A summer of turmoil and triumph
JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 6/27/2012, 4:11 p.m.
As you get ready for summer and all the fun that comes with it, today's closing edition of "Amsterdam News in the Classroom" looks back at one of the most important summers in our history.
A Black president in the White House is the culmination of a long, slow, violent and nonviolent, vigilant progression to secure full civil and voting rights for Black people. It is a trip that has taken more than 100 years, from the Emancipation Proclamation and the 15th Amendment, which gave voting rights to Black men, to pioneering Black politicians such as Hiram Revels and Blanche Kelso Bruce and to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.
One crucial stop on that long journey took place in 1964. It is known as Freedom Summer.
Freedom Summer was a 10-week campaign organized by a coalition called the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, which was led by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Also joining the effort were thousands of white college students from the North. Organizers began laying the groundwork in 1961.
The Freedom Campaign focused on Mississippi, which had the lowest number of Black registered voters in the country. In 1962 only 6.7 percent of Blacks living in the state were registered to vote. Violently enforced Jim Crow laws as well as registration tests designed to disqualify Black voters kept the numbers low.
In 1963, the SNCC organized a mock vote called the Freedom Vote. Polling places were set up in Black businesses and churches. Voters filled out a simple registration form and selected candidates to run in the next year's election. Tens of thousands participated. From that success, organizers began planning in February of 1964 for a massive Black voter registration effort.
The work was dangerous and volunteers routinely met with violence at the hands of white supremacists and their supporters, which included law enforcement authorities and the Ku Klux Klan. Volunteers were given instructions on how to keep safe, including directions to never travel alone and to not stand in lit doorways.
In addition to the registration efforts, the Freedom Summer project also established Mississippi Freedom Schools in towns throughout the state. The Freedom Schools focused on the needs of Black students, teaching Black history as well as leadership, math and reading skills.
More than 3,000 students attended the Freedom Schools, ranging from elementary school age to the elderly. The average age was 15. The program became a successful model for initiatives like Head Start and other social programs.
Another important result of the campaign was the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), of which Fannie Lou Hamer was a delegate. The party was organized in April of 1964 to challenge the Democratic Party in the state, which, for decades, had denied the Black vote.
The most infamous incident linked with Freedom Summer was the murder of CORE workers James Chaney of Mississippi and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner of New York.