Mississippi Freedom Summer is a campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote.
This summer, thousands of civil rights activists, many of them white college students from the North, are descending on Mississippi and other Southern states to try to end the long-time political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the region.
Black men won the right to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, but they are unable to exercise that right. White local and state officials systematically keep blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings.
The inability to vote is only one of many problems blacks encounter in the racist society around them, but we understand its crucial significance. An African American voting bloc will be able to effect social and political change.
Organizers are choosing to focus their efforts on Mississippi because of the state’s particularly dismal voting-rights record: in 1962 only 6.7 percent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country.
The campaign is organized by a coalition called the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, led by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
What CORE is Doing:
In the fall of 1963, CORE joined with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and many voting and civic groups in forming a statewide organization, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and through COFO conducted a Freedom Vote campaign in which 80,000 disenfranchised Negroes cast ballots for Aaron Henry for Governor.
Preparation for real democracy calls for additional programs inn the state. Literacy projects have been instituted, and food and clothing drives. But much more comprehensive programs are needed to combat the terrible cultural and economic deprivation of Negro communities in Mississippi.
This summer, SNCC, in cooperation with COFO, is launching a massive Peace Corps-type operation in Mississippi. Students, teachers, technicians, nurses, artists and legal advisors will be recruited to come to Mississippi to staff a wide range of programs that include voter registration, freedom schools, community centers and special projects.
The struggle for freedom in Mississippi can only be won by a combination of action within the state and a heightened awareness throughout the country of the need for massive federal intervention to ensure the voting rights of Negroes. This summer’s program will work toward both objectives.
Forty thousand dollars must be raised for a Freedom Registration campaign. The registration campaign which was launched in February will be implemented by summer workers. Freedom Registrars will be established in every precinct, with registration books closely resembling the official books of the state. The Freedom Registration books will serve as a basis for challenging the official books and the validity of “official” federal elections this fall.
Finally, voter registration workers will assist in the summer campaigns of Freedom Candidates who will be running for congressional office.
An integral part of SNCC’s voter registration work is the development of leadership for politically emerging communities. Freedom Schools will begin to supply the political education which the existing system does not provide for Negroes in Mississippi.
The summer project will establish ten day-time Freedom Schools and three resident schools. The daytime schools will be attended by 10th, 11th, and 12th grade pupils; the schools will operate five days a week in the students’ home towns. Instruction will be highly individualized – school will have about fifteen teachers and fifty students.
The program will include remedial work in reading, math and basic grammar, as well as seminar in political science, the humanities, journalism and creative writing. Where-ever possible, studies will be related to problems in the student’s own society.The three resident schools will be attended by more advance students from throughout the state. The program will be essentially the same as that of the day schools, with emphasis on political studies.
The students who attend the schools will provide Mississippi with a nucleus of leadership committed to critical thought and social action.
In addition to the Freedom Schools, Community Centers will provide services normally denied the Negro community in Mississippi. Staffed by experienced social workers, nurses, librarians and teachers in the arts and crafts, the centers will provide educational and cultural programs for the community. Instruction will be given in pre-natal and infant care, and general hygiene; programs will provide adult literacy and vocational training. The thirty thousand books now in SNCC’s Greenwood office library will be distributed to these centers, and others will be obtained. The centers will serve as places of political education and organization, and will provide a structure to channel a wide range of programs into the Negro community in the future.
The program of voter registration and political organization will attempt to change the fundamental structure of political and economic activity in Mississippi. In order to accurately picture this structure, extensive research must be done into Mississippi’s suppressive political and economic life. Skilled personnel are needed to carry out this program both from within and outside the state.
White Community Project
The effort to organize and educate Mississippi whites in the direction of democracy and decency can no longer be delayed. About thirty students, Southern whites who have recently joined the civil rights movement, will begin pilot projects in white communities. An attempt will be made to organize poor white areas to make steps toward eliminating bigotry, poverty and ignorance.
Law Student Project
A large number of law students will come to Mississippi to launch a massive legal offensive against the official tyranny of the state. The time has come to challenge every Mississippi law which deprives Negroes of their rights, and to bring suit against every state and local official who commits crimes in the name of his office.