Organizational Structure of Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964


Structurally, the Mississippi Summer Project is organized and run by COFO, the Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition of SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC, with SNCC's Bob Moses as Director and CORE's Dave Dennis as second in command.


Some 75 to 80% of the Summer Project staff is provided by SNCC. At this time, SNCC has around 120 field secretaries working in a number of southern states. Roughly 80% of the staff are Black, 20% are white, with a few Latinos and Asians. For the Summer Project, four out of five SNCC staff are deployed to Mississippi leaving only skeleton crews keeping projects alive in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, and Arkansas.

SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman later wrote of SNCC in this period:

We were a band of sisters and brothers, a circle of trust. ...
We were young.
We had energy.
We had brains.
We had technical skills.
We had a belief in people and their power to change their lives.
We were willing to work with the most dispossessed — the sharecropper, the day laborer, the factory workers, and the mill hands.
We were not afraid of death.


Most of the Summer Project's remaining staff comes from CORE. For organizational identity and fundraising purposes, CORE takes responsibility for the 4th Congressional District which includes the existing CORE projects in Meridian and Canton, SNCC assumes responsibility for the other four districts, see map).


With only a small field staff, SCLC is stretched thin, its few organizers concentrated in St. Augustine and Alabama. But their network of mostly unpaid Citizenship School teachers — mostly women — has deep roots in the Black community. As local activists, the Citizenship teachers play key roles in many projects around the state. As do SCLC-affiliated churches who arrange housing for northern volunteers and open their doors to mass meetings and Freedom Schools. (SCLC is still active today: SCLC Website.)


On the national-level, the NAACP is cold to the Summer Project, "We're sitting this one out," NAACP chief Roy Wilkins tells the press, but most local chapters in Mississippi actively support the effort. NAACP affiliated lawyers agree to provide legal services, and state NAACP Chair Aaron Henry is active with the MFDP. (NAACP is still active today: NAACP website.)

Legal Support

With a thousand volunteers working across the state, a flood of arrests, free speech, voter registration, and other civil liberties cases is expected, far more than the few Black attorneys in Mississippi can possibly handle. So outside legal support for Freedom Summer is essential, and a number of different organizations participate. Each group has one or more staff lawyers who are licensed to practice in Mississippi, with much of the actual work done by out-of-state attorneys who volunteer to spend from one to several weeks — often their vacation time — supporting the Freedom Movement. The main legal groups are:

As expected, there is no shortage of legal matters arising out of Freedom Summer and the different legal groups divide the work between them. As described by LCDC attorney Don Jelinek, "If [the case involved] a Movement leader, minister or other "important" person, the President's Committee would handle it. If it was a constitutional issue, the Inc Fund would do it. If it was a radical issue, the Guild would take it — and the ACLU covered everything else."


Throughout most of Mississippi, the Black church is a cornerstone of the Freedom Movement. During Freedom Summer, Black churches in Mississippi host Freedom Schools, community centers, project offices, and voter registration mass meetings. They also play a key role in arranging housing for volunteers. In many communities, ministers are among the Movement's most important local leaders. Though a few of these churches and ministers are formally affiliated with SCLC, most are not. But in every community it is only a courageous minority of churches and ministers who dare to openly support the freedom struggle. And those that do support the Movement pay a fearsome price in burned-out buildings and financial retaliation.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) is an ecumenical association of 31 Protestant and Orthodox denominations with some 42 million members. Through its Commission on Religion and Race (CORR), it begins actively supporting the Freedom Movement in 1963 by participating in the March on Washington, lobbying Congress in support of the Civil Rights Act, and providing money to bail demonstrators out of southern jails. Early in 1964, clergy recruited by CORR arrive in Hattiesburg for Freedom Day and some remain to support the Movement in Forrest County and maintain the "perpetual picket" for voting rights at the courthouse.

When Freedom Summer begins, CORR dispatches clergy to support organizing projects across the state. Over the course of the summer, some 300 ministers and seminary students — mostly Protestants, some Catholics and Jews — spend their summer vacation in Mississippi. They describe themselves as "advisors" rather than "activists," but regardless of terminology they are present to support the Freedom Movement. Most come for one to two weeks and some for longer periods. (A few never return home and are still working for justice in Mississippi today.) In addition to offering traditional ministerial support to volunteers and organizers, these "advisors" picket at courthouses, recruit voter applicants and accompany them to register, teach in Freedom Schools, and perform office and other support functions. They endure the same dangers as everyone else, some are beaten, and some are arrested. At the end of Freedom Summer, the NCC establishes the Delta Ministry. By 1967 it is one of Mississippi's largest and most active civil rights organizations.

Mennonites and Quakers of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) form a "Mission to Mississippi," sending teams of volunteers to rebuild the many churches that have been bombed and destroyed. By the following year, they have rebuilt 33 of the 44 destroyed buildings. They also establish the "Madison County Freedom Center," in Canton.

Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR)

More than 100 northern doctors, nurses, med students, psychologists, and other health professionals — most of them white — are recruited, equipped, and deployed by MCHR for Freedom Summer. Though MCHR volunteers are not licensed to practice in Mississippi, they can offer emergency first-aid to civil rights workers, community activists, and summer volunteers. They care for wounded protesters and victims of police and Klan violence, assist the ill, visit jailed demonstrators, and provide a medical presence in Black communities, some of which have never had a visit from a doctor. They establish and teach health information and pre-natal programs in COFO community centers and document the health consequences of poverty and deprivation. Appalled at the separate and unequal care provided to Blacks by Mississippi's segregated system, they soon involve themselves in political struggles to open up and improve Mississippi's health care system for all. (See MCHR Manual for Volunteers [PDF] for more information.)


Quotation Sources:

1. The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Jim Forman

Copyright ©
(Labor donated)