Freedom Summer, 1964: An Overview
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/05/2014
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20432
Oppenheimer provides a historical overview of the events leading up to and surrounding the 1964 Freedom Summer, when organizers worked to register Black voters in segregationist Deep South in the United States.
The first step was a statewide "Freedom Ballot," a mock election that drew more than 80,000 Black "voters" to demonstrate their desire to vote. The next phase was the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, better known as "Freedom Summer," which would bring white Northern volunteers to help COFO attempt to register Black voters who had long been prevented by chicanery and terror from doing so.
Also, in view of the miserable conditions in the state's segregated public schools, SNCC planned to create "freedom schools" in which volunteers (mostly the whites from the North) would, that summer, teach Black young people in subjects ranging from basic education to Black history and leadership skills.
The inclusion of white volunteers was controversial. Many SNCC organizers thought that bringing in whites would inhibit the development of indigenous leadership, and would increase the level of violent reactions by local klansmen. A compromise was crafted: The final number of whites would be lower than some COFO staffers had originally proposed.
After considerable debate, COFO, despite lukewarm support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), gave its formal approval at the beginning of 1964. CORE, which supported the idea, was able to take on only one-fifth of the project; it was pretty much SNCC's baby.
To push this strategy further, a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), separate from the segregationist official Democratic Party, was created. The plan was to challenge the regular Democratic Party and attempt to displace it at the national convention scheduled for August 1964, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.