African American Women in the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
Historical accounts of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s have generally focused on the roles and contributions of male leaders and the nationally oriented civil rights organizations that they led. It has been only within the past decade that historians turned to consider the important roles played by female activists in the struggle for social change. This has come about, in large part, as a result of women historians who have attempted to document women's roles in mobilizing and sustaining the movement.1 The marginalization of black female activists has obscured our understanding of the movement's leadership and rank-and-file. While male leadership dominated at the national and regional levels of the twentieth-century black freedom struggle, women's activism was strongest on the local level where black women extended their roles within church communities and secular organizations to organize for political change. This essay seeks to explore the role of African American women in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, one of the most significant grassroots political organizations to evolve in the southern Civil Rights Movement.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed in April 1964, as an outgrowth of a statewide effort to remedy the severe social and political repression of African Americans. In 1960, conditions in Mississippi were more oppressive than elsewhere in the South. Although Mississippi had a higher proportion of black people than any other state, structural barriers to black voting systematically disfranchised them. The intensity of white resistance in Mississippi