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College Students Prepare for Civil Rights Campaign in Mississippi

June 16, 1964 - Two hundred college students were introduced today to the difficult and perhaps dangerous role they will play in this summer’s civil rights campaign in Mississippi.

“I may be killed, and you may be killed,” they were told by James Forman, executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). “If you recognize that, the question of whether we’re put in jail will become very, very minute.”

SNCC is the driving force behind the civil rights, religious, and legal organizations cooperating in the campaign. The “freedom summer project” involves voter registration, political action, academic and vocational training, and cultural activities among Negroes.

The students, mostly whites from New York, California, Illinois, and a few other non-Southern states, are the first of three groups undergoing one-week orientation courses.

The volunteers began arriving Sunday at the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. Stragglers were still drifting in today to join the other students, the 70 or more SNCC staff workers from the South, representatives of the National Council of Churches, and others involved in the course.

Youths dressed in canvas sneakers, chinos, and sports shirts mixed with girls in slacks and bright prints. Some of the SNCC staffers were distinguishable by their “freedom” uniforms of blue denim jumpers and Levi’s.

A few of the volunteers come from well-to-do families, and many are from the best schools of the East and West — Harvard, Smith, and Stanford. Besides civil rights, their chief common interest seems to be folk-singing.

Most seem to know little about the strange new world they will enter at the end of this week. Some offer only the vaguest explanations for deciding to join the project.

But Mr. Forman and other leaders of the effort are apparently determined that the volunteers will depart with no illusions that the next two months in Mississippi will be easy ones or that they will be able to bring about any marked change.


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