Biographical / Historical
The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) arose from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded in 1960 to coordinate student sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and elsewhere. COFO, was organized by Robert Moses in 1961, to secure the release of Freedom Riders in Mississippi. Many COFO workers were originally members of SNCC. COFO's goal was to increase the percentage of registered African-American voters in Mississippi, from the low 7% that existed in 1964.
In the summer of 1964, COFO was a key player in the organization of the Mississippi Summer Project. Prior to the summer, many white and African-American students, primarily from the South and the Northeast, organized to lead demonstrations, and to create political awareness among the large African-American population in Mississippi. During the summer, COFO was successful in setting up "freedom schools" and community centers throughout the state. This encouraged the emergence of young leaders who would teach African-Americans to articulate their needs and discontents within the existing socio-political structure in Mississippi. This activity, however, produced a severe white backlash, and many acts of violence occurred against COFO workers. These actions, many of them police instigated, are documented in this collection through affidavits and other legal documents on civil action.
Another accomplishment of COFO was the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The MFDP enrolled the majority of African-Americans who were systematically denied access to the delegate selection process of the regular Mississippi Democratic Party (MDP). The MFDP organized itself along the same lines, contained many of the same rules, and divided into the same Congressional districts as the MDP. MFDP's goal, however, was to contest seats in Congress traditionally held by white Mississippians, in order to create a more equal representation of the state as a whole.
Edwin King was a white Methodist minister originally from Vicksburg, MI. Although raised with a traditional Mississippi upbringing, he had the opportunity, while attending Milsap College, to work with black students from Tougaloo College. This had a profound influence on his life. When he and his wife were graduated from Milsap College in the early '50's, they attended Boston University for graduate studies in seminary and social work, respectively, and decided that they could no longer live in the South. They were conscientious objectors to the racist attitudes of their neighbors and did not want to confront them (the neighbors or the attitudes). However, this was changed by a serendipitous dinner with Reverend Abernathy. Reverend King and several others were having dinner at a black restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama when everyone in the party was arrested. From that time, Reverend King and his wife were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement.