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SNCC 1960-1966: Six years of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Mississippi Freedom Democratic PartyThe Freedom Ballot set the stage for the Mississippi Summer Project, organized primarily by Bob Moses. SNCC worked hard in the winter and spring of 1963-64 preparing for the project, which was an urgent call to action for students in Mississippi to challenge and overcome the white racism in the state of Mississippi.

In the prospectus circulated to college campuses that summer, the mission was stated: "...As the winds of change grow stronger, the threatened political elite of Mississippi becomes more intransigent and fanatical…Negro efforts to win the right to vote cannot succeed…without a nationwide mobilization of support. A program is planned for this summer which will involve the massive participation of Americans dedicated to the elimination of racial oppression…"

The Mississippi Summer Project had three goals: registering voters, operating Freedom Schools, and organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) precincts. One strategy of the project was to hold Freedom Days every two or three weeks. On Freedom Day, SNCC gathered black people together to collectively try to register to vote. However, SNCC faced the challenge of overcoming intimidation by whites, as several people had been killed on Freedom Days across the state.

The Freedom Schools helped the Freedom Days succeed. These schools taught children, many of who couldn't yet read or write, to stand up and demand their freedom. The children returned home and told their parents about the Freedom Days and convinced them to register for freedom.

Attempts to get people to attend MFPD meetings also suffered from intimidation by whites. Three men associated with the Freedom Democratic Party disappeared that summer. They turned up dead with fatal gunshot wounds--one with blows that crushed many of his bones. When asked by the media if she thought something positive would come from the triple assassination, Rita Schwerner, a member of CORE working out of Washington, said, "That is up to the people of the United States."

More than 800 delegates of the Freedom Democratic Party from over 40 counties met in Jackson to choose 68 delegates and alternates to the National Democratic ConventionSNCC's reacted to the deaths with a renewed sense of dedication. Their goal was to take the MFPD to the Democratic National convention that summer in Atlantic City, to the "elected representatives of the United States." SNCC wanted the MFPD to represent Mississippi rather than the state's current delegation.

The MFPD had worked long and hard to prove that they were morally and politically entitled to the seats, but the Democratic Party was not convinced. They offered a compromise of two non-voting seats next to the regular Mississippi delegates. After much deliberation that involved Martin Luther King's support of the compromise, SNCC refused the Democratic Party's offer. SNCC and the MFPD were there to gain voting seats and since that could not be accomplished, they left the convention defeated but proud.