volunteers on their way home from Mississippi detoured through Atlantic City, some bringing their parents. Occasionally the families of the murdered workers came by to stand with us. There were giant pictures of our three martyrs and the burned out shell of the station wagon from the Bogue Chitto swamp on display. The folks kept singing. Mrs. Hamer and Bernice Reagon came by to lead the singing, and members of the delegation came by to make speeches and thank the people. Visiting politicians came to pledge support. At times the crowd reached three, even four thousand people. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) 
On Monday afternoon, as the convention delegates begin gathering for the opening session, Mondale's subcommittee tries without success to find a way of satisfying both the southern segregationists and the MFDP.
Hubert Humphrey meets with MFDP leaders, members of the Credentials Committee, Dr. King, and COFO Director Bob Moses. He urges the MFDP to abandon their demand to be seated as the Mississippi delegation in return for a promise that future conventions will bar all-white delegations. He tells them that the "Regular" Mississippi delegates will be required to pledge support for the party's candidate which most of them will refuse to do — so most of them won't be seated either. The MFDP leaders argue that if the "Regulars" are not seated because they refuse to support the party, then MFDP delegates should be seated in their place. HHH refuses any proposal that would result in anyone from the MFDP being recognized as a voting delegate representing the state of Mississippi. He tells them that his nomination for Vice-President depends on his ability to prevent a floor-fight between the "Regulars" and the MFDP. He begs them to give up their demand for recognition as voting delegates, he pleads with them to accept an invitation to be non-voting "guests" of the convention.
The MFDP leaders are not swayed, their delegation was elected in strict accordance to party rules while the "Regular" delegates were hand-picked in an illegal, undemocratic process that systematically excluded all Black voters. Mrs. Hamer tells him: "Mr. Humphrey, I've been praying about you and I've been thinking about you, and you're a good man. But are you saying you think that your job as Vice-President is more important than the rights of our Black people in Mississippi? Senator Humphrey, the trouble is, you scared to do what you know is right. Senator, I'm going to pray for you some more."
On Tuesday, August 25, with the support of the MFDP, Congresswoman Edith Green [D-OR] makes a motion in the Credentials Committee to seat all members of both the "Regular" and MFDP delegations who are willing to sign a pledge of support for the Democratic Party's presidential candidate (Johnson). She knows she doesn't have enough votes to pass her motion, but 15 committee members are still holding to their promise of support, and only 11 votes are needed to take it to the full convention floor as a minority report. The committee chair stalls the vote until the next day, giving the Johnson forces time to apply the screws.
Overnight, the pressure against MFDP supporters intensifies. It is vicious and unrelenting. A Black committee member from California is told that her husband will not be appointed a judge if she supports the MFDP, a small-business owner is informed that a crucial loan will be canceled by his bank, the Secretary of the Army warns a delegate from the Canal Zone that he will be fired from his government job if he votes for Green's motion. UAW president Walter Reuther calls Rauh and orders him to convince the MFDP to accept Johnson's "guest" offer. If he doesn't, Reuther threatens to fire him as UAW counsel. Under this onslaught of brutal back-room politics, support for Green's motion withers. By Wednesday morning, only five still stand with the MFDP, and six votes are not enough to bring a minority report to the convention floor.
MFDP leaders, Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, and others are called to another meeting in Humphrey's hotel suite. They are told to accept a revised "compromise." The all-white "Regulars" will be recognized as the Mississippi delegation, but they have to pledge support for the party's nominee or they won't be seated. MFDP delegates Aaron Henry who is the NAACP head in Mississippi, and Ed King who is the white chaplain of Tougaloo, will be made "at-large" delegates, and everyone else from the MFDP can attend the convention as non-voting guests. New party rules will be adopted to bar state delegations that discriminate against Blacks from participating in future conventions. (But there are no guarantees in the proposed new rules that Blacks will be able to register to vote, so Dixiecrat party leaders in the southern states can easily produce a few token Blacks to show compliance with the new rules without actually allowing any significant Black participation in the political process.)
Walter Reuther, who has been flown in from Detroit on a private aircraft, warns Dr. King point-blank, "Your funding is on the line. The kind of money you got from us in Birmingham is there again for Mississippi, but you've got to help us and we've got to help Johnson."
Rev. Ed King says that if there can only be two at-large delegates he will withdraw in favor of one of the Black sharecroppers. But Humphrey rules out making Mrs. Hamer — who is the ranking MFDP officer in Atlantic City — a delegate: "The President will not allow that illiterate woman to speak from the floor of the convention." Bob Moses challenges the racism of excluding Mrs. Hamer, and of Johnson naming who is to represent the MFDP. He and the others object that no one from the MFDP was either consulted or informed about this so-called "compromise." They tell Humphrey that the full MFDP delegation has to discuss and vote on any proposed agreement. Suddenly someone bursts into the room shouting, "It's over!" Walter Mondale is on TV announcing to the world that the MFDP has accepted the compromise — even though no one from the MFDP has done any such thing. Furious, the MFDP leaders walk out and call a meeting of their delegation.
The MFDP and Movement leaders meet at Union Baptist Church. Tempers are hot, anger and frustration seethes through the hall. Rauh, Senator Wayne Morse [D-OR], Aaron Henry, and others urge them to accept the "compromise" as a victory. Bayard Rustin argues that they have to move from moral protest to pragmatic politics. Dr. King walks a fine line of neutrality, condemning Johnson's manipulation but acknowledging the promise of future party rules ending segregation. "I am not going to counsel you to accept or reject," he tells them, "that is your decision. ... Being a Negro leader, I want you to take this, but if I were a Mississippi Negro, I would vote against it."
SNCC field-secretary Willie (Wazir) Peacock recalls:
Just about everybody that spoke, spoke for them to accept those seats. Bayard Rustin, he's the one that said 'When you enter the arena of politics, you've entered the arena of compromise.' Hartman [Turnbow] turned to him and said, 'Uh-huh, but there ain't going to be no compromise.' And then Jim Farmer of CORE spoke. Son of thunder. He got that big voice thundering out there. And he spoke, and he spoke beautifully, but it all came back down to the fact that it was sort of like, 'We've come this far, and we've gotten through the door. We've got their attention. And maybe that's really a winner. They have offered us something. We should take it.' That's what it boiled down to.
And then Martin spoke, and he said everything that the other people said. And then, you know, he's poetic, and then he unsaid it. You didn't have to be listening too hard to know which side he was on, but in case there were people there to leak stuff to the press, he said what the establishment, what Johnson probably wanted him to say. But then he unsaid everything. And essentially, what King said was that, 'You all have struggled and you've gotten this far. You apparently know what you're doing, and you know what you want, the reason why you came here. You know what you want, and you know what you deserve, so make your decision based on that.'
It sort of reminded me a little bit of what Bob Moses said when Fannie Lou Hamer came to him troubled, asking him what she should do. And essentially that's what Bob said, was that 'You don't need anybody to tell you what to do. It's up to you all. This is your thing. You're the Mississippi Freedom Democratic delegation. You are Mississippians.' He didn't say it like that, but in other words, 'You are the grassroots people who have come to an understanding of what it means to have the vote and what it means to have representative government and how to do that, so you know what you need to do. So you don't need to ask me.' — Wazir Peacock. 
After the speeches, all who are not elected MFDP delegates leave the hall so that the delegation can debate and decide on their own. It doesn't take long. They vote to reject the so-called "compromise." Mrs. Hamer explained the decision with simple clarity: "We didn't come all this way for no two seats, 'cause all of us is tired."
It's important to say here that we — the SNCC contingent there in Atlantic City — did not push our point of view on the MFDP delegates, and I think this is one place where we shined. We had a hands-off policy in terms of decision-making. We respected the fact that this was the Mississippi delegates' call, not ours. We stated what we thought were the pros and cons, then we stepped back and let people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray, Unita Blackwell, E. W. Steptoe, James Travis, Annie Devine and so many others speak for themselves, think for themselves and ultimately decide for themselves.
Once everyone on the outside had had their say, the MFDP delegates themselves hashed out their decision. Aaron Henry and Ed King both wanted to accept the compromise, but they were just about alone. When the vote was taken, and it didn't take long, all 68 MFDP delegates unanimously rejected the President's offer. [NAACP leader] Wilkins, true to form, called them ignorant. Personally, I felt proud. If there's one thing I've believed in my entire life, it's taking a stand when it's time to take a stand. This was definitely one of those times. — John Lewis. 
As expected, almost all the white "Regular" Mississippi delegates refuse to support the Democratic candidate. They depart the convention in an angry huff — leaving their convention seats empty. Pro-MFDP delegates use their convention passes to smuggle in MFDP members.
That Tuesday night I watched from the convention hall gallery as the MFDP staged a sit-in on the convention floor. The white Mississippi regulars had already packed up and gone home rather than agree to a loyalty oath to Johnson. The MFDP's answer to Johnson's plan was to take the floor and fill those empty seats. It was a gesture of defiance, cut short by the security guards who arrived to remove them from the hall.
The next night, Wednesday, the delegation again took the floor, only now there were no seats in the Mississippi section. The chairs had been removed. And so they stood there in that vacant space, this tiny group of men and women, forlorn and abandoned, watching silently as Lyndon Johnson was nominated for president by acclamation and Hubert Humphrey was announced as the Democratic Party's vice presidential candidate.
The next morning, we all packed up and went home.
As far as I'm concerned, this was the turning point of the civil rights movement. I'm absolutely convinced of that. Until then, despite every setback and disappointment and obstacle we had faced over the years, the belief still prevailed that the system would work, the system would listen, the system would respond. Now, for the first time, we had made our way to the very center of the system. We had played by the rules, done everything we were supposed to do, had played the game exactly as required, had arrived at the doorstep and found the door slammed in our face. — John Lewis. 
The Significance of the MFDP Challenge
In Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project, Bob Moses and Charles Cobb later analyzed the meaning of the MFDP challenge and the Democratic Party's rejection:
Today's commentary and analysis of the movement often miss the crucial point that, in addition to challenging the white power- structure, the movement also demanded that Black people challenge themselves. Small meetings and workshops became the spaces within the Black community where people could stand up and speak, or in groups outline their concerns. In them, folks were feeling themselves out, learning how to use words to articulate what they wanted and needed. In these meetings, they were taking the first step toward gaining control over their lives, and the decision making that affected their lives, by making demands on themselves. This important dimension of the movement has been almost completely lost in the imagery of hand- clapping, song-filled rallies for protest demonstrations that have come to define portrayals of 1960s civil rights meetings: dynamic individual leaders using their powerful voices to inspire listening crowds.
Our meetings were conducted so that sharecroppers, farmers, and ordinary working people could participate, so that Mrs. Hamer, Mrs. Devine, Hartman Turnbow, all of them were empowered. They weren't just sitting there. It was the message of empowerment for grassroots people these meetings generated that was delivered to the entire country on national television at the 1964 convention by the sharecroppers, domestic workers, and farmers who formed the rank and file of the MFDP. They were asking the national Democratic Party whether it would be willing to empower people in their meetings in a similar way.
The answer was no. In Atlantic City, the credentials committee delayed making a decision about the MFDP and we went into a "negotiation" session in Hubert Humphrey's suite at the Pageant Motel. Walter Reuther and Bayard Rustin were there as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Ed King, Aaron Henry, and Fannie Lou Hamer were there representing the MFDP. At the meeting we were told that the Democrats were willing to give the MFDP two symbolic seats at the convention and that Ed and Aaron had been chosen to fill those seats. No one from the MFDP had been consulted, not even Aaron and Ed. We rejected it right there in front of Humphrey and Reuther. We told them there was no way we ... could accept that decision without the delegation discussing it and deciding whether it was something that it could accept.
Bob Moses continues...
Suddenly, someone knocked on the door, leaned in, and shouted, "It's over!" and when we looked at the television, there was Walter Mondale announcing that the MFDP had accepted the "compromise." He hadn't approached anyone from the MFDP either. I stomped out of the room, slamming the door in Hubert Humphrey's face. Although Senator Humphrey was probably caught by surprise too, I was furious. I had doubted that our delegation would be seated, and even the pretense at negotiation was not wholly unexpected; but here the Democrats were saying we'll pick your leadership too.
In the years since that convention the MFDP has been attacked for being unwilling to accept the offer of two seats. They've been accused of ignorance, and if you think knowledge is book knowledge, they were. They hadn't been through the schools; they hadn't been processed in the ways in which most of the delegates to the convention were processed. Their knowledge was about life, not books, especially about life in Mississippi. And they understood the relationship of the politics they were trying to challenge to the life they wanted to lead. They were as cognizant of that as anyone needed to be. They were relying on this knowledge, plus the ability to speak directly to the truth, to qualify them for admission as the proper delegation.
The issue of seating them was also a moral one that challenged the political expediencies of the national Democratic Party. We were trying in part to bring morality into politics, not politics into our morality. The MFDP was raising an important question with this country, and with the Democratic Party, as one of its major political institutions: Generations of Black people had been denied access to the political process; could they get it now?
The sharecroppers and others who made up the constituency of the MFDP were the voice of the real "underclass" of this country and to this day I don't think the Democratic Party, which has primarily organized around the middle class, has confronted the issue of bringing poor people actively into its ranks. We were challenging them not only on racial grounds, obvious racial grounds. We were challenging them to recognize the existence of a whole group of people — white and Black and disenfranchised — who form the underclass of this country. Senator Humphrey was blunt about the party's unwillingness to face up to this when we "negotiated" at the Pageant Motel. Under no circumstances was Mrs. Hamer going to be part of any officially recognized Mississippi delegation. "The President will not allow that illiterate woman to speak from the floor of the convention," he said. No, they weren't prepared to hear her; it's not clear that they are now. — Bob Moses. 
The Political Fallout
In November, the Johnson-Humphrey ticket defeats Goldwater by an
They win the popular vote 61% to 39%
They win 44 of the 50 states
They win 486 electoral votes to 52.
But for the first time since Reconstruction, the five Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina go Republican. Across the South, there is a "white backlash" against Black civil rights as white voters begin switching from Democrat to Republican, a trend that swells in subsequent elections until the southern states that were once the "solid south" for the Democrats become the foundation of the Republican Party's "southern strategy."
As expected, in Mississippi the white leaders of the Democratic Party support the Republican Barry Goldwater. The MFDP, though bitter and angry over their treatment by party leaders and the failure of liberal Democrats to honor their promises, loyally campaigns for Johnson and Humphrey. But with only a tiny fraction of Blacks allowed to vote, they are unable to affect the outcome. Though 41% of the state's population is Black, not a single African-American is elected to any office.
SNCC and CORE organizers are embittered by the betrayal of so many liberals who had promised their support, and some also feel betrayed by national leaders of the NAACP, CORE, and SCLC who pushed the MFDP to accept the so-called compromise. Many activists begin to reject strategies of appealing to the Federal government or the "conscience of the nation" as futile. Responding to liberals who condemn the MFDP for "irresponsibility" in not accepting the so-called "compromise," SNCC field-secretary and Southwest Georgia leader Charles Sherrod retorts that:
[Accepting it] would have said to Blacks across the nation and the world that we share the power, and that is a lie! The 'liberals' would have felt great relief for a job well done. The Democrats would have laughed again at the segregationist Republicans and smiled that their own 'Negroes' were satisfied. That is a lie! We are a country of racists with a racist heritage, a racist economy, a racist language, a racist religion, a racist philosophy of living, and we need a naked confrontation with ourselves. — Charles Sherrod. 
Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) recalled:
The Democratic Party leadership had a chance to reach out to embrace the future, and instead they reached back to try to preserve a shameful past. This backward-looking racist response was among the flat-out dumbest political miscalculations the Democratic Party leadership ever made, and that's saying a lot... — Kawme Ture. 
And John Lewis later wrote:
The ramifications of not seating the MFDP were immeasurable. They permeated the political climate for years to come. The same questions that were asked by all of us that August are still echoing today.
Can you trust the government?
Can you trust your political leaders?
Can you trust the President?
Through Johnson, through Nixon and on through to today.
Are we getting the truth?
Are they lying to us?
That was the turning point for the country, for the civil rights movement and certainly for SNCC.
Those who chose to stay [in the Movement] were ready now to play by a different set of rules, their own rules. "Fuck it." You heard that phrase over and over among SNCC members that month. "We played by the rules, and look what it got us. So fuck the rules." — John Lewis. 
The summer volunteers are also profoundly influenced and radicalized by their experience in Mississippi and the liberal establishment's betrayal in Atlantic City. Most of them return to home or campus with an intense commitment to social justice and a deep distrust of authority. In Berkeley, Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio tells protesting students: "Last summer I went to Mississippi to join the struggle there for civil rights. This fall I am engaged in another phase of the same struggle, this time in Berkeley ... In Mississippi an autocratic and powerful minority rules, through organized violence, to suppress the vast, virtually powerless majority. In California, the privileged minority manipulates the university bureaucracy to suppress the students' political expression." Like flaming embers scattered by a high wind, Freedom Summer volunteers from coast to coast spark protests and campaigns around racism, sexism, student rights, and the Vietnam War.
Many — but not all — Democratic Party liberals come away from the convention furious at the MFDP for rejecting the "compromise." In their eyes, the MFDP is "intransigent" and "irresponsible" for insisting that they be recognized as the legitimate Mississippi delegation. They condemn the MFDP for "going too fast and going too far," and they blame it for causing the defection of southern Democratic leaders and white voters in general. They accuse the MFDP of "sabotaging" Johnson and aiding Goldwater. To some degree, their anger is also influenced by the Harlem Rebellion which had erupted in July four weeks before the convention. A continuing barrage of media stories about Black violence and Black rage against all whites creates deep unease among many white-liberal delegates (particularly New Yorkers). Some come to believe that the Civil Rights Movement they have supported is being "taken over" by "Black radicals" bent on violence and anti-white retribution. In the years that follow — particularly after the cry for Black Power — some white liberals become increasingly antagonistic to an increasingly impatient and increasingly militant Freedom Movement.
Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) later noted:
If we had gone into the convention as the little pets, the clients of the liberals, we came out as outcasts, sho-nuff political pariahs. Someone, I think Ivanhoe [Donaldson], said 'We're the new Communists.' You know how whenever black folk got fed up and took to the streets, you always heard talk about 'Communist' agitation? As though black people lack sense enough to know they're oppressed until and unless some Communist runs up to tell them? That, according to totalitarian liberal opinion, was our role with the Freedom Democrats at the convention. — Kwame Ture. 
At root, the issue between Johnson and the MFDP is one of political power. SNCC field-secretary Hardy Frye later observed:
I think the question has to be asked somewhere: "What was at stake?" In Atlantic City and also in Washington in January [during the MFDP Congressional Challenge]. I guess what I think is that in some ways, it was: "Who is going to control the pace of change in the South?" The Kennedys were willing to work with certain Black people, the moderates and so on, so they weren't hostile. Johnson was prepared to do that also, and he was the one who, in '65, got up and said, "We shall overcome." So the question was not anti-civil rights, it was the question of who was going to control the agenda.
And that was clearly what was at stake in Atlantic City, because there were people, those 68 MFDP delegates, the mass movement, folks who had lobbied all over the country that had gotten mainstream Democrats to support these poor Negroes. And from the standpoint of the keepers of the party, the establishment, they weren't in control, and that is the most threatening thing beyond what the issue is to any mainstream politician. So in some ways that was what they were trying to close down in Atlantic City.
After they had closed it down and Johnson had gotten re-elected, it didn't mean that he was going to be anti-civil rights. I mean, he sponsored the Voting Rights Act and so on. And then later the War on Poverty. So in some ways he's still seen as, in terms of actual [civil rights] content, the major American President of the 20th century who has done stuff that supposedly helps poor people and Black people. But it was the question of who is going to control it? Was it going to be the Fannie Lou Hamers [and] those grassroots folks in the Delta who were symbolizing something different? — Hardy Frye. 
MFDP Challenge — Some Important Points:
The so-called "compromise" offered by LBJ was not a compromise at all. It largely met the demands of the all-white, segregationist delegations from the southern states, but offered little of significance to the Freedom Movement. Humphrey touted the new party rules against future all-white delegations as a "great victory" for the Movement, but because those rules said nothing about voter registration they were just a cosmetic fig leaf. Party officials from states like Mississippi and Alabama could meet the new requirements by simply including in their delegations hand-picked, token Blacks with no electoral base or constituency of their own, while continuing massive systematic denial of voting rights to exclude the Black community as a whole from any fair share of actual political power. (It was this omission of voting rights from both the new party rules and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that necessitated the bloody Voting Rights campaign which re-erupted in Selma and the Black-Belt of Alabama just four months after the Atlantic City convention.)
And Johnson's offer of two "at-large" seats for Aaron Henry and Ed King left the all-white delegation as the ONLY Mississippi representatives (even though they boasted of their support for Goldwater, the Republican candidate). By denying the MFDP any standing as Mississippi delegates, LBJ's so-called "compromise" simultaneously legitimized the violence, economic-retaliation, and illegal procedures used to deny Black voting rights and Black participation in the electoral process, while de-legitimizing the democratic, grassroots process that the MFDP had used to select a broad-based delegation from all walks of life.
LBJ's offer was a lie, not a "compromise." The MFDP accepted the real compromise, but rejected the lie.
The MFDP believed that their democratic, grassroots delegate election process held in strict accordance with party rules was an argument in their favor, but to party leaders and power-brokers it was a threat to (and inherent indictment of) the procedures used across the nation — not just in Mississippi — to ensure that delegates come from the ranks of wealth, power, and the middle class rather than the bottom of society. To this day, few delegates to Democratic Party conventions, or voting members of other high-level party bodies, hold blue-collar, service sector, or agriculture labor jobs, nor is there any significant number of welfare mothers or the chronically unemployed or under-employed.
Today, party officials firmly deny class bias, citing both party rules requiring an open and democratic selection process and the extensive participation by trade unionists as evidence that members from all walks of life are welcome at all levels of the party hierarchy. But without the kind of grassroots organizing and outreach done by the MFDP, the rules requiring a democratic process are form without content. And while it's true that unions are well represented in the party apparatus, the individuals involved are either from unionized middle-class occupations such as teachers, or are full-time, salaried union officers whose positions are middle-class regardless of who the rank-and-file union members are.
For more information on Freedom Summer and the Democratic Party:
CRMVets: MFDP: A New Declaration of Independence (Jack Minnis ~ SNCC)
Books: Mississippi Movement
Mississippi Movement & MFDP (Discussion)
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
Atlantic City Revisited — Walter Mondale and "The Movement" [PDF]
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (Web links)
Mississippi Movement (Web links)
Documents: Fannie Lou Hamer's Testimony at Democratic Convention
In the wake of the Birmingham Church Bombing in the Fall of 1963, hundreds of Black students are arrested in Selma, AL for protesting segregation and supporting voting rights. During the same period more than 300 Black women and men are harassed and denied when they attempt to register to vote. There are beatings, death threats, mass firings, and other forms of retaliation and intimidation. SNCC field-secretary Prathia Hall reaches out to sympathetic organizations across the country asking for their support. In response, Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and Polly Cowan of the New York Citizens Committee for Children lead a delegation of women to support the Movement in Selma.
Based on that experience, Height and Cowan organize a project to send
integrated teams of politically well-connected northern women to civil
rights hotspots for brief visits where they show outside support for
Black communities in struggle, and attempt to build bridges of
understanding with local white women. They call it "Wednesdays in
Mississippi" (WIM). Height and Cowan see WIM as a way to begin opening
up "the closed society," and their literature expresses their goals
Build bridges of understanding
Be a ministry of presence
Open the eyes of northern women to conditions in Mississippi
Use women as catalysts for change.
Operating as a project of NCNW, Wednesdays in Mississippi involves women from the Young Womens Christian Association, Church Women United, League of Women Voters, American Association for University Women, National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Council of Catholic Women. In 1964, Doris Wilson and Susie Goodwillie are brought in to direct the project from Jackson Mississippi.
During Freedom Summer, WIM teams visit and send support to Freedom Schools, attend mass meetings, and report back to civil rights sympathizers in the North. Black women from WIM meet with local Black women, and white WIM participants reach out to local white women — with mixed success. Dr. Height later recalled, "The Black women had a whole community to greet them; the white women [were] met with a lot of white community hostility, so we made sure there were enough of them to reinforce their courage and commitment."
The WIM program continues into 1965, focusing on building professional connections — teacher to teacher, social worker to social worker, and so on. In 1966, WIM renames itself Workshops in Mississippi and concentrates on assisting Black and poor-white women improve their economic situation.
Books: Mississippi Movement
Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
1964 Freedom Summer Project (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Documents: Freedom Summer & Freedom Schools
Personal Remembrances of Freedom Summer
1. Ready for Revolution: The Life & Struggles of Stokely Carmichael ..., Ekwueme Michael Thelwell
2. Walking With the Wind, John Lewis
3. Freedom Summer, Sally Belfrage
4. Freedom Summer, Doug McAdam
5. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi ..., Susan Erenrich
6. Radical Equations: Organizing Math Literacy in America's Schools, Bob Moses & Charlie Cobb
7. Barefootin': Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom, Unita Blackwell & Joanne Prichard Morris
8. Neshoba Murders Case — A Chronology Arkansas Delta Truth and Justice Center
9. SNCC: The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn
10. Freedom Summer and the Freedom Schools (Education & Democracy)
11. Mississippi Freedom Summer 1965 & Its 30 Schools (ChickenBones: A Journal)
12. Letters From Mississippi, Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez
13. "Prospectus for a Summer Freedom School Program," Radical Teacher, Fall 1991
14. Eyes on the Prize, Part 1, Blackside ~ PBS
15. The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice ..., John Dittmer.
16. Private email correspondence.
17. I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle
18. Edith Green Oral History (National Archives)
19. The Mississippi Movement & MFDP — A Discussion (Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement)
20. In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960's
21. Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
22. My Soul is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South
23. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC
24. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement, by Hampton & Fayer.