By Daniel Lewis, ProQuest Product Manager
On August 2, 1963, Bob Moses, Director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) Mississippi Voter Registration Project wrote a memo to the SNCC Executive Committee in which he outlined what became the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964. In this memo, Moses, who originally went to Mississippi in July 1961 to work on voter registration efforts, summarized some of the things that he and SNCC had accomplished and learned in Mississippi between July 1961 and August 1963.
Among the accomplishments, Moses listed the following:
“1. The recruitment and involvement of people from Mississippi, some adults, but mostly young people …
2. The establishments of ‘beachheads’ or bases for operation in a number of towns and counties in Mississippi.
3. Gained the confidence of many local Negro leaders in the validity of SNCC’s program.
4. Provided considerable material for suits by the U.S. Department of Justice against Mississippi voting laws and practices designed to keep Negroes from voting.”
In the next paragraph, Moses listed the challenges that remained in Mississippi. He wrote:
“1. It is not possible for us to register Negroes in Mississippi. …
2. All direct action campaigns for integration have had their back broken by sentencing prisoners to long jail terms and requiring excessive bail. …
3. It is expensive to operate in Mississippi.”
As a result of the difficulties that SNCC had encountered in Mississippi, Moses proposed that “SNCC launch a one-man-one-vote campaign for Mississippi aimed at obtaining the vote [for Black Americans] in Mississippi by 1964.” Moses’s proposal in this August 1963 memo led to what became Freedom Summer, an effort in which SNCC, working with about 1,000 volunteers, many of them white college students, worked to gain the right to vote for Black Mississippians.
Bob Moses was one of the soft-spoken leaders of the civil rights movement. His actions did not make the front-page headlines in the way that Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael did. But Moses’ proposal for Freedom Summer led to one of the most important initiatives of the civil rights movement. Moses helped cultivate local leaders in Mississippi and squarely focused attention on the deep-seated racial injustice and violence in Mississippi.
Among the outstanding accomplishments of the Freedom Summer were the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the coordination of a Freedom Vote to elect MFDP delegates for the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and the cultivation of local leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer, who gave an impassioned speech at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey in August 1964.
The records of SNCC’s accomplishments in Mississippi, as well as its campaigns throughout the period from 1960-1972 are now presented in ProQuest History Vault Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers, Part 2. The HistoryMakers in ProQuest’s Black Studies Center also contains a fascinating interview with former SNCC Chairman John Lewis (Congressman from Georgia since January 1987). Other interviews with civil rights veterans in The HistoryMakers include Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women, and C. T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
[Home page image: Excerpt from transcript of interview with Joseph Rauh on July 30, 1969. Rauh represented the MFDP at Atlantic City in 1964. In this portion of the interview, he comments on Bob Moses. Source: General Services Administration transcript of interview with Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.
Image above: Licensed for reuse. From www.blackwomenandmoney.com]