Freedom Summer Traveling Exhibition

Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Exhibit for Students

From the Wisconsin Historical Society
For Law Day 2014

April 22-May 6, 2014

  • Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse
  • Monday-Friday, excluding holidays
  • 8:00 am-5:30 pm
  • FREE and open to the public
  • Photo ID required to enter
  • Questions?  Call or email Rachel Marshall at (314) 244-2410 or

In honor of the Law Day 2014 theme, “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters,” the U.S. Courts and The Judicial Learning Center are proud to host a limited engagement of “Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Exhibit for Students.”  The exhibit, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, is traveling through schools, libraries, and museums during 2014 for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.  The Wisconsin Historical Society holds over 30,000 documents and images relating to the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, most of them collected during the 1960s.

Law Day 2014 – American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.
Law Day is a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law and its contributions to the freedoms that all American share.  While May 1 is the date officially set aside, events and programs take place throughout the month of May.  This year’s theme, “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters,”  calls on every American to reflect on the importance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges we still face in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy. 

What was Freedom Summer?
Fifty years ago in 1964, civil rights activists organized the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project.  At the time, Mississippi had the lowest percentage of African American registered voters.  For nearly a century, segregation had prevented most African Americans in Mississippi from voting or holding public office. People who dared to challenge these conditions were often beaten, arrested, fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or even killed.

Planning for Freedom Summer began late in 1963 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to recruit several hundred northern college students, mostly white, to work in Mississippi during the summer. The leaders believed that bringing well-connected white volunteers from northern colleges to Mississippi would expose these conditions. They hoped that media attention would make the federal government enforce civil rights laws that local officials ignored. They also planned to help black Mississippians organize a new political party that would be ready to compete against the mainstream Democratic Party after voting rights had been won.

The overarching goal of the Freedom Summer Project was to empower local residents to register to vote and participate in local, state, and national elections. Its other main goal was to focus the nation’s attention on conditions in Mississippi.  In the summer of 1964, the local and visiting volunteers worked towards the following objectives:

  • Hold a “Freedom Vote”
  • Increase Voter Registration
  • Create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)
  • Challenge the Democratic National Committee (DNC)
  • Set up Freedom Schools and open Community Centers

On the project’s first day, June 21, three workers (James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman) were kidnapped and murdered. The search for their killers dominated the national news and focused public attention on Mississippi until their bodies were discovered on August 4.

Though the volunteers were met with violence, they persisted.  Americans all around the country were shocked by the killing of civil rights workers and the brutality they witnessed on their televisions. Freedom Summer raised the consciousness of millions of people to the plight of African Americans and the need for change. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed Congress in part because lawmakers’ constituents had been educated about these issues during Freedom Summer.

(Adapted from the Wisconsin Historical Society website at