Freedom Summer Project Timeline | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Timeline for the 1964 Freedom Summer Project

Freedom Summer was the nonviolent effort by civil rights activists to integrate Mississippi's segregated political system during 1964.  Volunteers were recruited and trained to help Mississippi's African-American residents register to vote, establish a new political party and learn about history and politics in newly-formed Freedom Schools.

Prior to the Freedom Summer Project, civil rights activists had met fierce violence as they tried to integrate Mississippi's political institutions. In the fall of 1963, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) helped local organizers stage an unofficial "Freedom Vote" that proved black Mississippians wanted to participate in the electoral process.

Planning for Freedom Summer began late in 1963 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to recruit several hundred northern volunteers, mostly white college students, to work in Mississippi.

During Freedom Summer black Mississippians and volunteers were met by extraordinary violence, including murders, bombings, kidnappings, and torture. These events were covered on national television, and public outrage helped spur the U.S. Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Timeline

Click on a date below to view an original document from the Freedom Summer Digital Collection.

1963 - Events
EnlargeClose-up portrait of Bob Moses.

Bob Moses: Reversing the Pattern

Bob Moses, director of SNCC, first proposed a Mississippi voter registration project to the SNCC executive committee in 1963. View the original source document: Richard N. Gould papers, 1963-1965

EnlargeCover of folding brochure issued by SNCC with a close-up black and white photograph of Bob Moses, Robert Parris and another female black volunteer talking to an elderly black woman on her porch.

SNCC Voter Registration Brochure, 1964

Mississippi. Bob Moses (lower right) and volunteers discuss voter registration with an elderly black resident. Source: Alicia Kaplow Papers, 1964-1968

  • Aug 28 - The March on Washington - Officially named "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," this mass demonstration draws 250,000 people. Martin Luther King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech. SNCC's chairperson John Lewis criticizes the federal government for failing to protect the civil rights of Mississippi residents.
  • Sep -     Mississippi Voter Registration Project Proposed - Bob Moses, director of SNCC, proposes a Mississippi voter registration project to the SNCC executive committee to consider at its September 6-9, 1963. This is the genesis of Freedom Summer.
  • Sep 6 -  Atlanta SNCC Meeting - During this four-day meeting, SNCC debates Moses' idea to focus on Mississippi voter registration rather than conducting direct actions such as sit-ins and boycotts.
  • Nov 4 -  'Freedom Vote' 1963 - More than 80,000 people participate in mock elections to disprove the white claim that Africa-Americans didn't want to vote. Several dozen white volunteers from Stanford and Yale universities came to help. Press coverage of their effort sparks the idea that using white volunteers might focus the nation's attention on the injustice in Mississippi.
  • Nov 11 - Greenville SNCC Meeting - At this four-day staff meeting in Greenville, Mississippi, SNCC debates bringing 1,000 northern students to Mississippi the next summer. Many staff are opposed, fearing that it will undermine local black leadership. No decision is made.
  • Dec 15 - Jackson COFO Meeting - At this meeting in Jackson, Mississippi, COFO appoints Bob Moses its project director for voter registration and Dave Dennis assistant program director.
  • Dec 31 - SNCC Executive Committee Meeting - Leaders finally endorse a Mississippi Summer Project for 1964 that includes large numbers of northern white volunteers. 
1964 - Freedom Summer Project Planning and Events
EnlargeA black-and-white photograph showing a large crowd of demonstrators amassed on the steps of a courthouse.

Hattiesburg Freedom Day, 1964

Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Demonstrators at the Forrest County Courthouse. View the original source document: Jerry Tecklin Papers, 1964

  • Jan 16 - COFO Proposes Challenge at the Democratic National Convention - A COFO subcommittee proposes challenging the right of any all-white delegation to represent Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to be held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August 1964.
  • Jan 22 - Hattiesburg 'Freedom Day' - COFO helps 150 black residents of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, attempt to register to vote on 'Freedom Day.' Clergy from around the country assemble to support them. 
  • Jan 31 - Activist Louis Allen Murdered - Local NAACP organizer Louis Allen of Liberty, Mississippi, is shot and killed for his support of voter registration efforts. This tips the scales for undecided COFO leaders, who agree to go ahead with the Freedom Summer Project.
  • Feb 9 - Freedom Summer Project Authorized - COFO formally authorizes the Freedom Summer Project. They hope a large influx of well-connected volunteers will focus the country's attention on Mississippi and force the federal government to pass voting rights legislation.
  • Feb 28 - Canton 'Freedom Day' - In Canton, Mississippi, COFO helps more than 300 black residents line up at the county courthouse to register to vote. Though there is no violence, they are guarded by police with shotguns and tear gas. It is the state's largest voter registration attempt up to that time.
  • Feb     - Freedom Summer Project Brochure Circulated - SNCC describes the Freedom Summer Project to supporters in an 8-page fund-raising brochure.
  • Mar 21 - Freedom School Planning Conference - The National Council of Churches hosts a Freedom School planning conference in New York City.
1964 - Freedom Summer Project Recruitment, Training and Events
EnlargeCover of brochure featuring a close-up black-and-white photograph of a young African-American man looking directly into the camera.

Mississippi Summer Project Brochure

View the original source document: Jerry Tecklin Papers, 1964

EnlargeLetter to students encouraging them to sign up to volunteer for the Mississippi Summer project.

Mississippi Summer Project Letter

Letter to supporters of the project with a photo of volunteers included. View the original source document: Marvin Gatch Papers, 1964-1994

1964 - Freedom Summer Project Implementation and Events
EnlargeA man stands inside the ruins of a church building.

Destroyed Church, 1964

McComb, Mississippi. Society Hill Baptist Church, site for one of the Freedom Schools, was bombed on September 20. It was one of 36 black churches bombed in Mississippi during 1964. View the original source document: WHI 97712

EnlargeBlack and white image of two election posters that say, 'Freedom Means Vote For Fanny Lou Hamer or Aaron Henry.'

MFDP Political Posters, 1964

Mississippi. Campaign posters for Aaron Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer, two candidates for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). View the original source document: WHI 97975

EnlargeProfile view of leader Bob Moses speaking to group.

Bob Moses Speaking, 1964

Meridian, Mississippi. SNCC leader Bob (Robert) Moses speaking at the Freedom School Convention during Freedom Summer. View the original source document: WHI 98741

EnlargeUnidentified black woman seated at a table. Banner reads 'Freedom Vote / Henry and King.'

Freedom Registration Brochure, 1964

Mississippi. Image from a voter registration brochure created for the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). Source: Bryan R. Dunlap Papers, 1964-1972, 1994.

EnlargeTwo female poll workers sit behind a table near a box with the words: "Freedom Vote" written on it.

Freedom Vote Poll Workers, 1964

Mississippi. Poll workers in a mock election designed to include African-Americans who were unable to register to vote at the time. View the original source document: WHI 97976

EnlargeA line of people approaching the dome of the US Capitol.

March in Washington: Mississippians on Congress, 1965

Washington, D.C. A group of Mississippians marching toward the U.S. Congress. View the original source document: MFDP Records 1962-1971

  • Jun 29 - Freedom Summer Project Begins - Roughly 500 volunteers and staff are at work in 25 locations around the state.
  • Late Jun - Residents and Volunteers Continue to Face Violence - More than 40 incidents of harassment and violence occur around the state during the last two weeks in June. By July 1, 1964, Mississippi has had five bombings, four murders, and numerous shootings of civil rights workers.
  • Jul 2 - First Freedom Schools Open - The first Freedom Schools open in the Mississippi cities of Clarksdale, Holly Springs, and Vicksburg.
  • Jul 2 - Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed - President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It outlaws major forms of discrimination such as segregated facilities or voting laws but provides weak enforcement powers to the federal government.
  • Jul 22 - Martin Luther King Visits - Martin Luther King visits the Mississippi cities of Jackson and Vicksburg to show his support for the Freedom Summer Project.
  • Aug 4 - Murdered Volunteers Bodies Found - The bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner are found buried in an earthen dam on a farm outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. Local police had released the three young men to the Ku Klux Klan, who tortured and murdered them before burning their car and hiding their bodies.
  • Aug 6 - Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Elects Delegates - The MFDP's state convention in Jackson, Mississippi, elects delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to be held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August 1964. They hope to unseat the all-white delegation sent by the mainstream Mississippi Democratic Party.
  • Aug 8 - Freedom School Convention - A statewide Freedom School convention is held in Meridian, Mississippi. Students from around the state review the summer's accomplishments and draft resolutions.
  • Aug 22 - Democratic National Convention Held - In Atlantic City, New Jersey, delegates from the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party challenge the right of delegates from the segregated mainstream Mississippi Democratic Party to represent the state. Their testimony about conditions in Mississippi is broadcast on national television and hundreds of supporters demonstrate outside the convention hall. Democratic National Convention (DNC) officials reject their challenge and they are not seated.
  • Aug-Sep - McComb Violence - In McComb, Mississippi, nine black homes, churches, and businesses are fire bombed over the course of three weeks.
  • Sep -     Freedom Summer Project Leaders Travel to Africa - Entertainer and civil rights supporter Harry Belafonte takes exhausted Freedom Summer leaders to Africa. For some of the Africans, it is the first time they see black people in leadership positions in government and the professions. The trip helps the project leaders connect their work to the struggles of the African black liberation movement and energizes them for further work upon their return to the United States.
  • Oct 31 - 'Freedom Vote' Held - Because most black Mississippians have not been allowed to vote in the official election, Freedom Summer Project leaders organize the 1964 'Freedom Vote.' This parallel election is held from October 31 through November 2, 1964, during which more than 68,000 people cast their votes. This proves to political leaders that African-Americans will be an important constituency to address after the barriers to their participation have fallen.
  • Nov 3 - Official Election Held - Lyndon B. Johnson is re-elected President of the United States and white supremacists win Mississippi's five congressional seats.
  • Dec 4 - Mississippi Congressmen Challenged - MFDP challenges the right of the five white congressional representatives elected in November to take their seats, on the grounds that blacks were systematically excluded from voting. After nine months of legal and political wrangling, the U.S. House of Representatives rejects the challenge in September 1965.
1965 - Events
EnlargeLyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, is shown with his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, having an intense discussion, while seated in an airplane.

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson

View the original source document: WHI 28268

  • Jan 16 - FBI Indicts Murder Suspects - The FBI indicts 18 suspects in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Local officials immediately drop all charges but, under federal pressure, the men are re-charged the next month. Seven are found guilty when legal proceedings end in 1967.
  • Aug 6 - Voting Rights Act of 1965 Signed Into Law - President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law with Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders in attendance. It not only prohibits discriminatory registration provisions but also empowers the federal government to send its own registrars to local courthouses to make sure the law is obeyed.

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