American Experience: Freedom Summer

About This Episode

In 1964, less than 7% of Mississippi’s African Americans were registered to vote, compared to between 50 and 70% in other southern states. In many rural counties, African Americans made up the majority of the population and the segregationist white establishment was prepared to use any means necessary to keep them away from the polls and out of elected office.

In the hot and deadly summer of 1964, over 700 student volunteers joined organizers and local African Americans in Mississippi in an effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in one of the nation's most segregated states. Together they canvassed for voter registration, created Freedom Schools and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the all-white state Democratic Party at the national convention.

American Experience: Freedom Summer highlights an overlooked but essential element of the civil rights movement: the patient and long-term efforts by outside activists and local citizens in Mississippi to organize communities and register black voters — even in the face of intimidation, physical violence and death.