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The Summer of Freedom

In 1964, Robert "Bob" Moses, an educator, civil rights activist, and the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Fannie Lou Hamer, a voting rights leader and women’s rights activist, Aaron Henry, President of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined forces with other supporters and launched the Mississippi Summer Project.

Their primary mission was to register Black Mississippians to vote. They formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the official (whites-only) pro-segregation Mississippi Democratic Party.

Moses, Hamer, Henry, and many others were frustrated with the voting situation and unwilling to accept the racial injustices. In June of 1964, hundreds of black and white students and volunteers came to Mississippi to register African Americans to vote and challenge the Jim Crow laws. Some were arrested, some were bullied, some were injured, and some were even murdered.

Atlantic City hosted the 1964 National Democratic Convention inside of Convention Hall to nominate Lyndon B. Johnson for President and Hubert Humphrey for Vice President.  The city played a pivotal role in the nation’s struggle for racial justice and the Civil Rights Movement.  The multi-racial MFDP campaigned to replace the official segregated Mississippi Democratic Party.  Many testified to the convention’s Credentials Committee for the MFDP to be seated as voters, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Aaron Henry, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Lyndon B. Johnson, feared losing white Southern political support to national Republican candidate Barry Goldwater, instructed his staff to manufacture a compromise with the Democratic National Convention’s Credentials Committee that would save white Southern votes, but also earn MFDP approval. The MFDP was offered two at-large seats, rather than replacing the regular Democratic delegates from their state. This allowed them to watch the floor proceedings but not take part.

Outraged by this offer, Fannie Lou Hamer proclaimed, “We didn’t come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn’t come all this way for no two seats when all of us is tired.” The MFDP was never seated, but this fight was a turning point in the Civil Rights struggle and contributed to President Johnson’s signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965.