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Eyes on the Prize
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The 1964 Presidential Election

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Aaron Henry, chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation, speaks before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964.

In the presidential election of 1964, incumbent Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson soundly defeated Republican Barry Goldwater. After defeating the more progressive Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination, Goldwater won electoral votes from only his home state of Arizona and the five states of the Deep South. Yet Goldwater's nomination marked a conservative shift within the party.

At the Democratic convention in Atlantic City that summer, the delegation from Mississippi had found itself with challengers of its own. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sent black and white delegates to the convention to replace the delegation of the whites-only Mississippi Democratic Party. The MFDP worked the rules to their advantage, embarrassed President Johnson and then rejected his compromise of two "at large" seats. Nominally, the MFDP had failed, but televised proceedings of sharecroppers and field workers like Fannie Lou Hamer taking on the entrenched political forces inspired more people to become politically active.

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