Jo Freeman


The Civil Rights Vigil at the 1964 Democratic Convention
James Meredith March Button

(See photos below.)

The 1964 Democratic Convention was seen by the civil rights movement as an opportunity to highlight the undemocratic exclusion of African-Americans from voting and participation in the political process. During the summer, several hundred young people had converged on Mississippi to register local blacks to vote. Three civil rights workers were killed in June by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Freedom Democratic Party of Mississippi was founded on April 26, 1964, as part of the voter registration drive. Mississippi blacks had tried to attend regular Democratic Party precinct and county meetings. When denied admittance, they formed the FDP and ran candidates for Senate and three Congressional seats in the June 2 primary election.

In August, the FDP challenged the right of the regular party to seat its all-white delegation at the national Democratic convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The credentials committee heard the FDP challenge, then voted to accept a compromise proposed by Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey after much behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by President Johnson's campaign operatives. This gave the FDP two at-large votes and gave the regulars all of Mississippi's 24 votes, provided that each delegate sign a written pledge to back the national ticket.

Supporters of the FDP came to Atlantic City from all over the country to lobby for its recognition. They held a continuous vigil outside the convention hall, occassionally taking time off to sleep in the pews of local churches.

Although the credentials committee recommendation was approved by a voice vote at the convention, neither the regulars nor the FDP were satisfied. Only four regulars signed the loyalty pledge; the rest went home. The FDP borrowed delegate credentials from friends in other states and sat in the vacant seats assigned to Mississippi. However, Johnson was nominated by acclamation, without a vote, so none of the Mississippi votes were actually cast by anyone.

Although the FDP felt defeated, its presence publicized the exclusion of blacks from the electorate and the Mississippi party. By 1968 the rules were changed to prohibit racial discrimination; a racially integrated delegation replaced the all-white regulars at the Democratic convention.

Photos of the civil rights vigil at the
1964 Democratic Convention by Jo Freeman

Please click on thumbnails to view the complete image

1964 Democratic Convention Photo
1964 Democratic Convention Photo

Rain or shine, supporters of Mississippi's Freedom Democratic Party sat outside the convention hall. On their signs were drawings of Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman, the three workers killed in Mississippi earlier in the summer, and such slogans as "Help Produce Democracy," "One Man, One Vote," and "Seat the Freedom Delegates."

1964 Democratic Convention Photo

1964 Democratic Convention Photo

The FDP brought this car to Atlantic City to show the delegates and press at the Democratic Convention how Mississippi blacks were treated when they tried to register to vote.


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