Over a 10-week period, 1964’s Freedom Summer brought together nearly 700 student volunteers, local residents and other civil rights activists to work to ensure that African Americans in Mississippi could exercise their right to vote. But without the tireless work of these eight dedicated women, the movement as we know it wouldn’t have been the same. On the 50th anniversary of this important piece of the civil rights movement, we celebrate their brave—and many would argue, phenomenal—contributions.
1. Ruby Doris Smith Robinson
Robinson served as the assistant secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Atlanta office, and helped to organize the Freedom Summer campaign. In 1964, she was already known for her innovative techniques to combat racism (once denied entry on a flight to Guinea, she organized a protest on the runway of the airport and was eventually let onto the flight).
2. Dorie Ladner
Ladner was no stranger to activism before she became a key organizer for Freedom Summer. In 1962, she was arrested for attempting to integrate a Woolworth’s lunch counter. Her civil rights work continued when she joined SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality to register black voters. Even after Freedom Summer, her dedication didn’t cease: She went on to participate in every key civil rights march, including the March on Washington and the march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.
3. Ella Baker
Her activism has left a long-lasting impact of social-justice organizing. After leaving the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Baker organized an event at Shaw University that led to the creation of the SNCC. Without the creation of SNCC, Freedom Summer may not have happened.
4. Annie Pearl Avery