The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) sponsored two mock statewide “freedom elections” in 1963. These elections sought to provide African Americans with exposure to the voting process, to inform them about the inadequacies of the Democratic and Republican Parties with regard to race relations and voting, and to support the development of African American political institutions. The mock elections were spearheaded by Allard K. Lowenstein, a Yale-trained lawyer and activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In August 1963, 733 African Americans presented affidavits at the official polls regarding voter registration illegalities. Then 27,000 unregistered African Americans cast protest ballots at special polling stations within their communities.
COFO activists then began working in earnest on a statewide mock election. A COFO convention in support of the freedom vote took place in Jackson on 6 October, with delegates from all over the state backing a platform that called for racial justice, school desegregation, and voting rights. In addition, the convention advocated the elimination of the literacy section of the state’s voting laws and selected activist Aaron Henry to run for governor and Rev. Edwin King as Henry’s running mate.
Lowenstein enlisted approximately seventy students from Yale University and Stanford University to assist workers throughout the state when the freedom vote was held in November 1963. Members of Mississippi’s police force jailed and harassed campaign workers, and several SNCC staffers had their lives threatened. Henry and King ultimately received 83,000 votes, mostly but not entirely from African Americans.
- Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (1982)
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994)
- Frank R. Parker, Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi after 1965 (1990)
- Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995)
- William H. Lawson, No Small Thing: The 1963 Mississippi Freedom Vote (2018)