Hundreds of activists and thousands of mostly white college students from around
the country came to the Magnolia State to help black citizens to register to
vote and to aid in solving other social problems that hampered black advancement.
The organizers of this project hoped that they could bring national and international
attention to the racist and often violent means white Mississippians used to
deny blacks the vote. They hoped that the spilling of white blood would compel
the federal government to act. While non-Mississippians contributed enormously
to the movement, it remains clear that local people were the key figures in
bringing about change in their communities. Addressing this point, Henry Peacock,
a civil rights activist from Grenada, Mississippi, noted that whites constantly
threatened to kill "most of the big time leaders" in a hope to "silence the
whole bunch." He added that "that's the reason they organized us the way they
did, because they knew . . . their [lives] were on the line every second" and
somebody had to be around to carry on the work. Walter Bruce, former chair of
the Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party said that his county had "never been
hard to organize because people were ready for a change," especially "once they
found out that they could change it." He added that at first, it was hard to
get ministers and preachers involved in it" and therefore "wasn't anything mostly
but what we called the grass roots people pushing the movement." Julia Holmes,
a student of the Pascagoula Freedom School, summed up her feelings about that
integral summer when she said, "I loved Freedom Summer. I loved the people and
it's the only time I can remember just not really helping my mother to the fullest
capacity because I lived over to the Freedom School. And I was very disappointed
that it only lasted for two months." In the end, however, the Freedom Summer
Project helped gain the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and formed the
foundation for the newly emerging black power movement. Two of the most significant
accomplishments were the creation of Freedom Schools and the Mississippi Freedom
Janet Maedke of
Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., a civil rights worker who came down to work the Freedom
Summer Project. She was one of hundreds of college students from the North
who participated in Freedom Summer.
From the Paul B. Johnson Collection, McCain Library and Archives,
University of Southern Mississippi.
civil rights groups
on the play button to hear the following excerpt.
time: 1 minute, 52 seconds
Well, really the goal of the Freedom Summer of 1964 was the freeing of
the minds of blacks to the point that you no longer had these kinds of negatives
about yourself with regard to your white brother. It was a psychological
kind of engagement; that blacks began to look upon themselves as somebody.
And you learned at first hand, that there was some dumb white folks and
some smart white folks. And certainly we already knew there was some dumb
black folks and some smart black folks. But in placing the people around,
wherever they went, the fact that there was the opportunity of people to
learn each other, about each other, from the standpoint of personal identification—and
there ain't no better way. You can read about me all you want, or read about
you all you want, but until you sleep in that bed, and I sleep in that bed,
and we use the same bathroom in the morning, you know, and I know I'd better
hurry up and take a shower because you want to get up—you know, these kind
of things you pick up. The human relations aspect of 1964, to me, was the
greatest thing that we accomplished.
—Aaron Henry, Mississippi NAACP president during the 1960s
Aaron Henry was former president of the Mississippi State Conference
of the NAACP. He was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, helping
to organize Freedom Summer, boycotts, and a plethora of other activities.
Henry continued his work as an activist as a member of the Mississippi House
on the play button to hear the following excerpt. Total time: 48 seconds
But, I think what I was happy that was brought out, that they slept in
our houses, they ate our food, they went to our churches, they rode in our
cars, and nobody attempted to rape them. This is the thing. Because, you
know, when a reputation—and a reputation is what people think about you,
say what you are—when it's established that you do a certain thing, and
you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, to satisfy yourself, that this
isn't true, you feel better, even if the other person might not change.
That's the way I feel about it.
-- Amzie Moore, prominent civil rights activist who grew up in poverty
in rural Mississippi.
He was an active leader and one-time president of the Mississippi NAACP.
He helped to organize and direct the activities of Freedom Summer, started
head start programs, and encouraged blacks to become economically self-sufficient.