Freedom Summer: The Leftist/Black Nationalist Myth of Its Legacy

Mississippi Summer Project Workers Link ArmsReprinted from

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964: 1000-plus white volunteers went South to Mississippi to help local African-American citizens register to vote, a right they had largely been prevented from executing since the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction. PBS recently aired a major documentary on the effort; the summer indeed is worthy of remembrance.

There is, however, one major myth about Freedom Summer that has stuck and which has been repeated many times. The myth comes from two quarters: the American left, and the proponents of Black Nationalism that emerged soon after the Freedom Summer, promulgated by the late Stokely Carmichael (who later changed his name to Kwame Ture) who first developed the rallying cry of “Black Power.”

This past Sunday, the New York Times allowed its op-ed pages to be taken over by one of these mythmakers: Professor Peniel E. Joseph, who leads a “Center for the Study of Race and Democracy” at Tufts University and who authored a recent biography of the black radical leader titled Stokely: A Life. According to Dr. Joseph, the fracturing of the civil rights movement after Freedom Summer took place because the white liberals in the Movement eventually sold the blacks out by refusing to confront “racism on a national scale.”

They did this by supposedly hampering black activists from creating a non-segregated independent party that could gain recognition and replace the all-white Democratic Party Mississippi delegation at the coming Democratic National Convention. That group, The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), was led by former sharecropper and local black activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who — in a dramatic TV appearance before the Democratic Convention’s Credentials Committee — told her own story of deprivation and suffering that black people like herself were experiencing in the deep South in that time.

As Joseph and others argue, white liberals — led by Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota — thwarted the MDFP’s demands, proposing a compromise that did not entail disqualifying the all-white Democratic Party delegation from Mississippi, and instead offering them only two at-large convention seats. The MDFP rejected this offer, despite it having been accepted by Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s counsel and civil rights activist Joe Rauh, civil rights leader and organizer of The March on Washington Bayard Rustin, and UAW chief Walter Reuther. The consequences, writes Joseph, were that Black civil rights activists led by SNNC’s Stokley Carmichael soured on white liberals and turned against interracial political alliances.

In a short time, whites were pushed out of what had been the interracial SNNC. Instead, Carmichael and his followers adopted the position of creating a new black power movement that sought black freedom through all-black political parties, and by resorting to a strategy associated later with the Nation of Islam’s (NOA) New York City leader Malcolm X, who called for obtaining freedom “by any means necessary.”

They rejected Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of adherence to both interracial coalitions and non-violence, and their action marked the start of a new black radicalism, epitomized by both the NOA and the all-black revolutionary group founded in San Francisco, the Black Panther Party (BPP) led by Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver.

That, to Professor Joseph, is “Freedom Summer’s most enduring legacy.” It is obvious that Professor Joseph believes that is a good thing.

Professor Joseph ignores the horrendous legacy of black radicalism, that of the birth of identification by the black leftists and black nationalists with the worst repressive Marxist and theocratic third-world regimes — Carmichael, for example, loved both Qaddafi’s Libya and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. He also ignores the thuggery and murderous activity of the BPP, and the anti-Americanism of Malcolm X that he persisted in holding even after he left the NOA and stopped viewing white people as “white devils.”

But it is Professor Joseph’s claim that white liberals sold out the blacks at the 1964 Democratic Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey that is especially mistaken.

The details are complex, but those interested can find it in the chapter “Atlantic City, 1964” in my book Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996. The reality was that the compromise included the pledge that all future Democratic conventions could not include segregated delegations from any state. It was obviously a win, so much so that even SNNC’s most revered leader, Bob Moses, first accepted the compromise until radical elements in his group threatened his leadership position. James Forman, an SNCC leader who was said to be a secret member of the American Communist Party, said that “idealistic reformers” had no choice but to become “full-time revolutionaries.”

These moderates wanted a unity of whites and blacks on behalf of a national momentum to gain blacks the right to vote in Mississippi, including federal registrars sent to Mississippi to enforce the civil rights of black voters and passage of a national Voting Rights Act by Congress. Black nationalists like Carmichael and James Forman claimed they alone “stood with the people” and those of the lowest economic classes, who wanted a real social revolution. The two men fired Joe Rauh as their counsel, and took on lawyers from a Communist front group: The National Lawyers Guild.

Rauh believed that it was “immoral to take help from Communists,” and said that the compromise was rejected because of “Communist influence … evident at the convention in Atlantic City.”

When Peniel Joseph argues that the black movement was betrayed, he is echoing the position taken by the black radicals in 1964. Dr. Joseph argues that “the white version of Freedom Summer — local and aminority politics mediated through major political parties — was inadequate.” He, and the radicals in 1964, were wrong. The compromise solution would have worked, and its acceptance by the black mainstream and moderates indicated they understood that the all-white Democratic Party of the Solid South was essentially over.

By the publicity afforded the MFDP, Joe Rauh wrote to a friend, the black movement along with white trade unions and black churches had achieved a success “far beyond anything that could have been anticipated a month or two earlier.” As Rauh and others said, their coalition with white liberals led to passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the decision of the Democratic Party that all-white delegations would no longer be tolerated at Democratic conventions. In attaining this, the rights of Southern blacks in Mississippi had received new legitimacy.

Rejecting the view that Freedom Summer had reached its major goals, the black Left argued that they could not “rely on their so-called allies,” and hence the entire American system had to be brought down, not just segregation. Carmichael created a new all-black party in Lowndes County in Mississippi, named the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, whose ballot symbol was the Black Panther. In the local elections, the ticket was rejected by the black population in Mississippi, who had decided the hope for change lay in the national Democratic party purging its racists, and not in the radical MFDP. In taking this route, it should be noted that today Mississippi now has more black representatives than any state in America.

The radical path of which Prof. Peniel Joseph writes “50 years later remains Freedom Summer’s most enduring legacy” was wrong, and his conclusion reflects only his personal left-wing proclivities.

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  • Gee

    The Democrats backed slavery – Republicans opposed and fought it.
    The Democrats created the KKK – Republicans criminalized it and fought it.
    The Democrats created segregation – the Republicans outlawed it.
    The Democrats opposed equal rights – the Republicans passed it.
    The Democrats now claim to oppose everything they stood and fought for and blame Republicans for those actions.

    Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

    • dennis x

      And now those democrats are republicans.

      • Akmed Bernie Madoff IV

        Wrong you are a dirty Democrat!
        We are not your disgusting Party which has gotten
        even worse which is hard to believe!

      • winstons

        Nope, they became the Progressive faction of the DEM party and continued down the path of destroying Classical America.

        • dennis x

          Ah, the death of white supremacy is a wonder to behold. I really doubt that kkk members support a party that placed the President in office, what are you smoking?

          • American Patriot

            And you are a Communist and black supremacist, fool. You also regularly insult blacks and other minorities who happen to be conservatives, isn’t that right, fool. Neither the KKK nor the NOI would support a party that almost nominated a prominent black businessman and politician for the presidency in this country. In fact, you leftists forced him out of the race by creating false allegations about him sexually harassing some women. You leftists have never apologized to the businessman/politician for the false accusation that got him to leave the race.

      • tagalog

        Wrong; the Democrat Party ousted the liberals who were not radicals. They’re the ones who became Republicans.

        In later years, they’ve mistakenly come to be called neo-conservatives. But there’s nothing “neo” about them. They’re old-fashioned liberals, the ones who drove the “white faction” (as American blacks would probably call it) of the civil rights movement and the ones who are responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


          Today’s Republicans are yesterday’s Dixiecrats.

          • tagalog

            Not necessarily, but you’re entitled to have any worthless opinion that you want.

          • American Patriot

            And today’s Democrats are yesterday’s “progressive” Republicans? Wrong. Dixiecrats don’t exist anymore, since they formed a new party, the American Independence Party (which doesn’t exist anymore) after losing their battle against civil rights reform in the 1960s, fool. The AIP was not affiliated with either Democrats or the GOP. Meanwhile, the New Left movement took over the Democratic Party and changed its agenda. Do you really believe that the New Left movement of the 1960s supported the GOP?

        • dennis x

          The dixi crats, kkk via nixons’ southern strategy all left the democratic party and where did they go? They went to the republican party and when that wasn’t racist enough they became tea baggers.

          • American Patriot

            There was no “Southern Strategy”, you dumb black nationalist. That’s left-wing propaganda once again. There was, however, a New Left movement which, along with the NOI (Nation of Islam) took over the Democratic Party and completely changed its agenda, beginning with the McGovern presidential campaign in 1972. When the Democratic Party wasn’t enough for them, the radical left formed and joined Occupy Wall Street. The Republican Party has always been the party of classical liberalism, which is modern conservatism.

      • R DeWynne Brown


      • American Patriot

        Let me guess. Northern Republicans of the time period are Democrats today, right? Well, you’re wrong. Most of the segregationists (Dixiecrats) who lost their battle against civil rights reform left the Democratic Party to form their own party, the American Independence Party, which doesn’t exist anymore. Why don’t you discuss about the AIP? It is because discussing about that now-defunct party undermines your argument about the GOP supposedly “being racist”. Meanwhile, around the same time, the New Left movement took over the Democratic Party and changed its agenda. Today, many contemporary Democrats came from the New Left movement, fool. Unless you are willing to argue that New Left activists were Republicans, which they weren’t, fool.

        • dennis x

          0nly a small fraction became the aip party and when it dis banned they became republicans. There is no new left movement, republicans went to the extreme right. ronnie ray gun wouldn’t be accepted by the republicans today, he would most likely be a democratic, dread the thought.

          • American Patriot

            Only a small fraction? Ha, ha, ha, ha. Now that’s a joke. The majority of Southern segregationists joined the AIP after losing their battle against civil rights reforms in the 1960s. In fact, it was they who formed the AIP. Once the AIP went defunct, its members either quit politics, joined fringe hate groups or tried to redeemed themselves. And, actually, there was a so-called New Left movement around the same time period the AIP formed. The New Left movement consisted of Communists and anti-anti-Communists who wanted to undermine and change the American government. Protesting the Vietnam War wasn’t enough for their agenda. The New Left movement took over the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beginning with the George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972, every Democratic presidential candidate has had a left-wing agenda. The 1974 Congressional midterm elections brought a new group of radical left-wing Democrats to Congress. One of those left-wing Democrats, Bella Abzug, was even a member of the Communist Party USA. So no, the Republican Party hasn’t moved to the extreme right, you fool. It is the Democratic Party that has moved to the extreme left. Since this past January, New York City is governed by a mayor and a City Council speaker who are both Communists. Hubert Humphrey wouldn’t be accepted by the Democrats today, he would most likely be a Republican.


      Those Democrats are today’s Republicans.

      • DilloTank

        And you would like to buy this bridge I have for sale?

        Oh, you’re a shameless liar, and a Democrat!

        I just thought you were incredibly gullible. Excuse me.

  • tagalog

    White liberals did NOT sell out blacks and thus divided the civil rights movement. First, the blacks rejected non-violence after MLK was murdered. Then the Black Nationalist Movement and others pushed whites out of the civil rights movement, thus isolating blacks. Whites then, as demanded by blacks, left blacks to run the civil rights movement by themselves. Blacks fouled it up beyond recognition, and now we have what black people sowed for themselves. Instead of having statesmen blacks now have demagogues to lead them. Enjoy reaping what you have sown, black Americans. It’s all yours; you made your bed, now lie in it.

  • Jeff Ludwig

    I never really understood those events until I read this article. Thanks.

  • wisntons

    Did white liberals ever care about Blacks to begin with?…Nope.

    • tagalog

      You’re wrong about that.

    • MRHapla

      Sort of,, much like they care about the critters in animal shelters.

  • nomoretraitors

    “the late Stokely Carmichael”
    Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

    • MRHapla

      Who doesn’t love nostalgia? I know I do.


        I don’t . Nostalgia is for those whose fear the future and change.

        • MRHapla

          I bet you hope your change works out better than it has thus far,,,,,,,,

  • tagalog

    Robert Moses, God bless his soul, became a school teacher and did more on a person-by-person basis to help black Americans than any other black leader from those times.

  • humura

    Black Nationalists were in civil rights organizations prior to 1964, and whites were expelled from CORE chapters in Brooklyn, Detroit, and New Orleans before the national purge of whites. Sometimes it was the whites who were more radical, closer to the Left, than the Black Nats. Even when the last whites were purged from national SNCC, they were clearly activists and radicals.
    Yet, both white rads and Black Nats shared a skepticism about the Democratic Party, and the 1964 Democratic Party convention illustrated how LBJ would dictate things. After 4 years of horrors of LBJ/Humphrey, the nation rightly moved to Nixon.

    • MRHapla

      Black Nationalists amuse the Hell out of me. That they think they could run a country, all historical evidence to the contrary, even cities are beyond them

    • American Patriot

      Brooklyn is not a city. It is a borough that is part of New York City.