Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)  go to audio

                                                                    

Established in April 1964 at COFO's monthly state convention, the MFDP was organized to challenge the state's "regular" Democratic party, which for decades had denied blacks the opportunity to participate in the electoral process. While its membership remained open to all Mississippians, the MFDP primarily consisted of legally disfranchised blacks. After having organized thousands of Mississippians, the MFDP hoped to unseat the regular contingent of delegates at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. After the White House failed to persuade the group to wait for better times, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the FBI and a number of close aides to spy on MFDP strategy meetings.

As MFDP delegate Fannie Lou Hamer spoke to the credentials committee and a national T.V. audience about the danger and difficulties of voting in Mississippi, President Johnson had the television station to cut away to an "emergency" speech of his own. After a long sought compromise, Democratic Party leaders offered the Mississippi delegation two seats at large, with no power to vote on any issue being discussed. The group subsequently turned the offer down. State Stallworth, one of the MFDP members who sat in the first roped off Democratic seat on the convention floor explained the incident in the following terms: "Our challenge to them was more serious than trying to do some political juggling. Our challenge to them was about people's lives. You see, to come back here to Mississippi and try to participate in politics meant your life. It wasn't a political thing and we wanted them to understand that. That was our reason and our rationale for not compromising on those terms. Because to come back here to Mississippi, and then in order to try to participate, you'd be found floating down a river. You'd be found hung up in a tree. You'd be found burned, or bombed, or killed. And this is the kind of thing we [were] concerned about. Not so much about the political ramifications." The failure of the MFDP to gain representation at this convention signaled the decline of the civil rights movement and a rise in the influence of black power advocates in the Magnolia state.

 

Aaron Henry
August 25, 1964. Aaron Henry talks to reporters in Atlantic City, N.J., at the Democratic National Convention after the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party refused to accept the two seats at large offered by the Credentials Committee.

Photo from the Erle Johnston Papers, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.

 

audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.      
                                                                                                                                Total time: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Now, Lyndon [Johnson] made the typical white man's mistake: Not only did he say, "You've got two votes," which was too little, but he told us to whom the two votes would go. He'd give me one and Ed King one; that would satisfy. But, you see, he didn't realize that sixty-four of us came up from Mississippi on a Greyhound bus, eating cheese and crackers and bologna all the way there; we didn't have no money. Suffering the same way. We got to Atlantic City; we put up in a little hotel, three or four of us in a bed, four or five of us on the floor. You know, we suffered a common kind of experience, the whole thing. But now, what kind of fool am I, or what kind of fool would Ed have been, to accept gratuities for ourselves? You say, Ed and Aaron can get in but the other sixty-two can't. This is typical white man picking black folks' leaders, and that day is just gone.

—Aaron Henry explaining why the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party refused the two seats offered at the 1964 Democratic National Convention