Nov. 5, 1926

Victoria Gray Adams, Freedom Summer, 1964, Herbert Randall Freedom Summer Photographs. Credit: University of Southern Mississippi

Victoria Gray Adams, one of the founding members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, was born near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. 

“(There are) those who are in the Movement and those who have the Movement in them,” she said. “The Movement is in me, and I know it always will be.” 

In 1961, this door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman convinced her preacher to open their church to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which began pushing for voter registration. A year later, she became a field secretary for SNCC and led a boycott of businesses in Hattiesburg, later helping found the umbrella group, the Council of Federated Organization, for all the civil rights groups working in Mississippi. 

In 1964, she and other civil rights leaders fought the Jim Crow laws and practices that kept Black Mississippians from voting, marching to the courthouse in the chilly rain to protest. By the end of the day, nearly 150 had made their way to register to vote. 

Adams became the first known woman in Mississippi to run for the U.S. Senate, unsuccessfully challenging longtime Sen. John Stennis. She also helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It was time, she said, to pay attention to Black Mississippians, “who had not even had the leavings from the American political table.” 

In August 1964, she joined party members in challenging Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the Democratic National Convention. 

“We really were the true Democratic Party,” she recalled in a 2004 interview. “We accomplished the removal of the wall, the curtain of fear in Mississippi for African-Americans demanding their rights.” 

Four years later, the party that once barred her now welcomed her. 

She continued her activism and later talked of that success: “We eliminated the isolation of the African-Americans from the political process. I believe that Mississippi now has the highest number of African-American elected officials in the nation. We laid the groundwork for that.” 

In 2006, she died of cancer. 

“When I met … that community of youthful civil rights activists, I realized that this was exactly what I’d been looking for all of my conscious existence,” she said. “It was like coming home.”

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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.