Thirty-five years ago this summer, a group of college students—most of them white, most of them Northerners, most of them middle class—began gathering at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. They were at first glance no different from the students one would expect to find on any college campus on a June afternoon. But in this case appearances were deceiving. The students were the first wave of a task force of more than seven hundred volunteers that the predominantly black Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)—an alliance made up of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—had recruited to come to Mississippi for the summer.
Mississippi Freedom Summer would show, COFO believed, that the segregationist laws keeping more than 90 percent of Mississippi’s eligible blacks from voting could be successfully challenged. They were convinced that if arch-segregationist Mississippi could be cracked, the rest of the South would follow....
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