Paving the Road to 60: Reigniting the Fight for Freedom in Mississippi 

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By: Waikinya Clanton

Mississippi State Director, Southern Poverty Law Center

Summers in Mississippi have always brought scorching heat, but in 1964, something even hotter was on the horizon – a burning desire for freedom, dignity and respect that would ignite a movement. The 1960s were swiftly becoming the era of change, as the silent dissent of a generation faded, and a booming generation was beginning to find power in their voices.

Imagine being a college student, traveling through the vast Mississippi Delta, surrounded by endless rows of cotton, corn, and soybeans. Your mind, however, was fixated on a higher purpose – freedom, liberation, and power for the people– all the people. Imagine believing in something so deeply that you were willing to risk your life to ensure a better quality of life for people you had never met.

Whether it was the steady drumbeat of justice from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or the reassurance that change was coming by Sam Cooke, the 1960s became one of the most notorious eras in American history, and Mississippi played a pivotal role.

Just as Mississippi had been a breeding ground for egregious doctrines like the Mississippi Plan, Jim Crow, and countless other heinous acts, it began to shine as a beacon of light and hope on the road to freedom. In 1964, Mississippi became a focal point in the fight for equality in the deep South.

But realizing this dream would require confronting harsh realities. To truly change Mississippi, the road would have to run through all 82 counties.

The Summer of 1964 soon became one of the most significant periods in civil rights history. Unbeknownst to many, a movement of young people was afoot. That summer, more than 1,000 courageous individuals descended on Mississippi with a shared goal – to draw national attention to the violent oppression and depression experienced by Black Mississippians when trying to exercise their Constitutional right to vote.

Sixty years later, that call to action still resonates.

In the spirit of Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964 and the legacy of civil rights in Mississippi, the Mississippi Office of the Southern Poverty Law Center is embarking on its Road to 60: Mississippi’s Got Now voter engagement campaign. Anchored by a commitment of the Center and its partners to register 60,000 voters before the November elections, this quest aims to reignite Mississippi’s fight for freedom by paying tribute to the Freedom Summer project’s courageous participants and acknowledging sacrifices made in pursuit of an inclusive democracy. 

Much like Freedom Summer 1964, this campaign brings together civic engagement partners and community stakeholders who share our commitment to building and sustaining a progressive, voting ecosystem in the state.

Freedom Summer took place from June 14 to August 20, 1964. 

Sixty years later, we are picking up where they left off. 

Launching the week of May 4, 2024, in honor of the Freedom Rides of 1961, we will travel to key communities activated in the 1960s to double-down on our voter engagement efforts, participate in partner-led voter registration drives, and pay homage to the Legacy Leaders and present Civil Rights Champions at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson. From August 15-17, 2024, we will convene organizers from across the state for an organizing, strategizing, and training summit and then travel across the state talking to and engaging young people in the work of registering and turning out voters to vote on Election Day! 

Through this campaign, we are Reigniting the Fight for Freedom in Mississippi, using the Road to 60 to pave the way and we invite you to join us as we honor the past and shape a brighter future for all Mississippians, while proclaiming, Mississippi’s Got Now. 


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Paving the Road to 60: Reigniting the Fight for Freedom in Mississippi 

By Jackson Advocate News Service
May 8, 2024