JUNE 24, 1964

A Freedom Summer volunteer speaks with a Mississippi family about voter registration. Credit: Ted Polumbaum/Newseum Collection

Thirty Freedom Summer workers from Greenville, Mississippi, made the first effort to register Black voters in Drew. 

White men circled the workers in cars and trucks, some equipped with gun racks, making violent threats. One White man stopped his car and said, “I’ve got something here for you,” flashing his gun. 

Despite death threats and burning crosses, the workers persisted. During Freedom Summer, about 17,000 Black Mississippians attempted to register to vote, but only 1,600 were actually allowed to vote. These acts drew national attention to the state’s disenfranchisement of Black voters and contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. 

A decade after the law passed, Mississippi saw the nation’s greatest increase in registered Black voters.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.