Freedom Schools


Although state funding had been essentially equalized by 1963, local school districts in Mississippi continued to spend four times as much money in white schools as they spent in black ones. Sometimes the number went even higher. For example, the "Holly Bluff school system spent $191.17 each year per white student and only $1.26 for each black student." One activist noted that the freedom schools were needed because most black children "didn't see the inside of a school till the last of December, because you'd be out there picking cotton, pulling corn, and what have you." These students hardly received adequate educations. To correct this gross inequity, Freedom Summer participants organized makeshift schools throughout the state. In addition to teaching the three R's, these schools also taught African and African American History, classes on citizenship and voting procedures, and political science, among a host of other things. Vicksburg activist Charles Chiplin told of one experience with the Freedom School in his town. He explained that "white folks particularly knew that at a freedom school, black folks would be teaching things that were contrary to what they had taught us in their history books." As a result, "they bombed the Baptist Academy" where the Freedom School was located. Chiplin mentioned that one of the Freedom School teachers barely survived this bombing because his mother persuaded him to stay at her house and eat. He noted that that very night, the building was bombed, "and where he would have slept on a cot, he would have been killed. So he was eternally grateful to Rosa Chiplin for saving his life."

Although the organizers and participants suffered economic and physical reprisals, "the schools captured the imagination of Mississippi blacks" and enhanced their self-esteem and sense of dignity. The city of Hattiesburg became home to the "largest freedom school program in the state, with more than 600 students showing up on the first day of registration."