“We are afraid to speak for our rights.” (Freedom Summer 1964, Part 2)

Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner; Image credit:  CBS News


July 16, 1964

Dear Mr. Nelson,

As you probably already know, there have been many arrests in Greenwood, which is only 30 miles from where I am working.  Tomorrow I expect to be there to picket the jail house. This means almost certain arrest.

Yours in freedom,


During the summer of 1964, thousands of young people from across the United States enlisted in the battle for democracy in Mississippi.  The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other organizations had already been fighting for the civil rights of African Americans in the Magnolia State.   However, most of the rest of the country was unaware that black people were literally losing their lives for trying to vote.  The organizers of the Freedom Project hoped that the involvement of young–and predominantly white volunteers–would draw national attention and lead to Federal intervention.  In the very first days of the program, three volunteers–two of them white–disappeared.  It made national headlines.

Fannie Lou Hamer; Image credit:  AP

America’s lesson in Mississippi politics continued until the Democratic National Convention in August. Before national news cameras, Fannie Lou Hamer testified of losing her home and being beaten for trying to exercise her civil rights. Sympathetic calls flooded the White House. And President Lyndon Johnson feared for his re-election chances.

Many letters and narratives in this series were read with permission from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Southern Mississippi.  The letters of Cephas Hughes are accessible via the Miami University Libraries Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives.
The following sources were also used:

Freedom Summer, Mississippi 1964, snccdigital.org

Freedom Summer:  The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Susan Goldman Rubin

Letters from Mississippi, Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez

Freedom Summer, Bruce Watson

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

Mississippi Freedom Summer Events, Civil Rights Movement Veterans