—Mississippi Freedom Trail —
From this building, COFO (Council of Federated
Organizations) coordinated efforts of SNCC,
NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and other activist groups
from early 1963 through early 1965. Clarksdale's
Aaron Henry was COFO president. Bob Moses,
program director, and David Dennis, assistant
program director, supervised this office and
mentored young activists, building a strong
grassroots base. Despite frequent brutal attacks,
key volunteers, along with SNCC and CORE field
secretaries, kept the office open throughout
the 1963 Freedom Vote and Freedom Summer
of 1964 campaigns.
This building on the historic John Roy Lynch Street Civil Rights Corridor served as the COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) headquarters, considered the "nerve center" of the Mississippi freedom struggle. COFO was a coalition of organizations including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and community groups. Among the organizers were SNCC field secretary Bob Moses, state NAACP president Aaron Henry, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, and others. They had observed firsthand the challenges faced by activists and saw the
need for civil rights solidarity. Originally an ad hoc group, COFO was formally organized in February 1962. The leadership of the new organization included President Aaron Henry, Program Director Bob Moses, Assistant Program Director David Dennis, and Secretary Carsie Hall, a Jackson attorney.
The focus was on voter registration and citizenship education. In 1963 COFO organized the Freedom Vote campaign—a statewide mock election in which 80,000 African Americans cast their votes for Aaron Henry and the Reverend Ed King, a white Mississippian and chaplain at Tougaloo College. This work expanded into the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and its challenge to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, efforts resulting in an integrated delegation at the next convention and new rules ending racial and other exclusion. COFO created the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project—better known as Freedom Summer—during which nearly one thousand summer volunteers from across America convened in a broad voter registration campaign that attracted international attention to the civil rights movement. COFO also administered Freedom Schools across the state, where children and adults learned African American history, a topic neglected in their formal studies, and attended innovative classes in science, math, music, and literature.
Working with program directors
Moses and Dennis were SNCC and CORE field secretaries. One such key figure was Lawrence Guyot, SNCC director and COFO project director in Hattiesburg, an important activist site in the state, and chairman of MFDP. Volunteer and advisor Allard K. Lowenstein from New York was also key in recruiting college student volunteers for the Freedom Vote and Freedom Summer through his network of contacts at Yale and Stanford universities. SNCC recruited more black and white men and women from schools throughout America, and COFO expanded Freedom Summer to include support and volunteers from national medical, religious, social service, labor and other groups.