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During the summer of 1964, Unita Blackwell's home became a focal point for civil rights activity. "You would look out there," she says, pointing out her window at the road, "and the highway patrol would be sitting there in the white [car], and police would be right here, and they would always be, because this was the corner, you know, where I lived."

Blackwell was SNCC's Summer Project Director for Issaquena County. She'd lost her other jobs, picking cotton and cleaning the homes of whites, because she'd tried to become a registered voter. "It was a freeze-out. So you don't have any money or get any means of living, so SNCC was paying—I think it was eleven dollars every two weeks we could get hold to. So that was my major job, as an organizer," Blackwell says.

Freedom Summer volunteers, middle-class white kids from North, slept on the floor of Blackwell's two-room house. And they took direction from her.

"That was an interesting situation. To sit in a room and talk to white people, not they talking down to me or I'm lookin' up to them, [but] we trying to figure out some strategies for us to all stay alive and work out how we're gonna get things done, registered and vote and all that."

All across Mississippi, young civil rights workers went looking for potential black voters. They also sought members for the new Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an alternative to the regular Mississippi Democratic Party, which excluded blacks. Among the workers were volunteer Joe Morse of Minnesota and Mississippian Rosie Head.

"So it meant going door to door ... always in pairs, usually a black person and a white person," says Joe Morse, then a young volunteer from Minnesota. "There'd be a home on the side of the road and you'd have to park your car and you knew that if anybody came by while you were parked there, if it was anybody related to the Klan or the White Citizens Council or some racist, they'd know your car, and they'd know your license plate, so you're immediately putting the people you were talking to at risk."

"A lot of time we would get put out of people's houses," recalls Rosie Head, a black Mississippian who spent that summer as a voter registration worker. "They wouldn't let you pass the gate or [they'd] just say they didn't want to talk to us, they didn't want to be involved in the mess, and they would just be afraid to talk to us."

Out of half a million black Mississippians of voting age, only twelve hundred were approved as voters during Freedom Summer. Many black Mississippians were too frightened to take that walk to the county courthouse; county officials rejected most who did. But the voter registration drive had another purpose: to show the nation how some whites behaved when black Mississippians tried to assert their rights as citizens.


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