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Key Documents from the 1964 Freedom Summer Project

Freedom Summer: Key Documents | Wisconsin Historical Society

Below are brief descriptions and links to key documents from the Freedom Summer Project, a nonviolent effort by civil rights activists to integrate Mississippi's segregated political system during 1964. 

These records were created from late 1963 through early 1965 by staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), local black residents, northern white volunteers, and segregationist opponents of the project.

Scroll this page to see 15 topics that link to approximately 78 documents.

Freedom Summer Background Documents

EnlargeExterior view of the segregated entrance for African-Americans at Malco Theater.

Colored Entrance at Malco Theater, 1953

Memphis, Tennessee. In southern states, a closed society was enforced by laws created by white supremacists. The laws stipulated that African Americans would enter stores through separate entrances as a sign of being treated as a lower class of citizens. View the original source document: WHI 83204


Nonviolence

EnlargeDiary page on non-violence training.

Diary Page: Nonviolence Training, 1964

Richard Gould, a COFO volunteer in Vicksburg, Mississippi, describes the stress on nonviolence during Freedom Summer trainings. View the original source document: Richard N. Gould Papers, 1963-1965


Preparations for the Project, Spring 1964

EnlargeDocument outlining Freedom Summer project.

News Release: Mississippi Summer Project Launched, 1964

Jackson, Mississippi. Portion of a press release announcing the start of the Freedom Summer Project. View the original source document: Howard Zinn Papers, 1956-1994


Volunteer Training, June 15-28, 1964

EnlargeDocument describing how to stay safe during the project.

Security Handbook, 1964

This page describes guidelines for volunteer safety and security during the Freedom Summer Project. View the original source document: Robert Gabriner Papers 1961-1981


White Supremacist Viewpoint

EnlargeNewspaper advertisement about maintaining segregation.

'What Have I Personally Done to Maintain Segregation?' 1963

Selma, Alabama. A full-page advertisement from a white citizens council supporting racial segregation. View the original source document: Ella Baker papers, 1959-1965


The Murders of Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner

EnlargeA nighttime rally on a boardwalk. Three people carry signs with portraits of missing project workers.

Nighttime Rally, 1964

Atlantic City, New Jersey. MFDP rally for the three murdered civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael 'Mickey' Schwerner. View the original source document: WHI 97967


Local Black Residents

EnlargeAn elderly black woman reading a pamphlet on her porch.

CORE Brochure on 'The Right to Vote,' 1962

Sumter, Mississippi. Photograph of a local resident by Bob Adelman used as one of many images in a CORE brochure. View the original source document: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Southern Regional Office Records, 1954-1966

  • Mission to Mississippi, May 1964
    (3 pages) Account by Barbara Woodward of a volunteer group in Canton, Mississippi, in which she describes their host families
  • Letter from Ruby Davis, 1964
    (1 page) Handwritten letter briefly describing Hattiesburg orientation for Freedom Summer volunteers. Written by Ruby Davis, a black grandmother in Ruleville, Mississippi, to Evelyn Werner of Madison, Wisconsin
  • Letter from Ruby Davis, June 27, 1964
    (2 pages) Handwritten letter describing volunteer setup for Freedom Schools across the state of Mississippi. Written by Ruby Davis, a black grandmother in Ruleville, Mississippi, to Evelyn Werner of Madison, Wisconsin
  • Negro Fired for Housing Rights Workers, July 1964
    (1 page) SNCC press release from Ruleville, Mississippi, describing reprisals against a host family
  • Dear Parents, July 3, 1964
    (1 page) Letter from an unidentified volunteer describing how his host family and neighbors defend themselves from attacks
  • Dear Folks, July 28
    (2 pages) Letter from volunteer William Hodes while in Greenwood, Mississippi, describing intimidation of the family with whom he is staying

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)

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


Freedom Schools

EnlargeA group of African American women sitting outside, listening to an African American speaker.

McComb Freedom School, 1964

McComb, Mississippi. A freedom school begins in the shadow of burned out freedom house. Over 30 students registered for classes the first day despite a series of shootings and bombings in the area. Originally published in the July 29, 1964 issue of the SNCC newsletter 'The Student Voice.' Source: Pamela P. Allen papers, 1967-1974

EnlargeStudents at Freedom School meet outdoors for class during Freedom Summer.

Indianola Freedom School, 1964

Indianola, Mississippi. A Freedom School class meeting outdoors. View the original source document: WHI 61670


Voter Registration

EnlargeCover of a pamphelt featuring a black-and-white photograph of a bald, middle-aged black man filling out a registration form in a courthouse.

COFO Freedom Registration Brochure, 1964

Pamphlet distributed by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) providing information about the Freedom Registration program encouraging voter registration. View the original source document: Library Pamphlet Collection, Pam 09- 1191


Intimidation and Violence

EnlargeCover of pamphlet featuring a close-up black-and-white photograph of a helmeted officier in the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

A Chronology of Violence and Intimidation in Mississippi Since 1961, 1964

Pamphlet produced by SNCC. View the original source document: Library Pamphlet Collection, Pam 78- 3570


Democratic National Convention Challenge, August 1964

EnlargeCover of primer featuring a penned sketch of a group of African Americans marching with a Freedom Democratic Party banner.

Freedom Primer No. 1, 1964

Pamphlet describing the Convention Challenge at the Democratic National Convention and the Freedom Vote. View the original source document: Staughton and Alice Lynd Papers, 1938-2008


Freedom Election, October 29-November 3, 1964

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

EnlargeFour small black-and-white portraits of the candidates with brief biographies below.

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Candidates, 1964

Mississippi. Images and descriptions of the candidates Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Aaron Henry, and Victoria Gray. Originally appeared in the October 28, 1964 issue of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) newsletter entitled 'The Student Voice.' Source: Hank Werner papers


Mississippi Congressional Challenge, January 1965

EnlargeCover of primer featuring a penned sketch of a group of African Americans walking up the steps of the U.S. Congress and House of Representatives.

Freedom Primer No. 3, 1964

This primer discusses the right to vote and the Congressional challenge. View the original source document: R. Hunter Morey Papers, 1962-1967


Reflecting Back on Freedom Summer

EnlargeThree Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party candidates talking.

MFDP candidates: Victoria Gray, Annie Devine, Fannie Lou Hamer

View the original source document: MFDP Records 1962-1971


Key Images

EnlargeTwo black men hold protest signs walking down a sidewalk past a white police officer who is holding a speaker megaphone. In the background, a police vehicle is parked on the curb.

Voting Rights Protesters, 1964

Image from Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party filmstrip. View the original source document: WHI 97866

Images of Specific People
Images of Specific Topics

Learn More

  • View the Freedom Summer Sourcebook
    See key documents compiled into a 353-page PDF from the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, including images, newspaper clippings, diary entries, and more.
  • See Key Documents
    Important original source documents brought together for convenient browsing. Documents describe the background and implementation of Freedom Summer as well as the range of reactions, including opposition and violence.
  • See a Timeline
    Track significant events of Freedom Summer.  Each event is linked to an original manuscript that provides more detail.
  • See Teacher Resources
    Presentations and guides that will help teachers and students incorporate Freedom Summer into classroom activities.

Have Questions?

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