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For a Voice and the Vote

For a Voice and the Vote: My Journey with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

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    For a Voice and the Vote
    Book Description:

    During the summer of 1964, more than a thousand individuals descended on Mississippi to help the state's African American citizens register to vote. Student organizers, volunteers, and community members canvassed black neighborhoods to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a group that sought to give a voice to black Mississippians and demonstrate their will to vote in the face of terror and intimidation.

    InFor a Voice and the Vote, author Lisa Anderson Todd gives a fascinating insider's account of her experience volunteering in Greenville, Mississippi, during Freedom Summer, when she participated in assembling the MFDP. Innovative and integrated, the party worked to provide education, candidates, and local and statewide organization for blacks who were denied the vote. For Todd, it was an exciting, dangerous, and life-changing experience. The summer culminated with the 1964 Atlantic City Democratic Convention, where the MFDP fought boldly for the opportunity to be included as the voting Mississippi delegation but, when they ultimately refused the Democrats' unacceptable terms, were criticized as politically naïve, militant protestors.

    This firsthand account attempts to set the record straight about the MFDP's challenge to the convention and to shed light on the efforts of this dedicated, loyal, and courageous delegation. Offering the first full account of the group's five days in Atlantic City,For a Voice and the Votedraws on oral histories, the author's personal interviews of individuals who supported the MFDP in 1964, and other primary sources.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4717-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    My summer as a voter registration volunteer in the civil rights movement was a life-changing experience for me, and this book permits me to share with readers what the volunteers confronted while living and working in circumstances that were so different from their own worlds. The Mississippi summer project—also known as Freedom summer—involved more than five hundred mostly white college student volunteers who spent two months in Mississippi in the struggle for freedom, justice, and voting rights for the black citizens of the state. In the summer of 1964, three civil rights workers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and...

  5. 1 In Atlantic City for the Democratic Convention
    (pp. 5-12)

    On Sunday that last week of August 1964, I was excited to be going to my first political convention. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a new, integrated, parallel political party, was challenging the seating of the all-white, segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party delegation because that party barred blacks from participation in party affairs and supported the state in denying blacks the right to vote through literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation, and violence. The MFDP delegates went to the convention seeking recognition as Democrats from the state of Mississippi with the right to choose their own representatives and wanting to purge...

  6. 2 My Life before Mississippi
    (pp. 13-22)

    I lived in a harmonious family in a four-bedroom, wood-frame, colonial style home in Summit, New Jersey, until I was eighteen. summit was an attractive Republican community of about 30,000 that appealed to Wall Street commuters.

    My father, Carl M. Anderson, was a corporate lawyer who commanded respect in his work with a major New Jersey corporation, its affiliated trade associations, and its international relations. A lifelong Republican, he was disciplined, kind, loyal, honest, and prudent. He was also cautious: he would not sign petitions for fear of finding his name on a list that he had thought was innocent...

  7. 3 Mississippi, 1963: Keeping the Waters Troubled
    (pp. 23-54)

    “I was full of apprehensions this morning.” That’s how scared I was when I started my summer diary on Saturday, July 6, 1963, the summer after my junior year in college and the year before I went on the Mississippi Summer project. I flew from Newark, New Jersey, to Jackson, Mississippi, for a one-month work camp at Tougaloo College, the small, historically black college just north of Jackson. The Ecumenical Voluntary Service (EVS) of the World Council of Churches was sponsoring a group of college students of different racial, national, and denominational backgrounds to live in the dorms, help the...

  8. 4 On to Greensboro, North Carolina, and Back to Cornell
    (pp. 55-74)

    I arrived in Greensboro, North Carolina, in early August 1963, the month of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for a three-week voter registration project sponsored by the AFSC, the national Quaker organization headquartered in Philadelphia.² This time I was not alone as my new friend Karen Pate had also signed up for the project, and we took the bus together to Greensboro. Eighteen of us, all college students, ate and slept in the basement of St. Stephen Church, a member church of the United Church of Christ. The twelve girls slept in bunk beds on one side...

  9. 5 Planning for the Summer Project
    (pp. 75-94)

    The 1964 Mississippi Summer Project is unique in civil rights milestones for recruiting large numbers of northern college students to live and work in cooperation with local leaders of the Mississippi civil rights movement. Its primary focus was voter registration using volunteers like me to encourage black residents to apply to register to vote and participate in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

    The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying voting rights on the basis of color. However, almost a century later, some jurisdictions still had entrenched mechanisms of evading this ban. In Mississippi,...

  10. 6 Orientation: How the Student Volunteers Were Prepared
    (pp. 95-114)

    After my last college exams, I drove the VW home with all my belongings and then returned to Cornell for the weekend, graduation, and two friends’ wedding. I was able to rationalize making myself late for the orientation: friends were inviting me to a wedding for the first time, and I already had a head start in orientation from my weeks in Mississippi the previous summer.

    I got a ride with classmates going to the voter registration project in Fayette County, Tennessee. On Wednesday morning, June 17, I arrived to register at Peabody Hall, one of the old buildings on...

  11. 7 June 21, 1964
    (pp. 115-130)

    On Saturday, June 20, hundreds of volunteers left Oxford, Ohio, for the Mississippi Summer Project. A volunteer had a car going to Greenville, and someone elected me, or else I volunteered, to go by car rather than by bus. This was obviously a preferable way of taking a long, more than twelve-hour trip.

    All four of us in the VW bug with an Oregon license plate were college-age kids. Pam Trotman, a black volunteer from New York and a recent Howard graduate, shared the backseat with me, and two white guys who were also voter registration volunteers sat in the...

  12. 8 Living as a Volunteer in Mississippi, 1964
    (pp. 131-176)

    Greenville is a stately southern city with two wide avenues running its length as you drive in from Highway 82 toward the Mississippi River. In the 1960s, the office of the influentialDelta Democrat-Timesanchored Main Street, which is still lined with many historic public buildings and large imposing houses of worship. The Federal Building containing the post office, city hall, the William Alexander Percy Memorial Library, and the Washington County Courthouse are on Main Street. In addition to the First Baptist Church and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church downtown, the influential presence of Jewish merchants and tradespeople in the city...

  13. 9 My New Politics
    (pp. 177-208)

    I was the only white female volunteer assigned to voter registration in Greenville—a special status given presumably because of my experience the previous summer. I felt privileged because of the opportunity to meet local people in their homes as we urged them to register to vote. some of the other girls were envious of me because they spent their days inside and saw fewer local people in the Freedom Schools.

    In 1964, few blacks were registered to vote in the Delta where I was working.² Thirteen of the twenty-four counties in the Second Congressional District had less than one...

  14. 10 Early Work on the Convention Challenge
    (pp. 209-220)

    Preparation for the MFDP Convention Challenge continued while I was still in Mississippi, but I knew little about what the MFDP advisers, the civil rights leaders, and Joe Rauh were doing inside and outside the state. In Jackson, COFO staff were compiling the affidavits of registered voters who had attempted but were not allowed to attend precinct and county meetings of the Mississippi Democratic Party as evidence of their exclusion from regular party affairs. They also put together the evidence that the MFDP had conducted its own precinct and county meetings as well as district caucuses before the state convention...

  15. 11 Lyndon Johnson: The Formidable President
    (pp. 221-238)

    Johnson’s consideration of how to handle the MFDP factored in the recent nomination of conservative Barry Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco on July 16, 1964. Johnson would have competed with the Republicans for black votes if liberal William Scranton had received the nomination, but now it appeared that blacks would have nowhere to turn but to the Democratic Party. So now Johnson did not need to favor the MFDP to receive black support in the election. Instead he had to concern himself with loss of the southern Dixiecrats in the Democratic Party when the Republicans were...

  16. 12 One Woman in Atlantic City
    (pp. 239-250)

    On Saturday, August 22, 1964, before all the delegates arrived in Atlantic City and before the Democratic National Convention began, Fannie Lou Hamer sat well prepared and well dressed in the large ballroom in Convention Hall, the stage set for the Credentials Committee to hear and decide the MFDP Convention Challenge. To Joe Rauh’s credit, he had requested ballroom space for a large audience and nationwide television coverage after President Johnson decided to minimize press attention. The previously assigned room had space for only the committee, witnesses, and pooled television coverage. Rauh, however, wanted the committee and the nation to...

  17. 13 Sunday in Atlantic City
    (pp. 251-264)

    President Johnson’s plan was to stall the issue of the Mississippi credentials, “procrastinate and make no decision” long enough that seating the MFDP would become academic. Johnson got another idea from Kenneth O’Donnell that would be “a backstop”: the members of the Credentials Committee supporting the MFDP could vote not to seat the regular Mississippi delegation but decline to sign a minority report.²

    On Sunday, August 23, the MFDP delegates and SNCC staff, along with some volunteers, continued to lobby the members of the Credentials Committee to secure and confirm their support for seating the MFDP delegation. COFO prepared a...

  18. 14 Humphrey’s Pleading on Monday
    (pp. 265-280)

    On Monday, August 24, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, the long-serving liberal senator from Minnesota, civil rights warrior at the 1948 Democratic Convention, and Senate majority leader, who had played a crucial role in the recent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was Lyndon Johnson’s man in charge. When Humphrey arrived in Atlantic City on Saturday, he declined to speculate on the outcome of the credentials dispute but told reporters that he had “doubts” that there would be a floor fight. He hoped there would be “an amicable and just settlement” because the “Democratic Party doesn’t need a fight.”²...

  19. 15 Reuther’s Manipulation on Tuesday
    (pp. 281-314)

    Before I heard anything about Walter Reuther, I was waking up on the church pew Tuesday morning thinking Pat and I should do more of what we had done Monday—wandering the boardwalk trying to talk to delegates about why they should vote to seat the MFDP that evening. When Pat was ready, we headed for Convention Hall to find our allies. Not a delegate yet in sight. We were excited that finally that night the convention would hold the roll-call vote on seating the Mississippi delegation. It looked as though it would happen. Why else would there be a...

  20. 16 The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Turns to Protest
    (pp. 315-324)

    Angry about the Credentials Committee decision, MFDP delegates decided on Tuesday evening to make their grievances known through nonviolent direct-action protest. Since Sunday night, supporters had maintained an around-the-clock vigil, with as many as four hundred young people sitting on the boardwalk.² Others walked silently up and down with MFDP placards as a reminder of the conditions in Mississippi that had resulted in the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. The large portraits of them were prominently hung or carried by the demonstrators for all to see. In his bookReady for Revolution,Stokely Carmichael describes the vigil as “unusually...

  21. 17 Wednesday: Persuasion Fails
    (pp. 325-338)

    The White House wanted the MFDP to accept the Credentials Committee’s decision that was adopted by the convention in order to restore convention harmony and improve Johnson’s election prospects. The Democrats did not like protests from its black constituency: “The sight of black Mississippians engaging in acts of civil disobedience against the party of Lyndon Johnson made liberal Democrats uncomfortable.”² In agreement with the wishes of the White House, chairman Aaron Henry assembled the delegates in their meeting place at the Union Baptist Temple Church at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday to reconsider the vote that had rejected the decision the...

  22. 18 Victory or Defeat
    (pp. 339-358)

    The MFDP Convention Challenge ended in victory or defeat depending on how you view the story and when you pass judgment on what happened. The name “Atlantic City” now has historic significance in the civil rights movement because it represents the events of five days in August 1964 that changed the course of the movement and the Democratic Party. For civil rights veterans like me, it has been much more than a resort town featured for gambling on the New Jersey shore, providing names in the board gameMonopoly,and hosting the Miss America pageant.

    My view of what happened...

  23. Epilogue
    (pp. 359-372)

    I changed after my summer in Mississippi, and so did Greenville. SNCC and Mississippi also went through major transformations following Atlantic City. And, as Walter Mondale said, the courageous people in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party “permanently and profoundly changed both the Democratic Party and American politics.”²

    The Mississippi Summer Project in 1964 was a milestone among the many historic events in the civil rights movement. For a short period of time, young people, black and white, banded together in a shared commitment to better the lives of black residents throughout the state of Mississippi. With limited resources, we used...

  24. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 373-376)
  25. Appendix A: Challenge of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
    (pp. 377-380)
  26. Appendix B: Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Delegates
    (pp. 381-384)
  27. Notes
    (pp. 385-436)
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 437-438)
  29. Index
    (pp. 439-454)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 455-456)