Freedom Day in Mississippi

In recognition of Black History Month, this is the first in a series of posts showcasing the Freedom Vote campaign of 1963, especially the Freedom Days of 1964. This series will chronicle the campaign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Dorian Randall and Sara Rowe Sims wrote the accompanying text.


Aaron Henry for Governor rally attendees participate in "unofficial ballot," October 29, 1963. COFO's Freedom Vote campaign event held in upper room of Masonic Temple, 522 Mobile Street, Hattiesburg (Miss.) This event was part of COFO's Freedom Vote campaign in the fall of 1963.
“Aaron Henry for Governor” rally attendees participate in “unofficial ballot,” October 29, 1963 at the Masonic Temple in Hattiesburg (Miss.). Call number: PI/1994.0005, Moncrief (Winfred) Photograph Collection. (MDAH)

The Freedom Day concept was an extension of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) 1962 voter registration campaign in McComb. The campaign suffered setbacks as white violence stymied potential black voters. Whites and black leaders criticized direct action protests, prompting organizers to shift focus to voting rights. Movement leaders also realized they needed national publicity to garner support for the cause and acquire federal intervention.

In 1963, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) strategized ways to defeat the barriers in registering black Mississippians. They proposed a mock election to demonstrate black citizens’ desire and willingness to vote. COFO wanted to help new voters build their own political institutions and accountability and to bring the movement to new areas, such as Natchez and the Gulf Coast. With that kind of expansion, organizers needed more volunteers. Allard Lowenstein, a Yale graduate and fellow organizer, suggested COFO recruit young white students to help. COFO agreed, and approximately one hundred Yale and Stanford students descended on the state to aid in the cause. The Freedom Ballot Campaign began with a convention in October calling for racial justice, school desegregation, equal voting rights, increased minimum wage, and economic programs for farmers and factory workers. Delegates chose Aaron Henry, the longtime NAACP activist and Clarksdale native, as the gubernatorial candidate for the mock election. White activist and chaplain Edwin King was his running mate.

Source: John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 114, 200.