Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was an American political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 created in the state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 of Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

 in 1964, during the civil rights movement. It was organized by black
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 and white Mississippians, with assistance from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ' was one of the principal organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It emerged from a series of student meetings led by Ella Baker held at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina in April 1960...

 (SNCC) and Council of Federated Organizations
Council of Federated Organizations
The Council of Federated Organizations was formed in Mississippi in 1962.A coalition of the major Civil Rights Movement organizations operating in Mississippi, COFO was formed to coordinate and unite voter registration and other civil rights activities in the state and oversee the distribution of...

 (COFO), to challenge the legitimacy of the white-only US Democratic Party.


For generations, African-Americans had endured widespread denial of their voting rights in Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, and participation in the state Democratic Party was limited to whites only. Starting in 1961, SNCC and COFO had waged courageous campaigns against great and often violent opposition to register black voters with little success.

In June 1963, African-Americans attempted to cast votes in the Mississippi primary election but were prevented from doing so. Unable to vote in the official election, they organized an alternative "Freedom Ballot" to take place at the same time as the November voting. Seen as a protest action to dramatize denial of their voting rights, close to 80,000 people cast freedom ballots for an integrated slate of candidates.

Building the party

With participation in the regular Mississippi Democratic Party blocked by segregationists, COFO built on the success of the Freedom Ballot by formally establishing the MFDP in April 1964 as a non-discriminatory, non-exclusionary rival to the regular party organization. The MFDP hoped to replace the regulars as the officially-recognized Democratic Party organization in Mississippi by winning the Mississippi seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention
1964 Democratic National Convention
The 1964 Democratic National Convention was the 1964 presidential nominating convention of the Democratic Party. It took place at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey from August 24 to 27, 1964. Incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson -- who had been Vice President under...

 for a slate of delegates elected by disenfranchised black Mississippians and white sympathizers.

Building the MFDP was a major thrust of the Freedom Summer
Freedom Summer
Freedom Summer was a campaign in the United States launched in June 1964 to attempt to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi which had historically excluded most blacks from voting...

 project. After it proved to be impossible to register black voters against the opposition of state officials, Freedom Summer volunteers switched to building the MFDP using a simple, alternate, process of signing up party supporters that did not require blacks to openly defy whites by trying to register at the courthouse or take a complex and unfair literacy test
Literacy test
A literacy test, in the context of United States political history, refers to the government practice of testing the literacy of potential citizens at the federal level, and potential voters at the state level. The federal government first employed literacy tests as part of the immigration process...


In the face of unrelenting violence and economic retaliation, the MFDP held local caucuses, county assemblies, and a state-wide convention (as prescribed by Democratic Party rules) to elect 68 delegates (including 4 whites) to the 1964 Democratic National Convention
1964 Democratic National Convention
The 1964 Democratic National Convention was the 1964 presidential nominating convention of the Democratic Party. It took place at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey from August 24 to 27, 1964. Incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson -- who had been Vice President under...

 scheduled for Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Atlantic City is a city in Atlantic County, New Jersey, United States, and a nationally renowned resort city for gambling, shopping and fine dining. The city also served as the inspiration for the American version of the board game Monopoly. Atlantic City is located on Absecon Island on the coast...

 in August.

1964 Democratic National Convention in New Jersey

The MFDP sent its elected delegates by bus to the convention. There they challenged the right of the Mississippi Democratic Party's delegation to participate in the convention, claiming that the regulars had been illegally elected in a completely segregated process that violated both party regulations and federal law, and that furthermore the regulars had no intention of supporting Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

, the party's presidential candidate, in the November election. They therefore asked that the MFDP delegates be seated rather than the segregationist regulars.

The Democratic Party referred the challenge to the Convention Credentials Committee. The MFDP delegates lobbied and argued their case, and large groups of supporters and volunteers established an around-the-clock picket line on the Boardwalk just outside the convention, which garnered considerable publicity.

The Credentials Committee televised its proceedings, which allowed the nation to see and hear the testimony of the MFDP delegates, particularly the testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader....

, whose evocative portrayal of her hard brutalized life as a sharecropper on the plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

 owned by Jamie Whitten, a long time Mississippi congressman and chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, galvanized the nation.

After that, most knowledgeable observers thought the majority of the delegates were ready to unseat the regulars and seat the MFDP delegates in their place. But some of the all-white delegations from other southern states threatened to leave the convention and bolt the party (as they had done in previous years) if the regular Mississippi delegation was unseated, and Johnson feared losing Southern support in the coming campaign against Republican Party
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 candidate Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater
Barry Morris Goldwater was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona and the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. An articulate and charismatic figure during the first half of the 1960s, he was known as "Mr...

. To ensure his victory in November, Johnson maneuvered to prevent the MFDP from replacing the regulars. After a frantic scramble, he ordered the chairman of the Credentials Committee not to decide the matter, and not to send the issue to the convention.

With the help of Vice President Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. , served under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the 38th Vice President of the United States. Humphrey twice served as a United States Senator from Minnesota, and served as Democratic Majority Whip. He was a founder of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and...

 and Party leader Walter Mondale
Walter Mondale
Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale is an American Democratic Party politician, who served as the 42nd Vice President of the United States , under President Jimmy Carter, and as a United States Senator for Minnesota...

, Johnson engineered a "compromise" in which the national Democratic Party offered the MFDP two at-large seats which allowed them to watch the floor proceedings but not take part. The MFDP refused this "compromise" which permitted the undemocratic, white-only, regulars to keep their seats and denied votes to the MFDP.

MFDP leader and Mississippi NAACP President Aaron Henry
Aaron Henry
Aaron Henry was an American civil rights leader, politician, and head of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP. He was one of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which tried to seat their delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.-Early life:Henry was born in Dublin,...


"Now, Lyndon made the typical white man's mistake: Not only did he say, 'You've got two votes,' which was too little, but he told us to whom the two votes would go. He'd give me one and Ed King one; that would satisfy. But, you see, he didn't realize that sixty-four of us came up from Mississippi on a Greyhound bus, eating cheese and crackers and bologna all the way there; we didn't have no money. Suffering the same way. We got to Atlantic City; we put up in a little hotel, three or four of us in a bed, four or five of us on the floor. You know, we suffered a common kind of experience, the whole thing. But now, what kind of fool am I, or what kind of fool would Ed have been, to accept gratuities for ourselves? You say, Ed and Aaron can get in but the other sixty-two can't. This is typical white man picking black folks' leaders, and that day is just gone."

Hamer put it even more succinctly:

"We didn't come all this way for no two seats, 'cause all of us is tired."

Even though they were denied official recognition, the MFDP kept up their agitation within the Convention. When all but three of the "regular" Mississippi delegates left because they refused to support Johnson against Goldwater, the MFDP delegates borrowed passes from sympathetic northern delegates and took the seats vacated by the Mississippi delegates, only to be removed by the national Party. When they returned the next day to find that convention organizers had removed the empty seats that had been there yesterday, the MFDP stayed to sing freedom songs.


The 1964 Democratic Party convention disillusioned many within the MFDP. For a while, it became more radical after Atlantic City. It invited Malcolm X
Malcolm X
Malcolm X , born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz , was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its...

 to speak and opposed the war in Vietnam.

Many Civil Rights Movement activists felt betrayed by Johnson, Humphrey, and the liberal establishment. The movement had been promised that if they concentrated on voter registration rather than protests they would be supported by the Federal government and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Instead, at the decisive moment, black civil rights and justice itself had been sacrificed for the political interests of white politicians. As SNCC Chairman John Lewis
John Lewis (politician)
John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for , serving since 1987. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee , playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation...

later wrote:

As far as I'm concerned, this was the turning point of the civil rights movement. I'm absolutely convinced of that. Until then, despite every setback and disappointment and obstacle we had faced over the years, the belief still prevailed that the system would work, the system would listen, the system would respond. Now, for the first time, we had made our way to the very center of the system. We had played by the rules, done everything we were supposed to do, had played the game exactly as required, had arrived at the doorstep and found the door slammed in our face.

Though the MFDP failed to unseat the regulars at the convention, they did succeed in dramatizing the violence and injustice by which the white power structure governed Mississippi and disenfranchised black citizens. The MFDP and its convention challenge eventually helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The MFDP continued as an alternate for several years, and many of the people associated with it continued to press for civil rights in Mississippi. After passage of the Voting Rights Act, the number of registered black voters in Mississippi grew dramatically. The regular party stopped discriminating against blacks and agreed to conform to the Democratic Party rules guaranteeing fair participation. Eventually, the MFDP merged into the regular party and many MFDP activists became Party leaders. There is only one Chapter of FDP still active, and it is located in Holmes County, Mississippi.

External links

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