Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Records, 1962-1971


The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was officially established at a mass meeting in Jackson, Mississippi on April 26, 1964. The roots of the party originated in the widespread dissatisfaction among Mississippi African Americans who were not recognized by the powerful “regular” Democratic Party in the state, and who were not permitted to register or to vote. During the campaign preceding the fall 1963 elections, the discontent coalesced and when an unofficial “freedom ballot” for governor was held, state NAACP chair Aaron Henry received 80,000 votes.

In 1964, MFDP organized a statewide political structure parallel to that of the Mississippi Democratic Party. During the summer, the Freedom Democrats, in conjunction with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), “registered” over 50,000 African Americans. MFDP candidates Victoria Gray, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Cameron, and James Houston, opposed regular Democrats Senator John Stennis, and Representatives Jamie Whitten, William M. Colmer, and John Bell Williams in the Democratic primary of June 2, 1964, but were defeated.

Following this defeat, and an abortive attempt to place the candidates on the ballot as independents, the MFDP initiated the first of two challenges to the regular Democratic Party. During the weeks preceding the Democratic National Convention in August, precinct meetings and county conventions were held throughout the state and delegates were selected to attend the MFDP state convention held on August 6. At the state convention, 68 delegates and alternates were chosen for the National Convention. In Atlantic City, the MFDP delegates challenged the seating of the white Mississippi delegation. Although there was a certain amount of support among state delegations partial to the MFDP challenge, the credentials sub-committee of the Democratic National Committee rejected the MFDP slate. Subsequently, on December 4, 1964, the MFDP challenged the seating of the entire Mississippi delegation to the House of Representatives, on the grounds that the election in November was illegal and unconstitutional, and the results void. The “Congressional Challenge” also demanded that the three MFDP representatives, Gray, Hamer, and Annie Devine, be seated in the House. This challenge was also defeated, by Congressional vote, on September 17, 1965.

After these two major defeats, party members concentrated their efforts on local and statewide voter registration, demonstrations, civil rights projects, and election campaigns. A massive registration and election campaign held prior to the May 1966 special elections in Sunflower County also failed, as all African Americans and MFDP candidates were defeated. However, the following year Robert Clark was elected as Mississippi's first black representative in nearly a century. The party began to splinter in 1967-1968, and some MFDP members joined with young progressive whites to form the Loyal Democrats of Mississippi. Only in this way were some Mississippi black leaders able to gain the recognition needed to challenge the state's regular Democratic organization. By 1969 and 1970, the MFDP was virtually defunct.