1. Freedom Summer
Student civil rights activists singing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi.
The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer. PRNEWSFOTO/NEWSEUM, TED POLUMBAUM
2. Lyndon Johnson’s Vision: A “Great Society”
“The Great Society rests
on abundance and liberty
for all. It demands an end
to poverty and racial
injustice, to which we are
totally committed in our
time. But that is just the
--LBJ, Univ. of Michigan
Commencement (22 May 1964) The central focuses of Johnson’s “Great
Society” domestic program were civil
rights and a “war on poverty.”
3. Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation in public schools, employment, government offices,
and public facilities, thereby putting the force of federal law behind the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown
ruling. Initially proposed by President Kennedy in response to events in Alabama in the spring and
summer of 1963, this landmark act signaled the official end of Jim Crow in the South. The bill was passed
with bipartisan support but was delayed for 75 days by Southern Democrats, members of the president’s
own party, who opposed it. “It is an important gain, but I think we just delivered the South to
the Republican Party for a long time to come,” Johnson privately predicted later that day.
Here, President Johnson
shakes King’s hand after
signing the bill into law on
4. Discussion: Literacy Tests
• Consider the content and purpose of this sample literacy test used in
Mississippi. Feel free, also, to look through the literacy tests used in
other states. (Louisiana’s tests were particularly devious in their efforts
to disqualify Black citizens from voting.)
• Do any questions stand out to you?
• What was the function of literacy tests more broadly in determining
voter eligibility? Is there any just rationale for using such a test?
• Drawing on today’s assigned readings: What other factors made it
difficult for Black Southerners to register to vote?
5. “Food for Freedom”
With the mechanization of cotton production, white officials
increasingly sought to drive Black residents out of the state,
particularly given their numerical dominance in many areas.
White officials rightly feared that if Black citizens were able to
vote, they would wield sizable political power. Therefore, to
retaliate against early SNCC efforts to register voters in the
Delta counties of Leflore and Ruleville, white officials in Dec
1962 withdrew from participation in the federal commodities
program, through which the U.S. government distributed free
food to poor people, particularly sharecroppers. This decision
served to weaponize hunger in Black communities often facing
intergenerational poverty. In response, SNCC initiated a
nationwide food drive to help poor Mississippians, to make
clear the bread-and-butter issues tied to political power, and to
incentivize residents to continue to work with SNCC to
challenge the legitimacy of government officials who would
use food insecurity as a tool of political oppression.
The Student Voice
(19 Dec 1962)
10. The Freedom Vote
Hoping to demonstrate the desire of disenfranchised Black citizens to vote, COFO
organized a mock election known as the “Freedom Vote” in the fall of 1963. More than
83,000 people voted for the interracial ticket of Aaron Henry for governor and Ed King for
11. According to these
posters advertising the
1963 Freedom Vote,
how did SNCC and
COFO try to frame the
issue of voting? What
could be addressed by
greater Black voter
13. Mississippi Freedom Summer
(Jun - Aug 1964)
Led by SNCC and CORE, civil rights organizers in
Mississippi invited white college students from
outside the South to apply to participate in a
summer-long voter registration campaign. Though
some activists feared that outsiders would try to
take over the project, leaders like Bob Moses and
Fannie Lou Hamer argued that the students would
bring much-needed national attention–and with it,
hopefully, some degree of protection–to the
dangerous work of organizing around voting rights,
particularly in the Mississippi Delta. The voter
registration efforts of SNCC, CORE, the NAACP,
and the SCLC coordinated under an umbrella
organization called the Council of Federated
15. Moses left his job as a middle school math teacher
in Harlem to become an organizer in Mississippi in
1961. He quickly developed a friendship with Ella
Baker, whose ideal of leadership complemented his
own soft-spoken organizing style. Moses quickly
became the director of SNCC’s Mississippi Project.
He was the chief organizer of Freedom Summer
and a key part of the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party in 1964.
SNCC Mississippi Project Director Bob Moses
at the Greenwood office, 1963.
17. Freedom Schools
“Education should enable children to
possess their own lives instead of living at
the mercy of others.”
— Charlie Cobb Jr., SNCC field secretary
who devised the idea of Freedom Schools
18. Freedom Schools
• The advent of Freedom Schools addressed two problems:
• Literacy tests cruelly made education a requirement for political participation,
a fact even more egregious given the history of racially segregated school
systems that underfunded education for Black children in Mississippi.
• Hundreds of college students volunteering in 1964 needed to be assigned a
clear task to do.
• Freedom Schools addressed the needs of children, but many adults
attended as well. Lessons focused on reading, writing, arithmetic,
civics, and Black history.
• About forty Freedom Schools operated during Freedom Summer,
serving about 2,500 students of all ages.
• These became a model for community-based education like the Black
Panther Party’s Liberation School in the late 1960s.
19. On June 21, before the first wave of Freedom
Summer volunteers arrived from training in
Ohio, three civil rights workers went missing
in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where they had
travelled to investigate the arson of a Black
church. Their bodies were found buried in an
earthen dam 44 days later. On the night of the
murders, the three men were arrested for an
alleged traffic violation, then turned over by
police to the local Ku Klux Klan.
Michael Schwerner Andrew Goodman
21. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
• During the 1963 “Freedom Vote,” 83,000 Mississippians cast mock “freedom
ballots” to demonstrate the desire of Black citizens to vote, despite claims by
white officials and media to the contrary.
• Building on this success, civil rights organizers began plans to challenge the all-
white delegation sent to represent the state of Mississippi at the Democratic
National Convention (DNC) in August 1964.
• The MFDP was established as an alternative to the racially discriminatory state
and national Democratic parties, which still relied heavily on the political support
of white segregationists.
• Building on the momentum of Freedom Summer, the “Mississippi Challenge” at
the DNC urged the national Democratic party to reject the racist and anti-
democratic practices of Mississippi Democrats and to recognize the legitimacy of
the MFDP candidates, an interracial delegation selected in a free election.
22. At the end of Freedom Summer, the MFDP staged
protests at the Democratic National Convention in
Atlantic City, arguing that the official delegation
sent by the state of Mississippi was elected by a
segregated electorate and was, therefore,
The “Mississippi Challenge”
(24-27 Aug 1964)
23. Fannie Lou Hamer (center) sings at
an MFDP boardwalk rally.
From left: Emory Harris, Stokely
Carmichael (Kwame Ture) in hat,
Sam Block, Eleanor Holmes, Ella
24. Fannie Lou Hamer’s
• Fannie Lou Hamer became a voting rights activist after decades
of being abused and violated as a Black woman in Mississippi.
She was a victim of forcible sterilization by a white doctor in
1961, a procedure she referred to as a “Mississippi
appendectomy,” a term that suggested how commonly white
medical professionals violated the rights and bodies of Black
• Historian Alondra Nelson writes, “Hamer necessarily
understood her social justice activism to encompass a spectrum
that spanned from the violent suppression of voting rights and
economic exploitation, to sterilization without consent and
• Hamer’s work emphasized how various forms of oppression are
interrelated. As a poor Black woman in the Jim Crow South,
Hamer fought economic, racial, and sexist oppression,
acknowledging the very real toll that these interlocking
structures took on the health and wellbeing of Black Americans.
• Hamer was critical of the middle-class focus of several civil
rights groups, including the NAACP which she dubbed the
“National Association for the Advancement of Certain People.”
• She established the Freedom Farm Collective in 1969 to combat
food insecurity and hunger in Mississippi.
Source: Alondra Nelson, “The Longue Durée of Black
Lives Matter,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol.
106, No. 10 (Oct 2016): 1734-1737.
25. Hamer’s Testimony at the DNC
Mrs. Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper who joined SNCC in 1962 at the age of 44,
spoke before the DNC Credentials Committee on behalf of the MFDP to make its case
that the all-white delegation from Mississippi was illegitimate because Black
Mississippians were systematically denied the right to vote. In televised testimony,
Hamer described being evicted, terrorized, arrested, and brutalized, providing
evidence of the penalties facing Black citizens who dared to “register to become first-
class citizens.” She concluded with a powerful indictment of democracy in the U.S.:
“…And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not
seated now, I question America. Is this America, the
land of the free and the home of the brave, where
we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks
because our lives be threatened daily, because we
want to live as decent human beings, in America?”
26. Despite Mrs. Hamer’s powerful testimony, the national Democratic Party
refused to seat the MFDP, offering them, after much media attention, a
token “compromise” of two seats without a vote.
“We didn’t come all the way up here to
compromise for no more than we’d gotten here.
We didn’t come all this way for no two seats,
‘cause all of us is tired.”
--Fannie Lou Hamer, rejecting the compromise
measures proposed by the DNC to placate the MFDP
27. “As far as I’m concerned, this was the turning point of the civil
rights movement. I’m absolutely convinced of that. Until then,
despite every setback and disappointment and obstacle we had faced
over the years, the belief still prevailed that the system would work,
the system would listen, the system would respond. Now, for the
first time, we had made our way to the very center of the system. We
had played by the rules, done everything we were supposed to do,
had played the game exactly as required, had arrived at the doorstep
and found the door slammed in our face.”
--John Lewis, Chairman of SNCC,
on the significance of the MFDP’s defeat
28. But, Johnson won only 51 percent of the Southern vote, which had been a Democratic stronghold
since 1932. Southern white voters were enraged by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which fueled grave
fissures in the Democratic party’s political base.
In 1964, Johnson secured the greatest presidential landslide since 1820,
winning 44 states and 61 percent of popular vote.
* Democrats added 37 House seats and 2 Senate seats (H: 295 to 140; S: 68 to 32).