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Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project. During the summer of 1964, a coalition of civil rights organizations, led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), organized a movement geared towards engaging African Americans in civic engagement in rural Mississippi. The Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, later known as “Freedom Summer,” led the black community to voter registration, participation, and education. The ultimate goal of Freedom Summer was to increase voter participation in elections through registering voters. With a 5.1 percent registration rate, Mississippi represented the lowest rate of eligible African American registered voters in the nation. Activists knew their efforts would be met with dissent from the racist atmosphere in the South. The movement recruited over 1,000 White college students from the North following a tactic previously used in the civil rights movement. Under Council of Federated Organization (COFO) which was a coalition of multiple civil rights groups involved with this project, organizers knew that a large group of White allies would draw media and public attention- and hopefully action, which, sadly enough, the project would not have received otherwise.

From the outset of Freedom Summer, activists encountered brutality and discrimination in the Deep South. Three volunteers, James Chaney, Michael H. Schwerner and Andrew Goodman – one black and two white –disappeared in late June and were found murdered on August 4, 1964 near Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was later reported that the men, on their way to investigate a burning of a black church, were pulled over by law enforcement and later left to suffer at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. The rest of the activists involved with the project were beaten, threatened and arrested throughout the summer. These groundless and severe actions were all related to the simple actions by volunteers to register eligible voters.

Freedom Summer was an attempt from the black community to gain a voice in democracy, and suppressive action was taken to silence these voices. In response to new federal legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, Mississippi enacted counter legislation to suppress the Civil Rights Act’s effectiveness. Activists were arrested and charged for loitering.  In May of 1962 legislation was enacted in response to a black man being denied assistance during the registration application process- as the registrar previously assisted white applicants. This new legislation requires the registrar to judge whether or not the applicant has “good moral character,” but there was no standard procedure for determining this description. Additionally, registration tests barred black individuals from registration due to being given difficult excerpts to identify from the Constitution- more challenging than their white counterparts. Another procedure that was implemented required potential registrants to revisit the registrar office to see the results of their registration test. Many times, black individuals, after attempting to register, were threatened and scared away from revisiting the registrar’s office to see if they had passed. These barriers put into law were made to disenfranchise marginalized groups, like those of low income and minority groups. Because of this, it is not surprising that, despite the efforts of Freedom Summer and the 17,000 black residents that attempted to register, only about 1,600 applications were accepted by the local registrars.

Today, discriminatory practices still remain in practice. In an effort to minimize “voter fraud,” many policymakers end up hurting more eligible voters by preventing them from being able to vote. Because of the existing socioeconomic correlation with race, voter ID laws prevent those without the necessary funding from obtaining an acceptable voter ID barring them from participating in the election process. There has been a shift in the paradigm of the courts’ rulings to reject disenfranchising laws- such as those victories in Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Reflecting on the legislative action that was once taken against voter registration efforts in an attempt to suppress the vote, we must remember that we are still fighting strict voter ID laws over 50 years later in Mississippi and a number of different states. The fight to protect the right to vote and end these suppressive laws continues.