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“And that freedom train’s a comin’”

The lines come from a song usually called “Freedom Train,” based on the hymn “Old Ship of Zion.” It was also sung in a union version as “Union Train” in the 1930s and 40s.

Mayor Allen Thompson of Jackson

Not only did Mayor Allen Cavett Thompson (1906-1980) get the infamous “Thompson Tank” named after him, but the Jackson airport, built during his five terms as mayor (1948-1969) also carries his name.

Western College for Women

Organized as the “Mt. Holyoke of the Midwest” in 1855, Western College for Women became known for its international studies. It merged with Miami University in 1974. In April 2002, a plaque and memorial to Freedom Summer were dedicated near Peabody Hall on the campus.

Citizens Councils

The first White Citizens Council had been organized in Indianola, Mississippi (following the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education) in 1954, as a middle-class, ostensibly nonviolent opposition to integration. Citizens Councils spread rapidly throughout the state, throughout the South, and as far north as Maryland. Officially, they employed legal and economic tactics against activists, but these occasionally included physical intimidation. They liked to be distinguished from the Ku Klux Klan organizations, which were seen as more lower class and directly violent.



James Baldwin (1924-1987) had most recently published The Fire Next Time(1963) a pair of essays that eloquently expressed not only the intellectual and physical oppression of black Americans, but also wrestled prophetically with the themes of anger, revenge, love and forgiveness.

Frank Smith

Frank Smith (b. 1942) from Atlanta, Georgia was a student at Morehouse College and a SNCC field secretary. He later moved to Washington, D.C., became active in local politics along with other SNCC veterans, and served there on the Board of Education and the City Council. Smith is the founding executive director and board member of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum.

Westchester County

Westchester County, New York, was a byword for its communities of wealth and white privilege in the 1950s and 1960s.​

fat ugly registrar

Theron C. Lynd (1920-1978) was the circuit clerk and county registrar of Forrest County from 1959 until his death. His discriminatory policies and delaying tactics when he was asked for his records by the Justice Department in 1965 resulted in the Fifth Circuit Court issuing an injunction against him.

Jimmie Travis

James Travis (1942-2009) from Jackson, Mississippi, worked with SNCC through 1965. After joining and then leaving the Nation of Islam in 1967, he began working with Headstart programs, emphasizing local control and a community voice in the program, an occupation he stayed with for fourteen years. In the mid-1980s, Travis went to work at Levi Strauss, also helping to gain union recognition there. When his oldest daughter was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, he became active in HIV-AIDS education, and later in his life served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.​


see note, p. # 

Jim Forman

James Forman (1928-2005) grew up in Chicago, spending much of his childhood with family in Mississippi, and graduated from Roosevelt University after military service. He was active in the black civil rights movement in North Carolina, Tennessee and other areas before becoming Executive Secretary of SNCC (1961-66) as well as its Director of International Affairs. Later he moved to Detroit, to work with the Black Workers Congress there, and then on to Washington, D.C. In 1974 he began to direct the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee in that city, focusing on voter activism, the fight for D.C. statehood and other struggles. He published five books, including The Making of Black Revolutionaries.

Medgar Wiley Evers 

Medgar Wiley Evers (1925-1963) was an active leader of the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi, whose assassination in his own driveway focused national attention on Mississippi in June 1963. His killer, Byron de la Beckwith, had been tried and acquitted twice by the summer of 1964. He was finally convicted of the crime in 1997, and died in 2001. Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers Williams, (b. 1933) served as chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.​

Ed King

R. Edwin King (b. 1936) is a white Mississippian who served as chaplain at predominately black Tougaloo College. He became the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor on the 1963 Freedom Vote ticket headed by Aaron Henry. In 1964, he was an MFDP delegate to the National Democratic convention. He continued to be active in MFDP politics, running for Congress in1966. 

Bob Moses

Bob Moses (b. 1935) was raised in Harlem, attended Hamilton College and Harvard University, and was teaching math at Horace Mann High School when he went to work first for SCLC and then SNCC. He was one of the pioneering staff-workers in Mississippi organizing voter registration in 1961, and became the architect and key director of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. He left SNCC in 1966, moved to Tanzania in 1968, and returned to the United States in 1976. He now directs the innovative and successful Algebra Project to empower otherwise disadvantaged students.

Charles McLaurin

Charles McLaurin (b. 1941) a citizen of Jackson, Mississippi, was a pioneer in SNCC’s early voter registration work and became one of its leading field secretaries. After the summer of 1964, he stayed on organizing in Sunflower County, remaining close to Fannie Lou Hamer until her death in 1977. He continues to be actively involved with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Movement Veterans, ROAR, other community organizations, individuals and institutions.

Charles Morgan, Jr.

Charles Morgan, Jr.  (1930-2009) was born in Ohio, raised in Kentucky, and practiced law in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1955 to 1963. Following the Birmingham church bombings, he took a strong public stand against them, and left Birmingham shortly afterwards. From 1964 to 1972 he headed the southern regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and then moved on to head the Washington, D. C., office from 1972 to 1976. Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the ACLU, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War. He participated in Muhammad Ali’s successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views, and he defended an officer court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.

Rev. James Lawson

Rev. James Lawson (b. 1928), an exponent of Gandhian nonviolence, became one of the leaders of the Nashville, Tennessee student sit-in movement in 1959. As a result, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University where he had been a student at the divinity school. The Nashville activists, especially Lawson, were leaders in the founding of SNCC in April 1960, to co-ordinate the black student movement that had erupted all over the south. He later became a pastor in Nashville and was one of the leaders who made the Memphis garbage workers strike national news in 1968.

John Doar, Burke Marshall

John Doar (1921-2014) was assistant attorney general during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, known for his sympathies to the civil rights movement in general and the Mississippi Summer Project in particular. After leaving government, he was active in New York school desegregation controversies in 1967, and became Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings. 

Burke Marshall

Burke Marshall (1922-1976) was the assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1964, left government in 1965, and became dean of the Yale Law School in 1970.

“We Shall Overcome”

Originally a church song, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” “We Shall Overcome” apparently began its political life among an integrated group of unionized mine workers in Alabama in 1908. (See Sing Out! Volume 45, #3, p. 66.) Folk singer Guy Carawan, who attended workshops for grassroots southern activists, is widely credited for helping to transform the song into the “anthem” of the civil rights struggle. Movement workers also learned it at the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee. Since then, people engaged in struggles for freedom and justice around the world have adopted and sung “We Shall Overcome.”

Traditionally in the movement, the song was sung ritually, as can be seen in numerous photographs. The singers stood, hands crossed in front of their bodies (usually right over left) clasping hands with their neighbors, and swaying with the rhythm of the music.

“We’ll Never Turn Back”

Words written by Bertha Gober, became the signature song of the Mississippi Summer Project. This song, as well as many others quoted in Letters from Mississippi, is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom, by Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser (Norton: New York 1989).


Herbert Lee (d. 1961), a farmer in Amite County, Mississippi, was shot and killed in cold blood and broad daylight on September 25, 1961, by state representative E. H. Hurst. Lee had been active in the struggle for voting rights. The incident had a powerful effect on the sense of responsibility SNCC staff workers, especially Bob Moses, felt for the lives of the people they were working with.

Vincent Harding

Vincent G. Harding (1931-2014), historian and professor, was head of the Institute of the Black World in the late 1960s, and, since 1981, has been Professor of Religion and Social Transformation at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.

The Student Voice

This was the newsletter of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee, widely distributed on campuses throughout the North as well as among SNCC workers and supporters.

Mrs. Hamer’s face

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was driven out of her home on a Mississippi plantation for applying to register to vote. She went on to become a SNCC field secretary, and a powerful spokeswoman and activist in the freedom movement. After the Atlantic City challenge, she continued with a challenge to the seating of the white Mississippi Congressional delegation in 1965. She stayed politically active, opposing the Vietnam War and organizing against poverty, and for housing and medical care until her death from cancer.


Senator James Eastland (1904-1986) was the United States senior senator from Mississippi in 1964. Elected as a Democrat in 1941, he served until 1976, chairing several powerful committees.

Gov. Johnson

Governor Paul B. Johnson. Jr. (1916-1985) succeeded Ross Barnett as governor of Mississippi in 1964. In 1966, he was elected chairman of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Authority.

Look magazine

Look settled on Donna Howell, a pre-med student from the University of New Mexico who worked in the Ruleville project.

Mrs. Rita Schwerner

Now Rita Levant Bender (b. 1942) has been practicing law in Seattle since 1975.

Stokely Carmichael

Kwame Ture (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad and raised in Harlem. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and attended Howard University, from which he joined the SNCC campaigns. He became Chairman of SNCC in 1966, popularizing the call for “Black Power,” advocating increasing militancy and renouncing nonviolence. He left SNCC in 1967 and joined the Black Panthers. In 1969 he moved to Guinea and changed his name to Kwame Ture in honor of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré, and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting socialist pan-African unity.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (1910-1987) was a civil rights activist and militant advocate of nonviolence. He was the chief organizer of the Washington, D. C., March for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. As an adviser to Martin Luther King, he was targeted by the FBI for his sexual orientation.

“they say that freedom is a constant sorrow …”

The song is more generally known as, “They say that freedom is a constant struggle,” words and music originally written by Roberta Slavitt.


Mario Savio (1943-1996) returned after the summer of 1964 to the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a graduate student in philosophy. In October of that year, he seized control of the microphone during a speech by University President Clark Kerr on the steps of Sproul Hall, an act which has been pinpointed as the beginning of the Free Speech Movement and a critical moment in student radical politics of the 1960s. He later went on to teach mathematics, philosophy and liberal studies at Sonoma State, without ever abandoning his political commitments.

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