Seats assigned to Mississippi are empty at the Democratic Convention on Aug. 24, 1964. Two competing delegations were assigned spectator status for the opening session when the credentials committee was unable to decide which delegation to accredit. AP hide caption
Seats assigned to Mississippi are empty at the Democratic Convention on Aug. 24, 1964. Two competing delegations were assigned spectator status for the opening session when the credentials committee was unable to decide which delegation to accredit.
Fifty years ago this week, Freedom Summer spilled into national party politics. Young volunteers spent the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, working to register African-American voters. But leaders of the movement also had a political strategy designed to chip away at the oppressive white power structure in the South, and it was put to the test at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.
Five-foot-four Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta, caught the nation’s attention as she sat before the convention’s credentials committee seeking recognition for the newly formed and integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
“I question America,” Hamer said as she challenged the state party’s all-white delegation.
“Is this America?” she asked. “The land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hook because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party stormed Atlantic City, garnering the support of liberal delegations outside the South. The 68 delegates four white, the rest black wanted to be seated instead of the state party’s regular delegates, who they argued were wrongly elected in a segregated process.
The standoff was the outgrowth of what started as the Freedom Vote in 1963. Established civil rights groups helped stage a mock statewide election open to disenfranchised African-Americans in Mississippi.
“We wanted to show that black votes could make a difference,” says the Rev. Ed King, a white Methodist minister who was the new party’s candidate for lieutenant governor at the time. “We have to break the myth that black people are uninterested in politics.”
And no one made that case stronger than Hamer, a cotton plantation worker with a sixth-grade education from tiny Ruleville, Miss.
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Freedom Strategy Put To The Test At Democratic National Convention