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College Students Depart for Mississippi “Freedom Summer”

June 20, 1964 - The first phase of one of the most ambitious civil rights projects yet conceived has ended in Oxford, Ohio, in an atmosphere of mixed hope and doubt, fear and determination.

Some 200 college students, the vanguard of a volunteer force of 1,000, are drifting out of this quiet little college town to engage in a Negro voter registration drive in Mississippi.

There they will face white hostility in the smallest cities, dusty county seats, farms, and plantations of the countryside. They will attempt in two months to bring a lasting change in the pattern of segregation and discrimination under which Negroes have lived for a century.

Robert Moses, a field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who has been working in Mississippi since 1961, spoke today with some 30 whites and Negroes assigned to southwestern Mississippi, where civil rights advocates contend a reign of anti-Negro terrorism exists.

“I think it extremely important that you identify yourself as what you are, that you are working on voter registration, that you did not come down to organize any sit-ins, that you did not come down to organize any marches or demonstrations,” he said.

However, there is a general belief that the volunteers may encounter trouble in some communities. The Rev. James Lawson, a Memphis pastor who is a consultant on nonviolence for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the group: “Just your walking into Canton, Miss., or Ruleville or Shaw, just your being there, could be the catalytic agent that evokes violence.”

Much of the orientation course has been devoted to preparing the volunteers for this eventuality. They have watched and taken part in “role-playing” (pictured) — acting out scenes of violence and nonviolent confrontation with whites.

Charles Morgan Jr., a civil rights lawyer and former resident of Birmingham, Ala., told the group, “Most of the people that you meet there are going to be just about as afraid of you as you are of them.”

But he added: “I would suggest a little track practice between now and then because I really believe it’s going to be bad.”

Miss Betty Garman, a white field secretary for the student committee, described the effect these lectures have had on the students. “There is fear, but the fear is not going to immobilize these people.”

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