This Day in History

Jan. 4, 1965: Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Challenges Congress

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights

MFDP Congressional Challenge PrimerThe Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenged the seating of the all white Mississippi delegation when the 89th Congress convened for the first time on Jan. 4, 1965.

To explain the challenge to the general public, the MFDP produced a primer called “Freedom Primer No. 3: The Right to Vote and the Congressional Challenge.” It is an invaluable primary document to read today about the history of the MFDP and the struggle for voting rights and democracy in the U.S.

Hundreds of people journeyed by bus from Mississippi to Washington, D.C. to support the MFDP Congressional Challenge.

It is illegal to carry signs inside the Capitol, so they lined the underground tunnels that Representatives use to reach the House chamber.

MFDP | Zinn Education Project

MFDP supporters outside the U.S. Capitol. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society Freedom Summer Archives

Stokely Carmichael reported:

On opening day, as congressmen and their aides made their way through these tunnels, they turned a corner and found themselves passing between two lines of silent, working black men and women from Mississippi.

The people, spaced about ten feet apart, stood still as statues, dignified, erect, utterly silent. … Our people just stood there and looked at them. For these lawmakers using the tunnels that morning, that impassive, profoundly physical presence was an unexpected confrontation with reality.

That grave, mute presence became the most effective and eloquent of testimonies.

To those passing congressmen, the issue of Southern political injustice could no longer remain an abstract statistic, distant, and dismissible.

Read more about the MFDP and the Congressional Challenge from Civil Rights Movement Archive (CRMvet) and the SNCC Digital Gateway. Find resources to teach about the MFDP and the voting rights struggle below.