Who Were the White Folks of Freedom Summer?

From SNCC leaders to Freedom School organizers, these are their stories.

whitefreedomsummer
Wikimedia Commons

It’s well-known that 1964’s Freedom Summer, as it came to be called, was an interracial effort, with many white college students joining African Americans to register voters in Mississippi. It was the murder of three civil rights activists—two of them white—by members of the Ku Klux Klan that sparked national outrage and drew national attention to the struggle for access to the ballot. Ironically, thanks to a racially biased press, it was those murders and the presence of nonblack activists that many believe earned the work the headlines it deserved. From Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leaders to Freedom School organizers, here are some of these activists’ stories:


1. Heather Booth

In 1964 Heather Booth was a freshman in college when she decided to travel to Mississippi to join the Freedom Summer Project. Booth had been an active member of SNCC before joining the project. She went on to become the founding director of the Midwest Academy, a training organization for activists. Booth also became the founding director of the NAACP National Voter Fund. Considered one of the most notable alums of Freedom Summer, she is currently vice president of USAction.

2. Dr. June Finer

During Freedom Summer, June Finer worked with the Medical Committee for Human Rights, which provided emergency care for volunteers and activists in Mississippi. She also worked as MCHR’s Southern coordinator the following summer. Under her leadership the organization dispatched medical volunteers to provide medical observation at protests and document the injuries of protesters.

3. Frank Cieciorka

Frank Cieciorka was a well-known graphic designer known for drawing images for leftist organizations and movements. During Freedom Summer, he volunteered as a field secretary for SNCC. Cieciorka also assisted in organizing the racially integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party while in the state for Freedom Summer. He continued teaching in Freedom Schools throughout the South. In 1965 he co-wrote Negroes in American History: A Freedom Primer (pdf). Cieciorka died in 2008 at age 69.

4. Mary King

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