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
As a veteran of the Freedom Rides, Avery was a seasoned civil rights leader by the time she participated in Freedom Summer. She continued to be an active member of SNCC during the entire civil rights era. After the voter-registration efforts of 1964, Avery became the only person to be arrested during Bloody Sunday.
5. Victoria Gray Adams
Adams opened Freedom Schools—temporary, alternative free schools for African Americans—which were an integral part of the Freedom Summer movement. She was a founder of the Mississippi Democratic Party, which eventually challenged the right of an all-white delegation to represent the state at the 1964 Democratic Convention.
6. Anne Moody
After graduating from Tougaloo College’s pre-med program, Moody became involved with the NAACP, SNCC and CORE. During Freedom Summer, she worked in Canton, Miss. Her autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, published in 1968, chronicles these efforts and is acclaimed for its brutally honest depictions of the lives of young African Americans who participated in the civil rights movement.
7. Joyce Ladner
Like her sister Dorie, Joyce played an important role in Freedom Summer. Both she and her sister had participated in civil rights activism before working in Mississippi. Ladner has gone on to have a successful career in higher education.
8. Fannie Lou Hamer
As a civil rights activist, Hamer was known for her signature hymns and straightforward speeches. She was recruited by Robert “Bob” Moses to begin working for SNCC throughout the South and became a major Freedom Summer organizer who developed a reputation as a courageous leader. She went on to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Party along with Moses and Ella Baker.
Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.