Singing: Hear that freedom train a-comin. Hear that freedom train a-comin. Well, hear that freedom train a-comin.
Karin Kunstler, Volunteer: Spending a summer in Mississippi taught me a lot about this country. My high school social studies teacher taught me that we all have rights. Mississippi summer taught me that we didn't all have rights.
Singing: They'll be coming by the thousands. They'll be coming by the thousands.
Julian Bond, Organizer: When we began to go to Mississippi, the black people we met there were not interested in lunch counters. They weren't interested in sitting in the front of the bus. There were no lunch counters. There were no buses. They wanted to vote.
Singing: It'll be carrying registered voters. It'll be carrying registered voters...
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: I just made up my mind that I was going to be a registered voter. I never wanted to be a politician. I just wanted the right to vote.
Dudley Conner, Lawyer (archival): I don't want the niggra as I have known him and contacted him during my lifetime, to control the making of the law that controls me, to control the government in which I live.
Singing: It'll be growing through Mississippi...
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: I don't think people understand how violent Mississippi was. Terrorism led black people to the obvious conclusion if they try and vote, they're messing with white folks' business, and they can get hurt or killed.
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): We hope to send into Mississippi this summer, upwards of 1,000 students from all around the country who will engage in what we're calling Freedom Schools, community center programs, voter registration activity, and, in general, a program designed to open up Mississippi to the country.
Reporter (archival audio): The burned out station wagon in which the three Civil Rights workers were last seen has been processed by FBI laboratory investigators...
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer: I knew it was going to be bad. I didn't dream for a minute that people would be killed. But it was always in the back of everybody's mind that something, that things, bad things, were going to happen. So it was terrifying. But if you cared about this country and you cared about democracy, then you had to go down there.
Singing: I'm going down to Mississippi. I'm going down a Southern road. And if you never see me again, remember that I had to go. Remember that I had to go.
Reporter (archival audio): The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a militant group in the South with support from other major Civil Rights organizations, is readying a massive program called The Mississippi Summer Project, a campaign that may have no parallel since the days of Reconstruction.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: I'd heard about Mississippi all of my life growing up, but nonetheless the fact that the people in Mississippi couldn't vote was just a shock even to me there in Memphis. I thought that it was very important to go to Mississippi and make a statement about the horrors that confronted black people there.
Reporter (archival): This Ivy League campus is one of the staging bases for an invasion of Mississippi by college students. The students are being recruited all over the United States from Harvard to Hawaii. They will go to live in Mississippi this summer to fight for the Negroes' Civil Rights.
Patti Miller, Volunteer: I first heard about Freedom Summer in the spring of 1964. I saw a brochure on the bulletin board at Drake University where I was a student -- which is in Iowa -- and it just caught my eye immediately.
Tracy Sugarman, Volunteer: I had been making drawings for corporations and colleges, and my wife June felt very deeply about the injustice in the country, as did I, so we decided that I would take my skills as an illustrator and go to Mississippi. I was 20 years older than they were, but I was part of the group.
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer: My job was recruiting. Students heard about the project either through me or the campus newspaper. Then they contacted us for an interview and for an application.
Andrew Goodman, in a letter (Actor, audio): I am a Junior at Queens College majoring in anthropology. My schooling so far has been oriented toward history, and I have good knowledge of current affairs. Finally, I have a good deal of experience with racial and religious prejudices in the north and south. -- Andrew Goodman
Linda Wetmore, in a letter (audio): I have just returned from a spring project on a voter registration drive in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was filled with an overwhelming desire to clean the rot out of America. All I can say is that its very important to me that I play my role in Civil Rights for the U.S. and most of all for myself. -- Linda Wetmore
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer: We were looking for people who believed that this was important, who would be respectful to the black community, who were not nutcases, who were not divas, and who were not people who were going down to show the world how great they were. This was a majority black organization. With black people telling white people what to do.
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer (Archival): Now, so let's say you're in Mississippi and Bob Moses, who's the director of the project comes over to you and says, Phil, will you spend the next four weeks typing index cards or some other task that you might not care for very much. What would you re-, how would you react to that?
Volunteer Applicant (Archival): I would certainly say yes, but I would hope that, I do hope that I can participate more actively in the movement, if this is where he wants me to be, of course that's what I'll do.
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer: We turned down people. There were many more people who wanted to go, but from the point of view of safety, for the whole project, we had to have people who were as together as you can be when you're 19 or 20.
Larry Rubin, Organizer: When we sure that Freedom Summer would actually happen, Jim Forman, the executive director of SNCC, sent a number of people who would be paid field staff into Mississippi to help pave the way.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: Part of the application process to be considered as part of the field staff was to write a letter of application. And this is part of the letter that I wrote: "I wish to become an active participant rather than a passive onlooker. As my husband and I are in close agreement as to our philosophy and involvement in the Civil Rights struggle, I wish to work near him in whatever capacity I may be most useful. My hope is to someday pass on to the children we may have a world containing more respect for the dignity and worth of all men than that world which was willed to us."
Reporter (archival): For these students it will be a longer, hotter summer than for almost anyone else in this country. But they believe their project will be a breakthrough in the Civil Rights battle. Their motto, "Crack Mississippi, and you crack the whole South."
Hollis Watkins, Organizer: From a early age on I was told as a young black boy, "If you see white people walking down the sidewalk, especially if it's a man, you step off to the side and drop your head until he passed by, because if you didn't he might consider that to be disrespectful, and he might hit you, he might kick you, he might beat you."
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: My grandfather, he would take me with him to downtown Hattiesburg to pay bills. And I remember my grandfather wore a straw hat with this colorful blue band around the hat. And as a white person approached us on the sidewalk or the entry way or the crosswalk, he would tip his hat in what I would call an extra show of deference. And by the time my grandfather and I reached back to his house we had bowed so many times to white people. They taught young kids like myself how to play the role of that second-class citizen.
Wally Butterworth, Radio Host There are a lot of phonies who will stand up and tell you that, "Oh well all are equal in the eyes of God." How silly can you get? Christ himself was the greatest teacher of segregation.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Mississippi really stood like an island of resistance. There were only 6.7% of blacks were registered to vote prior to Freedom Summer compared to 50, 60, or 70% in other southern states. Most of the rest of America didn't seem to care, and that's what Freedom Summer was about. "If we bring white students and black students from all over the country, then everyone will pay attention in Mississippi. We'll bring America to Mississippi because America is not paying attention to Mississippi."
William Winter, State Treasurer: In the '50s and '60s, particularly in the old plantation agricultural areas of the state, African Americans made up at least half and in many, and in some cases 70 or 80 percent of the population. And in some counties, of course, there was a realistic understanding that if black people voted they probably would be electing black officials. A lot of white people thought that African Americans in the South would literally take over, and white people would have to move. They would have to get out of the state.
William J. Simmons (archival): I was born in Mississippi and I am the product of the society in which I was raised, and I have a vested interest in that society, and I along with a million other white Mississippians will do everything in our power to protect that vested interest.
William Scarborough, Citizens' Council Member: There was no Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during this early period. There wasn't any need for one. The Citizens' Council was doing everything the Ku Klux Klan would have done. There were a lot of prominent people who were members: businessmen, bankers, lawyers, politians. I joined it because I believed in what they were doing and I believed in trying to preserve the society in which we lived.
Citizens' Council Announcer (archival audio): This is the Citizens' Council Forum, the American viewpoint with a southern accent.
John Dittmer, Historian: The Citizens' Council was really running the State of Mississippi. It was part of the whole apparatus of a white supremacist society that you had the local police, you had the registrar, you had everyone involved in the Citizens' Council. They succeeded in preventing almost all blacks who attempted to register from registering to vote.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: Political participation was something reserved for whites, and if blacks sought it they could get hurt in lots of different ways ranging from economic reprisals, loss of jobs, or if you had a business, restrictions are being placed on your business, or if you had a loan, your loan being called in.
Julian Bond, Organizer: The common theory about Mississippi was that you could not attack Mississippi from the inside. It had to be attacked from the outside. You had to stand away and say, "This is an awful place and it ought to fix itself."
But Bob Moses and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee said, "That's not true. We can do it ourselves."
Slate: Mississippi 1960
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Bob Moses was a high school teacher in New York City. He went south in 1960 originally just feeling he had to go, had to get involved. SNCC sent him to Mississippi. He started going around on his own in the rural areas where people simply didn't go and challenge the status quo.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Organizer: What made him stand out was not only his sheer courage, but his calm courage. I can't tell you that Bob Moses was afraid, 'cause he never showed it. He just went about his work, and there was this calm sense of mission.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Organizer: Bob went over there by himself in 1961, and by the end of '61, maybe there were five or six SNCC people in the state. In '62, maybe there were 18, 19. And in '63, maybe there were 23, 24. And we'd have a staff meeting -- we all could fit in one little room.
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): Young people working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC as we call it, are characterized by restless energy. They seek radical change in race relations in the United States. Their world is upset, and they feel that if they are ever going to get it straight, they must upset it more.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Organizer: I don't want anybody to think that we were a bunch of really brave Negroes running around Mississippi! That's not what we were. The reason that SNCC, as it were, opened up the Delta is we were young and foolish. We didn't have the very complete understanding of what that risk was.
But what impressed me was that there were black Mississippians who did know, who did know how dangerous it was.
Julian Bond, Organizer: We met this cadre of older people who had been fighting. They were eager for our help and glad we were there.
Bob Moses, Organizer: They knew that the key to unlocking Mississippi revolved around the vote. And the access for black people to power at that time has got to be through the vote. What was useful was that I was open and accustomed to listening.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: What we were trying to do was to organize these communities to take possession of their own lives. For the last hundred years the ability of black people to control their own destiny had been taken away from them.
Female SNCC Worker (archival): Hi.
Local (archival): Hey, hey.
Female SNCC Worker (archival): Alright, I'm Idel Crest and I'm working for the board of registration.
Hollis Watkins, Organizer: When I got hooked up with Bob Moses, it was very simple. Go out through the community, you knock on doors, talk to people.
Male SNCC Worker (archival): The only way to better your life, better the lives of your children is to go down and register to vote. If you're not a registered voter, you're not a first class citizen.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: We would tell them that if they registered and voted, they could elect the sheriff, and that the intimidation on the part of the sheriff's office and his deputies, they could change that. One of the things that I always tell them is that we could stop Mr. Charlie from lynching us.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: You're sitting on front porches, or you're walking out into a cotton field, or maybe you're at the juke joint having a beer. What we were doing was embedding ourselves in these communities.
Female SNCC Worker (archival): You have your certificate showing that you are a registered voter?
Man (archival): They haven't give it to me yet.
Female SNCC Worker (archival): Well you aren't a registered voter, mister. We want you to come down to the courthouse tomorrow.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: Immediately, what you found out you were dealing with was fear.
Female SNCC Worker (archival): So why not go tomorrow? We will plenish your transportation. So that's no excuse.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: They would say, "You're right, boy. We should be registered to vote, but I ain't goin' down there to mess with 'em white people."
Male SNCC Worker (archival): Would you like to go to both of these poling places?
Woman (archival): No.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: We did not get a large number of people to try and register to vote, and then if within that small group of people who did try and register to vote, very few of them actually got registered to vote.
James Forman, SNCC Executive Secretary (archival) Other people are standing in the courthouse. We can't see why we have to stand out here in the rain in order to register to vote. It's a denial of our constitutional rights.
Town Clerk (archival): Your section of the constitution that I choose for you is number 48.
John Dittmer, Historian: The registrar had total control over who was accepted and who wasn't. The voting form was one of the most complicated you would ever, ever have, and as part of that, each person would have to interpret a section of the state constitution.
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: We had people who taught in colleges. We had people with the Ph.D, Master degrees and all, and they couldn't pass it. You had to be white.
Clerk (archival): No Jennings, you didn't pass it. You see there. You didn't fill out the-- you just filled out that part, and, look, you didn't write anything in there. You didn't pass it.
Reverend Ed King, Organizer: Sometimes the sheriff would walk into the room while they were taking the voting test and say, "Annie Mae, don't you work for my mother-in-law? My mother-in-law would be horrified if she knew you were taking this test. Now, Annie Mae, I'll tell you, if you'll just put that paper down, I'll tear it up and I won't tell my mother-in-law."
John Dittmer, Historian: In some counties, when people went in to register, why, their names would appear in the newspaper the next day. That could have recriminations for all members of their family. It could mean they would lose their job. There were real consequences to taking this risk. It wasn't simply that you would go down and get turned away.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: On August 31st, 1962, we had 18 people to register. Everybody went into the registrar's office, took the literacy test, came out, and as we were leaving the city, the bus was stopped by the police, and the driver was arrested. Everybody on the bus was afraid. And then after a while, there was a little smooth song, you know, "Paul and Silas bound in jail, had no money for to go their bail." And somebody said, "That's Fannie Lou Hamer."
Fannie Lou Hamer, Organizer (archival): I went down the 31st of August to try to register, and after I had gotten back home, Mr. Marlo told me that I would have to go down and withdraw my registration or leave, because they wasn't ready for that in Mississippi. And I said, "Mr. Marlo I'm trying to register for myself." So I had to leave that same night.
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): She has this confrontation then leaves the plantation and comes into Ruleville and eventually becomes someone who is a SNCC Field Secretary.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: One of the important things about recruiting Fannie Lou Hamer was her ability to move people. Fannie Lou Hamer brought a new kind of spirit into the movement, and I think she kind of rejuvenated all of us.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Organizer (archival): I've been tired a long time in the state of Mississippi. Living in the county with James O. Eastland, the Senator, Senator Stennis to go to Washington and tell the people that the people of Mississippi, the Negroes, are getting along good and we're satisfied. But I want him to know this, both of them, we are not satisfied and we haven't been satisfied a long time.
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: We'd been accustomed to men standing up and challenging the movement, but here is a woman, a black woman. And her message to us was, "Don't give up. Freedom is not free. Keep fighting. Keep fighting. Keep fighting."
Slate: Greenwood, 1963
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Organizer: As SNCC became more active in the Delta -- the Mississippi Delta where Greenwood is in the heart of Leflore County. We started to create visibility around voter registration, and people started going to the courthouse. If people tried to vote they would push 'em off the land, so they had no place to live. They took away their homes. African American people there who had small businesses, the banks called their notes.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: Even though there were very few people being brought down to try and register to vote, the white power engaged in an act of reprisal directed at the entire black community. What they did was shut down the commodities program. What it was, was government surplus food that was sent to poor rural areas. The county official said, "Well, no, we're not gonna have that," which is, essentially, put black people and poor people in a position where they could starve during the winter. And this was an especially bad winter.
Amzie Moore, Organizer (archival): I just keep wondering how they gonna eat and what they gonna wear. Because they have no money, they have no food, and they have no clothing. They have no way to buy food and clothing. We have appealed to people all over the United States to send food and clothing in.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: What would happen next would eventually reshape the direction of the movement in Mississippi. Dick Gregory was then a big-time comedian, flies into Greenwood, MS, in his own chartered airplane full of food to meet the need as a result of this cut-off of commodities.
Reporter (archival): Dick, how much food did you bring with you on this trip?
Dick Gregory, Comedian (archival): We brought something like 14,000 pounds on this trip here. Canned food, milk, baby food, cereal, wheat, flour, sugar, potatoes.
John Dittmer, Historian: You had the news media coming in, and soon these pictures were going out all over the world of what was happening in Greenwood, Mississippi, where several months before it had been a very much of a small operation with little visibility at all.
Bob Clark, ABC News (archival): City officials deny the winter long cut-off of food allotment was retaliation for the negro voting drive, but the sharecropper who tries to register to vote often faces the threat of losing his job and being put off the plantation. Bob Clark, ABC, Greenwood, Mississippi.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: It shows us that it's possible to make the country pay attention to Mississippi. Gregory's action indicates to Mississippians that they didn't have to be alone.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Organizer: The American people only see what's on television at night on the Evening News. So where, Dick Gregory created a lot of drama and the cameras were there and then it went away. We wanted to figure out how to do that for the entire summer to invite the children of America into Mississippi so that they'd pay attention to what was going on in Mississippi. And from that Mississippi Summer Project evolved.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: Most of the organizers in Mississippi were opposed to the idea of the Mississippi Summer Project, which meant essentially bringing down, I think the number we were talking about was roughly 1,000 students. I was one the people who was opposed to Freedom Summer.
Reverend Ed King, Organizer: People in the movement were willing to die, but we didn't want to die in obscurity. So if we brought in students, their colleges, their parents would focus on Mississippi. I supported bringing the volunteers in.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: The experience of people like Mrs. Hamer was that people coming from the outside was a good thing. Mrs. Hamer backed me up into a corner and said, "Well, Charlie, I'm glad you came. What's the problem with having more people come? How can you be opposed?" And eventually we decided to go ahead with Freedom Summer.
Once the decision was made to have a summer project, there's a series of meetings and discussions going on then about what the Summer Project is gonna do.
Reporter (archival audio): The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a militant group in the South…
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Well there were three components of Freedom Summer. One was voter registration, which would be going door to door, knocking on doors, and asking people if they were willing to go down to the courthouse to register to vote.
The second and very important component of Freedom Summer were the Freedom Schools. They would teach things that were not taught in black schools in Mississippi. Black schools in Mississippi couldn't teach about black history. They couldn't teach about black literature. So, Freedom Schools were set up to do exactly that.
And finally there was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It was a parallel political party, which basically said that, "We will send our own candidates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City at the end of August, and we will challenge the all white delegation to see who would represent the state of Mississippi at the convention.
John Dittmer, Historian: White Mississippians believed that what was going to happen in the summer of '64 was something that not only they had to be psychologically prepared for, they had to be militarily prepared for it as well. It shows you the hysteria that was evident in much of white Mississippi.
Reporter (archival newsreel): In Jackson, Mississippi, a city of 100,000 whites, 50,000 negroes, the mayor has prepared for this summer's activity by increasing the police forces, by passing new ordinances against demonstrations, and by purchasing a steel-plated vehicle, a riot control car known locally as Thompson's Tank, named for Mayor Allen Thompson.
Allen Thompson, Mayor, Jackson, Mississippi (archival): We are prepared to take care of any law violations to keep down violence.
Reporter (archival newsreel): In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, search light trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots.
John Dittmer, Historian: The Citizens' Council had convinced people that the Klan wasn't necessary, that it was bad publicity, and that they could keep schools from being desegregated, they could keep lunch counters from being integrated. But by 1964 when they see the volunteers for Freedom Summer it was clear that they couldn't, and that's when the Klan starts to ride.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": The Klan rose up as one in Mississippi. One night in April of 1964, crosses were burned all over Mississippi. They claimed that they had 90,000 members, and they were going to resist what the Klan called the Nigger-Communist Invasion of Mississippi. So Mississippi, on the eve of Freedom Summer, was on a hair trigger.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: There was very much a recognition and a debate about, is it responsible to bring all those kids into the state, most of whom are probably far too naive to understand what they were getting into in terms of the violent nature of the place. Are you doing this to use people as fodder? The thought was well, you know, we'll do this orientation at Oxford, Ohio, and we'll try and tell these kids what they're getting into and make it clear that they really don't have to go, but you know, I don't know that that really could begin to prepare people.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: My grandmother said, "We've heard that you're planning on doing something really crazy -- going to Mississippi with those SNCC folk, and I'm never gonna permit it."
Linda Wetmore Halpern, Volunteer: We went to Oxford. A group of us from Massachusetts met in Boston. We drove across, sharing driving for different hours. We drove straight through, people sleeping. I know I drove very fast.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: Several of us drove up to Oxford in the blue station wagon that we used in Meridian.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: With my grandmother, my mom and dad pleading, threatening, I just said, "I'm leaving." A girlfriend drove me to the bus station, and my grandmother's parting words were, "If you leave, don't ever come back."
Susan Brownmiller, Volunteer: I remember one young woman saying, "We're gonna settle this problem and then it's on to the Indians and we're gonna settle that, too." I mean there was that kind of unbelievable idealism.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: I can remember people saying, "Well, how bad can it be?" You know, because they had no idea. And even I didn't think that they might be beaten or killed. And in fact, that was one of the ways that I sort of calmed my fears. I thought that their presence would be a mediating factor.
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): The SNCC field secretaries arrive in Ohio and it's, in some senses it's oil and water. So erupts, you know, one-on-one in different kinds of interactions between the students and the field secretaries.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: The need for the volunteers and the presence for the volunteers represented our inability, after three years, to make significant inroads into changing Mississippi. So we had to reach out to this larger group, which was predominantly white, and many of us were still not entirely comfortable with it.
Chris Williams, Volunteer: The tension between the volunteers and the SNCC staff, who was almost entirely black, became evident right away. They were like, "We're going to take these greenhorns back to Mississippi and be the tip of the spear of the Civil Rights movement, and these people are like to get us killed because they don't know where they're about to do." And they're saying, "These people look like they're just about beyond hope."
SNCC Worker (archival): The police are going to harass you. They're going to pick you up on the road, they're gonna put trumped up charges on you, and you're gonna wind up in jail. I suggest we be a little more serious about this thing...
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: One of the things that was done at the orientation was to instruct the white students particularly that, you're going into a situation where you will have to follow the directions of black people. You will be living in black homes. You will have to live according to the way they live. You will-- your life will depend upon you following directions, and of course these white students have never been in a situation like this.
Julian Bond, Organizer: In order to orientate the Freedom Summer workers we showed 'em this movie. It featured Theron Lynd, who is the registrar in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
"Mississippi and the 15th Amendment," CBS News Report (archival): Theron C. Lynd, circuit clerk and voting registrar of Forest County Mississippi, is one of the most powerful men in America. He and the 81 other county registrars in Mississippi have the power under state law to decide who can and who cannot vote.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: Theron Lynd is your stereotypical racist bad guy -- a big, burly, cigar-chomping, tobacco-chewing, aggressively racist white man.
Theron Lynd, Voting Registrar, Forest County, Mississippi (archival): That's right, that's a section of the Constitution of the State of Mississippi. Then when you get over here and answer the question 19...
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: And the summer volunteers see him and start to laugh. People coming up from Mississippi were tired, exhausted. Suspicious of the summer project. So the reaction to that laughter was hostile. "You're not taking Mississippi seriously. You think this is something funny, something to be laughed at. No. What you're looking at has costs people their lives."
Tracy Sugarman, Volunteer: When the lights came up the young SNCC leaders said, "We have to know you. We have to love you, but we don't understand you." They really were furious. And went on at great length to say, "You're coming out of a different place. I don't know if you should be going with us." These white kids were unsteady vessels. They weren't at all sure that that these were the allies they wanted.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": They stayed in the auditorium for a few hours talking and arguing, and they really went at it, but I think it really broke the tension. It brought out these underlying resentments. It brought out the differences between the two and it highlighted them. And above all it brought out the fact that they were all in this together.
And from then on a lot of the tension was broken, and they realized that they were really one in this and that they were going to go down and do this together.
Slate: June 21, 1964. Neshoba County, MS
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: At the end of the first week we got a call in Oxford, people at the Mt. Zion Church had been beaten up badly and the church was burned. My husband Mickey and James Chaney decided that they needed to go right away to see how people were and to provide whatever support they could.
Andy Goodman was going to be one of the volunteers working in Meridian out of the Meridian office so they decided that all three of them would go. We were in the dorm room that we had been assigned, and Mickey kissed me goodbye and said, "I'll see you at the end of the week," and left. And they drove down in the blue station wagon.
Andrew Goodman (actor, reading letter): Dear Mom and Dad, I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy
Dave Dennis, Organizer: It was close around six or seven o'clock, around six or seven o'clock in the evening, and a call came in from the Meridian people. They had not heard from Mickey and James Chaney. I just knew that something had to be wrong.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: It was early Monday morning around one or two in the morning when someone came to the dorm room that I was using, and woke me to say that the men had not returned, and that was how I first heard of it.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: Everybody was to come into the auditorium for this session. They had this extremely solemn look on their faces, and then they told us that three workers who had been at the orientation and had left early, they had disappeared.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: I urged people to contact their families and have their families contact their congressional people, to indicate that we believe there certainly was a possibility -- given the fact that so many hours had gone by and that they couldn't be located -- that they might've been killed.
Reporter (archival): The three Civil Rights workers who disappeared in Mississippi last Sunday night still have not been heard from. A search has produced only one clue a burned out station wagon in which the three were last seen riding in. Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old college student from New York. James Chaney a 21-year-old…
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: Learning that three of our members, two of whom were white, had disappeared really blew away all my ideas that possibly we would have protection from the fact that the majority of the summer volunteers were white. I knew now that that was not the case: that everybody was in grave danger, and that these Mississippians would kill all of us, white and black.
Linda Wetmore Halpern, Volunteer: Bob said that, "There is no guarantee that you will get out of this summer alive, so just know that. It's up to you if you want to continue on." So he left us all to the phones, and we all went. We were told to call home.
Reporter (archival): Did you talk this over with your parents before you made the decision?
Man, Volunteer (archival): Yes, I discussed it with them, and they felt of course what I feel, and that is fear of what might happen there.
Linda Wetmore Halpern, Volunteer: My mother and father did not ask me to come home. They asked me to do what I thought was right. So I boarded the buses.
Singing (audio): I'm going down to Mississippi. I'm going down a Southern road. And if you never see me again, remember that I had to go. Remember that I had to go. It's a long road down to Mississippi, it's a short road back the other way. If the cops pull you over...
Chris Williams, Volunteer: We came down the interstate from Memphis into Mississippi. It must've been about four o'clock in the morning. There was a billboard right at the state line that said, "Welcome to Mississippi, the Magnolia State," and of course there was a little bit of dread in seeing that. But what was more significant was that there were two Mississippi highway patrol cars parked under the sign, and as the buses came by they pulled out and followed us. So at some level they knew exactly when we were coming.
Singing (audio): ...For an out of state car, and he thinks he's fighting for his land...
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): What really is important is that they get down and kind of just melt away into the black population. If we could just get everybody through the entry point and into the community, the black community will house them and also harbor them.
Julian Bond, Organizer: The, the genius of the Freedom Summer is that these volunteers were spread all over the state. The Freedom Summer workers are everywhere. They are in almost every little big town, almost every place where you can go, they are there.
Reporter (archival): Yesterday the first 200 Civil Rights workers arrived in Mississippi and fanned out over the state. Another 800 will follow. The students were assigned living quarters in negro homes from a central office.
Daisy Harris, Mississippi Resident: When Charles and Doug came by the house and told us that they need some homes for the Civil Rights workers to live I said, "Well I don't have much room but yeah we'll be happy to do it," you know, and then I told my husband about it. He said, "yeah they can stay here."
I felt that the time had come to help make a change. I had three sons and I didn't want them to go through what I'd gone through and what I had seen. So I was determined to help make a change. Say, "Well, they'll have to take the twin beds and the boys have to double up." They were happy to know that somebody was coming from-- all we have to do is say, "from the north."
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: We were now going to have a white person living in our house. So it was a special time. It was an exciting time. We weren't sure what they were going to be like because even though we had seen white people on television and in person, but to actually have someone living in our home, to spend time with us, to share meals together that was a much different type of relationship to what we had been accustomed to.
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: They became a part of the black community. I don't know of any place that they could run into a white neighborhood and be accepted because they were outsiders. They became the closest thing to being a part of the black community as anybody can be because they had no choice.
Reporter (archival): Walt Kaufman, you're from California, what's it like to come into a situation such as exists here in Neshoba county, and, as a white man, come to work for the project?
Walt Kaufman, Volunteer (archival): Well what I'm most impressed with is the response of the people here who have been intimidated and terrorized for years and who know that our presence here probably poses some danger for them and yet they've shown tremendous courage and amazing hospitality to us. They've helped to feed us, they've encouraged us, they've warmed us with their friendship and smiles, and I'd say it's an extremely impressive experience to me.
Tracy Sugarman, Volunteer: Everybody knew that we were going home at the end of the summer. The people that took us in were gonna stay. So they were there for the reprisals, for the anger that the white community had all the power to bring to bear on 'em. And they did it because they really believed that we were there to help, and they'd never seen white people who had come to help in their whole lives.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: One of the most wonderful things about 1964 Mississippi Summer were the Freedom Schools.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: The State of Mississippi deliberately and systematically kept black people uneducated and ignorant, and then turned around and made education a requirement in order to participate in the political process. We were able to do the Freedom Schools in the summer of 1964 because we had almost a thousand students coming to the State of Mississippi, thus the human resources to actually, you know, conduct classes.
Volunteer (archival): We hope to find and develop and mold local leadership among the young people. We also hope to promote a better self-image among the local negroes.
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: We would send out mass flyers and everything to the churches telling people about the freedom school, what the freedom school was going to entail, the courses, the activities. We got the preachers involved, we got the kids involved.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: Black people couldn't go to the library, it was for whites only, and so here they are, got their own library now. They would come excited to be exposed to the teaching and to browse the books.
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: In the public schools where I was in school I had never heard of Dr. Seuss. It was at Freedom School where we actually not only read the story of The Cat In The Hat but we acted it out. Having our lives enriched by these activities really made a huge difference in my life.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: We taught African American History, Civics, African Culture, African Dance. They were learning black history that they were reading books that'd been written by blacks that they'd never heard of.
Student (archival): How was slaves first introduced in America?
Volunteer (archival): As we saw back on this world map over here. America started picking up slaves along here and then bringing them back.
Chris Hexter, Volunteer: What we were trying to do that summer is get people to talk about their own lives, talk about good and bad, and talk about ways in which you could bring about change. I think that was very much the drive of the program.
Volunteer (archival): They had a sense of being needed by something much bigger than themselves and a sense of being able to handle the problems that they were needed for. They did it by asking questions and by being encouraged to feel free to ask questions.
Chris Hexter, Volunteer: They were rarin' to go. We were just kind of like the catalyst. We were agents of information, and agents of a different world, so I mean just the very fact that we were talking about a world that they didn't know, or didn't have much experience with, was exciting to them and also to us.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: We set them up for the little children to come, and every day we'd have classrooms of adults, people 50, 60, and 70 years of age. The adults came to the Freedom School to learn just like the little children.
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: Being in freedom school planted a seed in my mind, that things are going to change. Things are going to be different. And freedom summer helped to give us that courage, it helped to give us that hope, it helped to give us the reason to believe that it was going to be different.
Reporter (archival, audio): This is backwoods Mississippi, and its 2.5 million acres of swamp. Damp and clammy country, this hostile attitude of its white people to Civil Rights. The green slime that sprawls for miles may hide forever what's happened to Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. As the search for the men intensifies in the swamps, there are those in Mississippi who do not seem disposed to see this as a personal tragedy. One of them is Mississippi's former governor Ross Barnett.
Ross Barnett, Mississippi Governor (archival): We will treat anyone with great respect here in Mississippi anyone who comes here as long as they don't disobey our laws, but we will treat the people who come here, these children, like any other backward children.
Singing (archival audio): Go, Mississippi, keep rolling along. Go, Mississippi, you cannot be wrong...
William Scarborough, Citizens' Council Member: They're outsiders coming in here trying to change the world and there's natural resentment. I mean that's common sense. We didn't think those people understood what kind of society we had here. You know, these college students would sit up there at Oberlin, and there'd be a articulate, well-groomed black person sitting next to 'em, and they assumed all blacks were like that, and they weren't. They're coming for the purpose of registering blacks to vote, and since this state had the highest percentage of blacks of any state in the United States that poses a real threat politically. There was a siege mentality, us against them, and I hated them.
Singing (archival audio): ... M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I!
William Winter, State Treasurer: Let me state as clearly I can what the mindset of the State of Mississippi was, encouraged and embolden by the utterances of its politicians: If the white people of Mississippi will just stay together, will just stick together, there is no force in this country that will cause segregation to be ended. That was the mindset.
Ross Barnett, Mississippi Governor (archival): We face absolute extinction of all we hold dear unless we are victorious! We can win, my friends, if we are organized in every community in Mississippi and all over this nation of ours! We must be stronger than the enemy! We must be strong enough to crush the enemy!
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): They're caught in a circle, which, if there are people who want to break out they don't know how. They don't have a chance. They just, white people are probably more oppressed or, in terms of their ability to speak, than Negros.
Barbara Jan Nave, Miss Mississippi: In the South you were expected to live a certain way. You just didn't step outside the bubble. In August of 1963 I was crowned Miss Mississippi, and would spend the next year representing Mississippi all over.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Red Heffner and his wife were loyal Mississippians. Their daughter was Miss Mississippi. And they really believed that if they just invited a couple of white volunteers over to their house in McComb, just for dinner, just to find out what was going on, nothing, nothing would happen, nobody would object, but they miscalculated badly.
Barbara Jan Nave, Miss Mississippi: The whole purpose was just to keep the peace, to try not to have any more bombings, try not to have any more killings. They came over just to have tea or whatever, or coffee.
Malva Heffner, Mother Of Miss Mississippi (archival): Then shortly after that a man called a neighbor that we didn't know very well, and lives a good distance from us. And said that the neighbors were upset about this car that was in front of our house and who did it belong to?
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": And about 10 minutes later, Red Heffner opened his front door and there were all these headlights glaring at him, like something out of a bad movie, and people started shouting things, and they just barely got the people out of there, and from then on the Heffner's life in Mississippi was pure hell.
Malva Heffner (archival): I went downtown one day, and friends that I had known for 10 years would turn and walk away from me, or hang their heads. Some would speak and walk on as if I had leprosy or something.
Barbara Jan Nave, Miss Mississippi: My father was asked to move out of his office. So he lost his business. Our, you know, our little dog was killed. I came home to visit because I was still traveling as Miss Mississippi and the FBI wouldn't let me go home. I had to stay in the Holiday Inn because they had heard that the house was gonna be bombed.
Malva Heffner (archival): It's just gotten too low. The point that we couldn't take it any longer.
William Winter, State Treasurer: It's a mark of the obsession that so many white people had in this state at that time with maintaining segregation that made them turn on their neighbors, on their friends. The Heffner's were ostracized socially and finally had to leave the state.
Barbara Jan Nave, Miss Mississippi: They left everything they'd ever had behind. When all your roots are in one place it breaks your heart.
Linda Wetmore Halpern, Volunteer: I saw in Mississippi a white population that I had never even imagined existed. The vile, the absolute hatred that was in their eyes when they saw us coming, was-- it scared me.
Volunteer woman, in a letter (audio): It's night, it's hot, violence hangs overhead like dead air. It hangs there, and maybe it will fall.
Volunteer woman, in a letter (audio): Last night it was a long time before sleeping, although I was extremely tired. Every shadow, every noise, the bark of a dog, the sound of a car, in my fear and exhaustion I turned into a terrorist approach, and I believe...
Volunteer man, in a letter (audio): I wake up in the morning sighing with relief that I was not bombed, because I know that they know where I live, and I think, "Well, I got through that night, and I have to get through this day, and it goes on, and on."
Patti Miller, Volunteer: There were always moments when I just wondered if I could make it through that day to the next one, and then to the next one. Just always questioning, always wondering. Every time I walked out on the street I, in my mind, I expected a bullet to hit me.
Volunteer (archival): They threw a stick of dynamite where, now? Now what damage did it do?
John Dittmer, Historian: Freedom Summer was one of the most violent periods in Mississippi history since the end of Reconstruction. There were over a thousand arrests made.
Reporter (archival): The explosive, nobody knows what kind or how much, was apparently placed up against the house or rolled up against the house.
John Dittmer, Historian: Sixty five buildings were either bombed or burned, including 35 churches. There were 100 or so beatings. I mean this was going on all over the state.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: And then there was the whole issue of white women. Living in black homes. I mean that just infuriated them.
Mississippi man (archival): Take a, take these white, ah white women that've been imported in here. They, they call 'em white white women, I could call 'em a light colored rat. They stay and sleep in the same damn house that did a, that did a nig-,niggra do. And then tellin, tellin, tellin me that they, that they're not sex, sexual re-, re-, relations at. What that is, that is, for da, for da birds.
Karin Kunstler Goldman, Volunteer: Even walking down the street in an interracial group was kind of a no-no. I remember being arrested and being asked a lot of questions. And the question that sits in my mind is the sheriff wanted me to describe the size of black men's penises. They were obsessed with sex. I don't think we were obsessed with sex. But it was a clear message that's all they thought we were doing.
Julian Bond, Organizer: If you got in any kind of trouble at all, or if anybody was threatening to you, there was nobody you could go to and say "help me." You couldn't go to the police, you couldn't go to the sheriff, you couldn't go to the state officials. All of these people were hostile and probably the people who were threatening you, themselves. So there was nobody you could appeal to.
Linda Wetmore Halpern, Volunteer: I was walking along a road. We were told never to leave the place we were staying, by ourselves. They jumped out of the car. They started calling me "Hey, nigger lover! We got you. We finally got you. We ain't killed ourselves a-a white girl yet. You're going to be the first." They get this lynch rope. It really was a noose like you see like I had seen in the pictures of the hangings, right? They put this noose over my head. And this is attached to a long rope. They jump back into the car, and I just saw myself being dragged to death. I'm walking like this. And they're laughing and calling me all kinds of names. And then they moved along, slowly, a little bit faster. I'm walking faster. And it was like, "Okay, this is it." And then they dropped the rope. And I just stood there. Because we had to wear skirts. We weren't allowed to wear pants in those days, so we all had our little shifts on and everything. I peed all over myself. Just stood on the, and just peed.
Larry Rubin, Organizer: The day-to-day work was canvassing. The work itself is as simple as it is tedious. We walk down these dusty red country roads in the negro sections, go from tumbledown house to tumbledown house, and if they come out to the porch or let us in, we talk to the people. That's it. That's what we do. That's what the segregationists are trying to stop.
Tracy Sugarman, Volunteer: My motivation for drawing was I wanted to make sure that I was capturing the flavor of a moment, the intensity of a moment. And you are in that situation. Everything becomes memorable. The intensity of those situations become indelible. That happened to me twice in my life. One was on D-Day. And the other time was in Mississippi.
Karin Kunstler Goldman, Volunteer: The work was frustrating. There was a very small return for the number of doors we knocked on. You could see in people's faces the struggle they were going through. Many really wanted to register but were fearful. "I'm not going to register to vote because I work for a white family, and I think they might fire me." Or "I've heard that houses get burned down when people go to register to vote." Or "I'm worried about my kids."
We were doing something very positive but also in the backs of our minds was the negative that could befall someone we were talking to. Cause the danger was real. It was absolutely real.
Reporter (archival audio): Late this afternoon the search for Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner shifted to the Pearl River near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Boats carrying Game Wardens and FBI Agents are now dragging the river.
Reporter (archival): Have you seen the spot down here sir?
Mississippi man (archival): That's right.
Reporter (archival): What do you think of this?
Mississippi man (archival): I believe them jokers planned it and their sittin there in New York, laughing at us Mississippians.
Reporter (archival): Can you tell me what you think of this whole thing?
Mississippi woman (archival): Well I think it's a big publicity hoax, but if they're dead I feel like they asked for it.
Karin Kunstler Goldman, Volunteer: It was always on our minds, and we were constantly aware that they had not been found. There was a pall over the whole project because of that.
Reporter (archival audio): In Meridian, the wife of missing Mickey Schwerner, Rita Schwerner, flew from Oxford.
Julian Bond, Organizer: Rita Schwerner plays an important role here. This is her husband after all who is the leader of the three missing men, and she puts a face on them, and she plays an enormous role in making this seem like these are real people and we need to pay attention to these real people who something terrible has happened to.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer (archival): They're being held somewhere, or something happened, and I am going to find the answer. If this means driving every back road, every dirt road, every alley in the county of Neshoba, I will do it.
Dorothy Zellner, Organizer: The press swarmed all over her, and I think they wanted her to cry, and they wanted her to be a new widow, that they would catch her at the moment of her widow-hood, and she wouldn't play.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer (archival): I personally suspect that if Mr. Chaney who is a native Mississippian negro had been alone at the time of the disappearance, that this case, like so many others who have come before, would have gone completely unnoticed.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: I did have some sense that if the story was allowed to deteriorate into, "Oh, this poor little white girl," that it would, it would be offensive to everyone concerned.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Rita went on to the White House and she met Lyndon Johnson and he welcomed her to the White House and she said very bluntly, she said, "Mr. President, this is not a social call. I've come to find out where my husband is." And she got chewed out by the press secretary, who said, "You don't talk to the President of the United States like that." Rita simply said, "We do."
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): I saw this Ms. Schwertner this evening.
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director (archival audio): Yes.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): The wife of the missing boy.
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director (archival audio): Yeah. She's a communist you know.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): No but she acted worse than that.
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director (archival audio): Is that so?
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): Yeah she was awfully mean, and very ugly. She came in this afternoon and she wants thousands of extra people put down there and said I'm the only one that has the authority to do it. I told her I'd put all that we could efficiently handle and I was going to let you determine how many we could efficiently handle.
Reporter (archival audio): On Thursday, President Johnson ordered sailors from Meridian naval air station to augment state and federal law officers who were conducting the search. There have been reports that they were seen in other states. None of these reports proved out, and so far neither has the search.
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: On August 4th, 1964 at the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi Pete Seeger gave a concert. You know, we were all into James Brown and all that, and here, you know, we got a guy who's a folk legend that comes to Meridian, and we were told that he's gonna do this concert.
Pete Seeger, Folk Singer: It was a small church but everybody was standing so there were about 200 people there, and I had been singing to them I guess on a slight raised platform probably near the pulpit, and I had gotten them singing with me.
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: And, all of a sudden in the middle of a song that he was singing someone came over and whispered into his ear. He stopped, and he got up and made an announcement.
Pete Seeger, Folk Singer: "The bodies of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney have just been discovered. They were buried deep in the earth." There wasn't any shouting. There's just silence. I saw people's lips moving as though they were in prayer.
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: He asked us to join hands and sing, "We shall overcome, my Lord. We shall overcome someday. We shall overcome someday..."
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: I got a call late in the evening. At least this nightmare of unknowing, or at least not officially knowing, was over.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": The bodies of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were flown to New York. They had a separate funeral there. Fannie Lee Chaney flew to New York to be at that funeral. The families by then were so together, even though they had never met before. The mothers locked arms and walked out of the church together In Mississippi, a memorial service was held for James Chaney.
Dave Dennis, Organizer: The decision had been made by family members and local leaders and others that they wanted to keep this very quiet and then low key, rather. I did the eulogy.
Dave Dennis, Organizer (archival): I want to talk about is really what I really grieve about. I don't grieve for Chaney because of the fact that I feel that he lived a fuller life than many of us will ever live. I feel that, he's got his freedom, and we're still fighting for it.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Dave Dennis's speech was a turning point in the summer because everybody wanted him to say the usual things that you would say at a funeral. And Dave Dennis just couldn't do it. He challenged the people at the memorial, and he challenged the whole movement.
Dave Dennis, Organizer (archival): You see we are tired. You see I know what's gonna happen, I feel it deep in my heart when they find the people that killed those guys in Neshoba County…
Dave Dennis, Organizer: All the different emotions and things that had been going through, leading up to this particular moment. Began to come out, boil up in me, I call this. And then looking out and then looking up and seeing Ben Chaney. James Chaney's little brother. I lost it. I totally just lost it.
Dave Dennis, Organizer: Don't bow down any more! Hold your heads up! We want our freedom now! I don't want to have to go to another memorial. I'm tired of funerals. Tired of it! We've got to stand up!
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": I think a lot of people in Mississippi, white people, thought, "If we could just repel them with the violence, they'll go away."
But, the beauty of Freedom Summer was the tenacity shown by local people and the volunteers by staying on and on despite the violence, despite the threats, despite the three bodies. That created a momentum that as it went on into July and on into August, you did begin to see more people showing up at mass meetings, more people showing up at the church.
Churches that had originally had maybe 10 or 12 people for an evening meeting, and there were evening meetings almost every night. Now you got 20, 30, 40, 50 people showing up. The churches are filled in the evening. Just being there in Mississippi is making a difference.
Daisy Harris, Mississippi Resident: The mass meeting was called by the community. That was the purpose of the mass meeting, to bring people up to date, don't have any fear. Try to stick to your grounds and you are eligible to become a registered voter, don't have any fear. It made us stronger. As the time grew then the crowds started getting larger.
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: My friends and I, my brothers, we would sit on the front pew at a meeting, and our role as young people was to stand up in front of the congregation and begin singing Freedom songs, all a cappella, clapping our hands. And the congregation would be on its feet and they're swaying from side to side. And we're singing these songs like "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round," "Oh Freedom."
Roscoe Jones, Mississippi Resident: They would break out and sing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..."
Hollis Watkins, Organizer: On my project the volunteers, all of them had to go to the mass meetings.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: It played for them I think the same role that it played for black people. Because it was infectious. It galvanized you. It fortified you. It enabled you to go on.
Patti Miller, Volunteer: When you're in a situation with that much fear and every day not knowing what's going to happen, when you're in a mass meeting you feel there's a feeling of safety, there's a feeling of strength. Everyone was there to change things. And so when you're in those mass meetings, you really believe you can.
Virginia Grey, Volunteer (archival): We've organized into the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. We're holding a Freedom Registration drive throughout the state; encouraging every negro and white who wants a stake in their political future to prove it by getting his name on a Freedom Registration book.
Chris Williams, Volunteer: The word came down from the office in Jackson that, "All right. This has gotta be the priority." Bob Moses said, "We gotta really concentrate on this, we've got to sign people up for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. We were going to go to Atlantic City with a delegation of black Mississippians to challenge the white delegation at the Democratic National Convention.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Organizer: Our case was pure and unadulterated exclusion and discrimination. We regarded the delegation sent from Mississippi, an all-white delegation, as illegitimate under the rules of the Democratic Party, and we argued that our integrated delegation from all of the counties in the state should be seated instead.
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: Those students helped us get people registered. We registered thousands of 'em. I guess people were just fed up. People were hunting you to register to vote. You didn't have to just go to their houses. They wanted to put their name on 'em.
Chris Williams, Volunteer: Any place people congregated we're there with our forms. It wasn't complicated like the official registration form, and it was confidential. It wasn't going to pass through the hands of the white people down at the courthouse.
Virginia Grey Volunteer (archival): We have scheduled precinct meetings and district caucuses, and on August 6th, here in Jackson, we will hold our state convention. At that time, we will elect a slate of delegates for the national convention in Atlantic City.
Slate: Jackson, August 6, 1964
Reverend Ed King, Organizer: The delegates came from all over the state. Most of the delegates had never taken part in anything like this in their lifetime.
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: I was happy really, really, cause I did not think I would be a delegate. I didn't. And I was one of the first ones that they selected.
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Volunteer: It was a wonderful experience to see these people who had been oppressed and killed for trying to register to vote taking over their own destiny. For the first time, doing something that I think they'd never imagined being able to do.
Aaron Henry, President of Mississippi branch of the NAACP (archival): Will the delegates please be seated. The state convention for the Freedom Democratic Party is now in session.
Reverend Ed King, Organizer: Out of 68 people in the delegation, four were white. The regular delegation was all white, had no blacks. So we are integrated at that point and they are not.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Joseph Rauh agrees to be the chief counsel for the Mississippi Democratic Party. Rauh is a Washington insider from way back in the 40s and he had worked with all sorts of liberal causes and politicians. He was a lawyer for the United Auto Workers. He was very powerful, and that's a great person to have on your side.
Reporter (archival audio): Mr. Rauh what is your dispute with the regular Mississippi delegation?
Joseph Rauh, Chief Counsel for Mississippi Democratic Party (archival): It's very simple. They are disloyal to the national party. They exclude negroes who would help the national party from their roles. They have engaged in then terroristic activities in Mississippi.
John Dittmer, Historian: The people in Mississippi didn't know how national politics work. They didn't know how conventions work. Rauh did and he was the one who said that, "I think we can do this."
Sherwin Markman, Convention Delegate: I can't overstate how seriously Johnson took this whole thing. He believed that Bobby Kennedy, who was then Attorney General, was going to use any disruption at the convention as a vehicle to displace him as the nominee. The second thing he was concerned about is, he wanted to keep the regular southern wing in the party. That the whole battle would cause a split within the party, which would drive out the regular southern states. And he believed that without the South's support he would lose the election. So, I was designated to go to the convention as a delegate to make sure that did not happen.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: We had Democratic Congressmen from Illinois and from other states. The Democratic Party was the party of Adam Clayton Powell, so we, we felt we had an inroad there. If they let us state our case, we would be seated. I think that trip must've taken I guess 20 hours. I'm not sure. It was a long trip. But the mood on the bus was upbeat. Here we are going to Atlantic City to unseat the people who had denied us the right to vote. So it was really a jubilant time to me. We stepped out into a new world.
Reporter (archival): On Monday, the 1964 Democratic National Convention will open here in Atlantic City, a resort a hundred miles south New York. The job will be to nominate President Lyndon B. Johnson as the man to take on Senator Barry Goldwater in the Presidential election battle in November. Known as Convention City and home of the Miss America contest, Atlantic City can now claim the honor of a national political convention.
Chris Williams, Volunteer: These people were beauticians and farmers and mechanics, and they had kind of baggy, worn suits and funny looking dresses in some cases, and they weren't slick like the rest of the delegates were, so people weren't quite sure what to make of these people.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): We believe that we will be seated in this convention because it is right. When you tell the truth you don't have anything to hide...
Reverend Ed King, Organizer: Outside the convention hall we had a vigil went on 24 hours, every day that the convention was in session.
Karin Kunstler Goldman, Volunteer: It was, you know, great for us who had spent time in Mississippi to see not only people from Mississippi there, and not only volunteers there, but larger groups of people who came from all over to support the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. I know the Boardwalk was covered with people. I think it was hard to walk down the Boardwalk because there was so many of us.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer, singing (archival): Go tell it on the mountain. Over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain to let my people go.
Rita Schwerner Bender, Organizer: The whole notion of the demonstration out on the boardwalk and the MFDP challenge was all by way of trying to use the attention that would be focused on the convention to say to the country, "look at Mississippi, look at what is going on there. You cannot allow this to continue."
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer, singing (archival): Go tell it on the mountain to let my people go.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Organizer: We had to go to the delegations from the various states to make a case that had never been made before that an official delegation that came from a state should not be recognized, and an entire challenge delegation should be recognized in its place.
Sherwin Markman, Convention Delegate: They were very confident coming to the convention. They had every reason to be confident. The Mississippi Freedom Party had morality on their side, which is a powerful force in politics. So this was a revolution that they were starting within the Democratic Party.
Reporter (archival): Mr. Rauh when will the fight come and how?
Joseph Rauh, Chief Counsel for Mississippi Democratic Party (archival): Well the fight comes this way. On Saturday afternoon there will be a hearing before the credentials committee, and we will present our case.
John Dittmer, Historian: This was before the convention actually formally met. These 108 people would listen to the Freedom Democrats, then if 11, only 11 members of that committee would file a minority report, that would mean that it would go to the convention floor. In front of a national television audience, why, the Freedom Democrats would win because their case, of course, was so strong.
Reporter (archival): Are you hoping that President Johnson will come out on the side of your party?
Joseph Rauh, Chief Counsel for Mississippi Democratic Party (archival): No, I think that'd be a mistake. I think it would be a mistake for the President to take sides, even our side. All we ask for is benevolent neutrality, by which I mean real, honest to goodness neutrality.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): I don't know how anybody can stop what they're doing in the Freedom Party. I think it's very bad, and I wish I could stop it. I tried, but I haven't been able to. Last night I couldn't sleep. ' 'Bout 2:30 I waked up…
Taylor Branch, Historian: Lyndon Johnson literally was so fearful that the convention was gonna blow up that he essentially went to bed for two or three days and had what amounted to a nervous breakdown. He told his closest advisors and his closest friends that he was gonna quit, that he couldn't take the pressure.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): I do not believe I can physically and mentally carry the responsibilities of the world and the niggras and the South. And I thought about it a good deal this morning.
John Dittmer, Historian: The testimony before the Credentials Committee, the FDP had a line up of very different people. They had Rita Schwerner, the widow of Mickey, who had been killed in Neshoba County. They had Martin Luther King. Everybody knew King.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (archival): The seating of the delegation from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, has political and moral significance far beyond the borders of Mississippi, of the halls of this convention.
John Dittmer, Historian: But the highlight of that testimony was that of Fannie Lou Hamer. The sharecropper who had been evicted from her plantation had come to symbolize the Mississippi movement.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): Mr. Chairmen and to the credentials committee. It was the 31st of August in 1962 that 18 of us travelled 26 miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first class citizens. We was met in Indianola with, by policemen...
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): The President, Lyndon Johnson, he's not afraid of Martin Luther King's testimony. He's afraid of Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony. And so he decides that the country should not see her testify live.
Taylor Branch, Historian: Johnson is in the White House and he convened an impromptu press conference.
Reporter, NBC News (archival): We will return to this scene in Atlantic City. But now we switch to the White House and NBC's Robert Garosky.
Reporter, NBC News (archival): Now ladies and gentleman, the President of the United States.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival): On this day, nine months ago…
Taylor Branch, Historian: He did it knowing that they would break away thinking he might announce who his choice of Vice President was gonna be. Instead he gets up there and he announces -- get this -- he announces that it's nine months to the day since Governor Connolly, who was there, was shot along with President Kennedy. So he announced a nine-month anniversary, everybody's scratching their heads.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival): Thank you very much.
Taylor Branch, Historian: And then he leaves. By that time Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony was over. However, it backfired on Johnson because it became a story that she had been taken off television, and in the news that night and for days afterwards they replayed her testimony.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): I was carried to the county jail and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells.
Bob Moses, Organizer (archival): She had Mississippi in her bones. Martin Luther King, or the SNCC field secretaries they couldn't do what Fannie Lou Hamer did. They couldn't be a sharecropper and express what it meant, right, and that's what Fannie Lou Hamer did.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): And it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was state a highway patrolman. He said we going to make you wish you was dead. I was carried out…
Larry Rubin, Organizer: I was in Mississippi watching it on television with local people. This was a transformative moment for the folks in that room. This was the first time that they ever had seen one of their own, a black Mississippian who they all knew, first of all, on television, secondly standing up for their rights.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. One white man…
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: You listen to Mrs. Hamer and you're absolutely convinced that there's absolutely no justification for seating this all-white delegation.
Fannie Lou Hamer, Volunteer (archival): 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 of da hook. Because our lives be threatened daily. Because we want to live as decent human beings in America. Thank you.
Reporter (archival): That testimony, offered in public session last Saturday, we are told had the greatest impact on the women members of the credentials committee and it is among them that a sufficient number has been found to make a minority report possible.
Representative Edith Green (archival): The Freedom Democratic Party has done everything in its power, as I listen to the testimony to abide by the laws and rules of Mississippi.
Senator Baker Motely (archival): I think they ought to be seated in this convention. I think they represent about 50% of the population of Mississippi, all the negroes in Mississippi who are excluded from voting and participation in the regular Democratic Party. And I think certainly they're entitled to representation.
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: There was a lot of sympathy for seating this Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. But once you see that Lyndon Johnson has shut down Mrs. Hamer during her live testimony you can't help but wonder, what else is he gonna do? And how are these delegates gonna respond when there's real pressure placed on them?
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): Hell the northerners are more upset about this. They say, they call me right and say that the negroes have taken over the country. They're running the White House. They're running the Democratic Party.
Walter Reuther (archival audio): Yeah.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): And they don't understand it! They're there before that television, they don't understand that nearly every white man in this country would be frightened if he thought negroes wanted to take him over.
John Dittmer, Historian: People who were on the Credentials Committee who were listed as being supportive of the challenge found that -- one case a woman was said, "Well, your husband isn't going to get that judgeship." There was other pressure applied throughout. So, what had appeared to be a certainty became less and less certain.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Johnson was using everything he possibly could to keep this challenge at bay. Hubert Humphrey, he was slated to be the Vice Presidential nominee, and yet Johnson told him, "You will not be the Vice Presidential nominee if you can't fix this Mississippi problem."
He called Walter Reuther, his old friend with the United Auto Workers, and Joe Rauh's old friend, sent him to Atlantic City on a red eye flight to work, and they began to manipulate and pull strings.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival audio): I don't think neither one of you ought to let anyone know, just go on and act independently. Don't be actin for Johnson or anybody else. You just act on Reuther and you act on Humphrey. Don't have people saying that I'm making you do this. I've never heard of it.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": Walter Reuther was the chairman of the United Auto Workers, at that time certainly one of the most powerful unions in America. And he was Joe Rauh's boss -- Joe Rauh was the counsel for the United Auto Workers.
Sherwin Markman, Convention Delegate: Reuther came to Rauh and made that threat, "You either buy this compromise or you're no longer counsel of the UAW." And it worked.
Walter Reuther, Chairman of the United Auto Workers (archival audio): I talked to Joe Rauh and I says, "Look Joe, we've been friends for years, you're our lawyer, and by God if you don't work this thing out on a sensible, reasonable bases, then you and I are gonna part company, because I'm in the President's corner on this thing all the way."
Reporter (archival): Late this afternoon a compromise offer came or the compromise announcement came in a special meeting of the Credentials Committee here in the auditorium. Walter Mondale who's Chairman of the sub-committee, that drew it up, gave the details.
Walter Mondale, Sub-Committee Chairman (archival): We recommend that the convention instruct the Democratic National Committee...
Sherwin Markman, Convention Delegate: The compromise that was ultimately reached was we would give them two seats and the official Mississippi Delegation would keep its 68 seats.
Hollis Watkins, Organizer: Someone came in and said, "They have offered us a compromise, and this is what the compromise is." And, at that point some of us that was there jumped up and said, "Oh, hell no."
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: We didn't come all the way here to Atlantic City for two seats. We came to unseat them, to come back to Mississippi representing the Democratic Party.
Mike Wallace, CBS News (archival): Last night, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of New York City came by our CBS News studios. And I talked with him. You would recommend that they accept that compromise...
Adam Clayton Powell, Congressman (archival): Oh yes. Oh yes. Very definitely.
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: Adam Clayton Powell, he came and telling us that, "You all got to do this. This is politics. You give and you take. And you compromise."
Charlie Cobb, Organizer: The black establishment just couldn't comprehend that this group of people; these sharecroppers, these maids, these small farmers, these people from Mississippi back country would walk away from what these generous white people had offered. They couldn't understand that.
Peggy Jean Connor, Mississippi Resident: Adam Clayton Powell didn't know Fannie Lou. And he walked up to her he said, "You don't know who I am, do you?" And she just reared back in her seat and said, "Yeah, I know who you are. You are Adam Clayton Powell." She said, "But how many bales of cotton have you picked? How many beatings have you taken?" He couldn't say nothing.
David Brinkley, NBC News (archival): Well here's a piece of tape made a minute or two ago at the Union Baptist Temple in Atlantic City. A meeting of the Freedom Democrat Party to consider this compromise.
Aaron Henry, President of Mississippi branch of the NAACP: The delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party has just voted unanimously to reject the proposal that has been offered by the Credentials Committee.
Dave Dennis, Organizer: We missed a golden opportunity, this country did, to say, to come out and show the world what a democracy really should look like and how this country would stand for and protect people who were fighting for the Constitution of the United States of America. They walked us right up to the doorsteps and then slammed the door.
John W. McCormack, D-MA (archival): The Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson is nominated by acclimation as our candidate as the President of the United States.
Sherwin Markman, Convention Delegate: The convention went as Johnson wanted. He appeared in great cheers, and hurrahs and standing ovations, and he was a happy President of the United States. Hubert Humphrey got rewarded. He was selected as Vice President, and that was that.
Charles McLaurin, Organizer: I felt bad that we had not unseated the Mississippi delegation, but Fannie Lou and I came home with the feeling that our mission had not ended. We were coming home to continue to fight for the right to vote. We were charged cause we had stuff back here to do.
Lyndon Johnson, President (archival): Under this act, if any county anywhere in this nation does not want federal intervention, it need only open its polling places to all of its people.
Bruce Watson, Author "Freedom Summer": The Voting Rights Act of 1965 actually got its birth during Freedom Summer. It was signed in August of 1965, and one of the most important things it did was it abolished literacy tests, and it put voting in seven southern states under federal supervision. And that above all else, the legacy of Freedom Summer, really, really changed American politics. By the end of 1965, 60% of blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote.
Julian Bond, Organizer: There's this great pressure within the movement, people saying, "Well, we did our best. We did the right thing and it didn't work out. You know, when we were organizers, that was okay, but when we tried to have power, the power rose up and, and knocked us down."
After the convention, the movement changes. There's this movement toward Black Nationalism which grows in SNCC. There is just an idea of thinking about what we've been doing and doing something else, something different.
Stokley Carmichael, Civil Rights activist (archival): We want black power!
Crowd (archival): Black power!
Stokley Carmichael, Civil Rights activist (archival): We want black power!
Crowd (archival): Black power!
Stokley Carmichael, Civil Rights activist (archival): We want black power!
Crowd (archival): Black power!
Stokley Carmichael, Civil Rights activist (archival): We want black power!
Crowd (archival): Black power!
Stokley Carmichael, Civil Rights activist (archival): We want black power!
Patti Miller, Volunteer: When I was leaving Mississippi, I did not wanna go. You know, you fall in love with the people. You fall in love with that community, that wholeness that you have when you're working as a part of something that's meaningful. To know that you're just going back to a pretty staid life was very, very hard.
Chris Williams, Volunteer: I hope, sincerely hope that I made some small difference in moving the movement forward in rural Mississippi, of lifting the oppression off the necks of people who lived there, but I don't have any doubt all these years later that the person who benefitted the most from my being in Mississippi was me. I have an experience that's unique among white Americans of an understanding of race that is impossible to get hardly any other way.
Anthony Harris, Mississippi Resident: The system, the Jim Crow system, had told me to stay in my place. It had told me that, "you have a role to play in Jim Crow society, play it well." And I had played it well, so did many other black people, but now Freedom Summer was telling us, "You don't have to play that role anymore, folks. You are now on the path, it's gonna be a tough struggle, for children, for adults, for everybody involved in the movement it's gonna be tough." But that train has left the station, y'all.
Slate: Today, Mississippi has more African American elected officials than any other state in the country.
My American Experience
Whether in politics or popular culture, civil liberty or civil rights, 1964 saw a lot of change. What event or set of events do you think had the biggest impact on the year, on American society, or on America as we know it today?