This Day in History

Aug. 6, 1964: Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Convention

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

MFDP State Convention in Jackson, Miss., 1964. Source: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Today marks the anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party State Convention with 2,500 people at the Masonic Temple in Jackson, Mississippi.

Historian and SNCC adviser Howard Zinn described the state convention in SNCC: The New Abolitionists:

It was a beautifully-organized, crowded, singing assembly of laborers, farmers, housewives, from the farthest corners of Mississippi, and made the political process seem healthy for the first time in the state’s history. It was probably as close to a grass roots political convention as this country has ever seen. Most delegates were Negroes, but there were a few whites: one was Edwin King, Mississippi-born white minister at Tougaloo College; another was a husky former fisherman from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, 1964 | Zinn Education Project

Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, August, 1964 at a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party convening.

Historian John Dittmer described the overall importance of the Freedom Democratic Party in Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi:

The Freedom Democratic Party was one of the most important and distinctive institutions to emerge from the civil rights movement. It challenged white supremacy in the most repressive state in the South, combining grassroots activism with a radical social agenda.

FDP had its origins in the fall of 1963, when the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) conducted a “Freedom Vote” to dramatize the exclusion of African Americans from the political process in Mississippi. More than 80,000 blacks voted black NAACP state president Aaron Henry for governor and white Tougaloo College chaplain Ed King for lieutenant governor in this mock election. The election’s success led to the creation of an independent, black-led, state Democratic Party that would challenge the legitimacy of the state’s white supremacist delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the summer of 1964.

The events surrounding the MFDP’s efforts to be seated at the Democratic National Convention of 1964 in Atlantic City provide a strong example of the brave and brilliant organizing used to challenge the state sponsored terrorism that blocked the political participation of African Americans.

The website offers an invaluable, detailed online history of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Find more resources on the Zinn Education Project website about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

August 6 also marks the anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the birth of voting rights activist Virginia Foster Durr in 1903.