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1964: Freedom Summer   go to audio

                                                                    

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 Democratic Party.

 

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.
Janet Maedke

SEE ALSO:


voter registration
MFDP
boycotts
civil rights groups

audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.     
                                                                                                                         Total 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 of Representatives.

 

audio Click 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.