Remembering Freedom Summer 1964: When Civil Rights Activists Shed Blood To Protest Voter Discrimination

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Freedom summer


By the mid-1960s, the civil rights movement had made significant progress toward racial equality and social justice, but there was still voter discrimination at the polls, particularly in the South.

The Freedom Riders had taken historic bus rides through Jim Crow states. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Desegregation of schools has occurred. However, African Americans in the South found it difficult to exercise their right to vote. According to History, they had a presence but no say in policies that affected them.

Poll taxes and literacy tests were two of the systemic challenges designed to disenfranchise Black voters. The greater impact was that low political participation inadvertently influenced the civil rights movement’s demands.

Because of the low voter registration rate among African Americans, the Freedom Summer project chose Mississippi as the focal point of its campaign. According to the data, less than 7% of eligible African Americans who could vote were on the voter roll in 1962. The Freedom Summer project aimed to increase the number of African Americans registering to vote in Mississippi.

Over 700 white volunteers volunteered their time to help change the paradigm in which Black voters were harassed and discriminated against at the polls.

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Peaceful demonstration

Civil rights organizations such as the Congress on Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the local Council of Federated Organizations created the Freedom Summer project. Despite its nonviolent stance, members of the project were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and federal law enforcement officers. The media made much of the regular assaults, arrests, and killings.

The organizers of the Freedom Summer project were unfazed in their desire to register Black voters. In the end, law enforcement apprehended 1,062 volunteers, 80 of whom were assaulted, and churches, homes, and black-owned businesses were set on fire or bombed. According to the National Archives, four civil rights workers were killed and at least three Mississippi African Americans were murdered as a result of their involvement in this movement.

The Freedom Summer volunteers were prepared for violent confrontations before they began their advocacy, but they must not abandon their nonviolent stance. They were warned that they could be arrested and that they needed to have enough money to pay their bail. They were psychologically prepared for the worst and forced to read about other freedom fighters’ experiences.

Despite the attacks, they pushed to register Black voters and established local networks to continue the advocacy. The campaign’s impact was not immediately apparent in Mississippi. When 17,000 Mississippians attempted to vote in the summer of 1964, only 1,200 were successful.

However, in July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act following the increasing campaign by the Freedom Summer workers. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed.


Written by How Africa News

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