Mississippi Freedom Summer
Early in 1964 civil rights leaders, principally SNCC organizer Bob Moses and Allard Lowenstein, a young Congressman from Long Island, hatched a plan, breathtaking in its audacity, to bring a thousand student volunteers from northern colleges into Mississippi that summer to work in voter registration, and to teach in "Freedom Schools" -- local classes where black children might learn about black history and some of the basic skills denied them by Mississippi's public school system. The overall goal was to break the back of segregation in Mississippi in a single summer.
It was not a decision lightly taken. Given Mississippi's vitriolic response to all black liberation efforts so far, the civil rights leadership had to assume that some students would be murdered during the summer. To invite college students to their death, or even to bring them South as hostages of the movement -- a clearly understood tactic for focusing northern liberal and parental concern on Mississippi civil rights -- involved a moral decision that Moses and others wrestled with at length. And indeed, before the orientation sessions for the volunteers had concluded in Oxford, Ohio, three civil rights workers including a summer volunteer had been executed by the Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Although the Summer Project was far from peaceful, it changed Mississippi and those who participated forever. For the mostly white volunteers, coming South into rural black communities gave them a chance to translate lofty ideals into practical action, and for many it set a course they would follow for the rest of their lives. For most of the Freedom School students, the friendships that grew with their teachers became the first and only non-exploitive relationships across the race barrier of their young lives. The experience radically expanded their vision of life's possibilities, and many went on to create lives of accomplishment and high purpose. The Mississippi movement as a whole gained momentum from the voter registration and community organizing efforts of the summer, a momentum that culminated that fall when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) attempted to represent black voters at the nominating convention of the national Democratic Party in Atlantic City.
The photographs in this portfolio document several aspects of Freedom Summer: Freedom School activity in Mileston, a small community of independent black farmers in the heart of the Delta, and at several locations near Hattiesburg; the construction and dedication of a community center at Mileston by Abe Asheroff, a Los Angeles carpenter and Spanish Civil War veteran, who raised $20,000 to finance the project; voter registration and various other activities. MFDP actions will be covered in a subsequent portfolio.