Reliving Freedom Summer

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders look on. LBJ Library Photo by Yoichi Okamoto

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer—a grassroots organizing effort to register African-Americans to vote. Voter registration was the cornerstone of the summer project, for good reason. One example: although approximately 17,000 black residents of Mississippi attempted to register to vote in the summer of 1964, only 1,600 of the completed applications were accepted by local registrars. Highlighting the need for federal voting rights legislation, Freedom Summer’s efforts created political momentum for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This law, which abolished literacy tests and poll taxes designed to disenfranchise African American voters, and gave the federal government the authority to take over voter registration in counties with a pattern of persistent discrimination, comes up for renewal every 10 years. Today, threats to voting rights still exist nationwide with the recent adoption of voter ID laws and other forms of voter suppression.

In recognition of Freedom Summer’s 50th anniversary, Carnegie Corporation has launched the campaign @freedomnow, which will take place during the last two weeks of June and the first week of July. We will bring to life some of the dramatic days that changed America, using Twitter to highlight key milestones of 1964 interspersed  with related thoughts and activities of our grantees who are carrying on the fight. Scroll down to find a compilation of historical and contemporary words and actions.

Grantees in this story


“Among those who are eligible to vote, approximately one in four Americans are not even registered. In presidential elections, when voter participation is at its highest, no more than 64 percent of eligible voters turn out. These figures can drop to the single digits for state and local elections. There are numerous reasons why voter participation in the U.S. is so low. While many Americans have lost faith in government and don’t believe their vote counts, others—especially minorities, low-income individuals, and other historically disenfranchised groups—continue to face significant barriers to voting. As the Carnegie-funded film Freedom Summer reminds us, these barriers are not new. Americans have been discriminated against, beaten, and even murdered while fighting to expand the franchise. Freedom Summer is important because it shows that as far as the country has come, we still face many of the same challenges to ensuring all Americans can participate in the democratic experience and cast a vote.” — Geri Mannion, Program Director, U.S. Democracy, Carnegie Corporation

“For our team, making the film Freedom Summer was a humble reminder of how precious the right to vote is—and of our shared obligation to defend that right and participate in the political system. We hope that the film and ‘Freedom Summer Get Out The Vote Toolkit’ can inspire the next generation of voters and voting rights advocates.” — Stanley and Marcia Nelson, co-founders of Firelight Media