In the early 1960's, Mississippi has one of the worst records of black voting rights violations in the country. Starting in 1963, several volunteers from civil rights groups such as the NAACP, CORE, SNCC and COFO go to the state to register black voters. Their efforts are met with intimidation, violence and in some cases, murder. This video from 1965 includes commentary from civil rights crusader and Pulitzer Prize winner Hazel Brannon Smith, the local editor and publisher of The Lexington Advertiser, and Don Hamer, a 21-year old COFO director from Pittsburgh. In 1964, less than 7% of blacks were registered to vote. By 1969, the number is 67%.
1965 Voter Registration Problems in Mississippi
Mrs. HAZEL BRANNON SMITH, Holmes County Publisher: Of course the vast majority of people in Holmes County like other places in Mississippi, are law- abiding Christian people, people who are fair minded, people of good will. They were that way ten years ago, and they are still that way today. But most of these people, again, had never considered the question of segregation. Of whether it was morally right or wrong. When the civil rights workers came into Mississippi of course the result was generally very bad for the whole state. Actually the arrival of some thirty young civil rights workers from all over the country from California to the East Coast in our county, in July, did not receive a bad reception at all. I think really, that we were lucky here in Holmes County, in the kind or the type of poll workers that we had come into the county because actually there were some very fine kids among the group. There are only two or three poll workers here at the moment directing activities from a one-room office it the Negro section of Lexington. Larry Stevens from California is 26 years old, and the one girl is Mary Brumder, 23, of Wisconsin. One is Don Hamer, the project Director who is 21 years old, born and reared in Pittsburgh.
Mr. DON HAMER, COFO Director: There have been about 300 attempts to register since the first of this year. And a very small fraction of these people actually became registered voters. The reasons for this, the reason they haven’t become registered, the voter registration test is very difficult. I couldn’t pass it myself, I’m sure. It requires that I interpret a section of the Mississippi constitution, which I don’t have the legal background to do. And hardly can you expect a tenant farmer to have any kind of background at all to interpret such a thing. And the other reasons why more people haven’t attempted, why say, eight thousand seven hundred people haven’t been to the courthouse-- its fear. They fear that they’ll lose their jobs. And in cases have lost their jobs. They fear just facing the man up there in the courthouse, Mr.McClelland, County Registrar, mistreats people verbally. And, at one time you even had people in this county going up to the courthouse and being met by the sheriff and a posse of men. So the atmosphere for a person trying to vote is not very healthy. You’ve gotta stick your neck out.
Synopsis: Civil rights activist Medgar Evers was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. In 1954, he became the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi. As such, he organized voter-registration efforts, demonstrations, and economic boycotts of companies that practiced discrimination. He also worked to investigate crimes perpetrated against blacks. On June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated outside of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
Voter Registration, Voting Rights, Mississippi, Hazel Brannon Smith, Larry Stevens, Mary Brumder, Don Hamer, Civil Rights Workers, African American Voters, Black Voters, Segregation, Minorities, Discrimination, Disenfranchisement, Unregistered Voters, Tenant Farmers, Voter Registration, Tests, Political Participation, Lexington Advertiser, Holmes County, CORE, Congress of Racial Equality, COFO, Council of Federated Organizations, SNCC, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Lesson Plan, Teaching Tolerance