Freedom Summer was launched as an assault on segregation and inequality on many fronts. Activists set up 30 Freedom Schools as an alternative to the state’s underfunded and segregated education system. The Medical Committee for Human Rights offered free health clinics.
While Freedom Summer went beyond electoral politics, a key focus from the beginning was breaking down voting barriers and harnessing African-American political power. Mississippi was chosen in part because less than 7 percent of the state’s black voters were registered in 1962, according to the Congress of Racial Equality, and Freedom Summer built on ongoing voter registration efforts. Organizers launched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as a rival to the white-controlled state Democratic Party, and Freedom Summer helped pave the way for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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Chris Kromm is director of the Institute for Southern Studies.