The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: Doris A. Derby Civil Rights Activist and Photographer.
She was a field secretary for SNCC in Mississippi from 1963 to 1972, when she worked alongside Bob Moses and COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), as well as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), where she frequently accompanied the indomitable Fannie Lou Hamer.
Doris was a vital member of nearly every organization working to achieve freedom in Mississippi during her time there, including a child development group, the Head Start Program, and Bob Moses’ major Freedom Summer project.
We learn about the death of important African American’s days, if not weeks, after they pass away, as is often the case. Doris A. Derby, an activist photographer who was apparently everywhere throughout the Civil Rights Movement, is one example.
She passed away on March 28 in Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 82.
Her birth date, Nov. 11, 1939, in the Bronx, is only a minor sign of her commitment to freedom and justice, as seen by her engagement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the founding of the Free Southern Theater.
She grew up in the Bronx’s Williamsbridge neighborhood and showed her dissatisfaction with the unfairness and lack of representation of Black culture in the classroom as early as elementary school.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), also known as the Freedom Democratic Party, was an American political party founded in 1964 in the state of Mississippi as a branch of the populist Freedom Democratic Party during the Civil Rights Movement.
It was created by African Americans and whites in Mississippi to counter the Mississippi Democratic Party‘s established power, which only permitted whites to vote at a time when African-Americans made up 40% of the state’s population.
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Origin
In Mississippi, intimidation, harassment, terror, and perplexingly hard literacy tests were used to keep African Americans from registering and voting.
They had been barred from participating in the political system since 1890 when a new state constitution was passed, and by the actions of the dominant white Democrats in the decades afterward, only whites were allowed to join the state Democratic Party.
Beginning in 1961, the SNCC and COFO undertook voter registration operations.
African Americans attempted to vote in the Mississippi primary election in June 1963 but were unable to do so. As the state was a de facto one-party jurisdiction under the dominance of the Mississippi Democratic Party, this struggle to pick Democratic candidates was practically the only contested race.
In the event that they are unable to vote in the official election, they can cast a “Freedom Ballot” for an election to be held at the same time as the November elections.
Nearly 80,000 people cast freedom ballots for an integrated slate of candidates, with this election considered a protest effort to demonstrate the rejection of their constitutional voting rights.
In response, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was created in 1964 by Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Bob Moses. As a result, they faced violent opposition, including church, home, and business burnings and bombings, as well as beatings and arrests of black people.
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Building
With segregationists preventing some people from voting in the regular Mississippi Democratic Party, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) capitalized on the success of the Freedom Ballot by formally establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in April 1964 as a non-discriminatory, non-exclusionary rival to the regular party organization.
By obtaining Mississippi seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention for a slate of delegates elected by some black and white Mississippians, the MFDP aimed to replace the regulars as the state’s officially recognized Democratic Party organization.
The MFDP was a key component of the Freedom Summer project.
After it became clear that registering black voters would be impossible due to state officials’ opposition, Freedom Summer volunteers turned their attention to building the MFDP using a simple, alternative method of registering party supporters that did not require blacks to openly defy the power structure by attempting to register at the courthouse or for blacks and poor whites to take a complicated and unfair literacy test.
By the end of August 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had attracted so much national attention that its delegates had gathered 80,000 delegates to their racially integrated party.
Over time, several Northeast activists, including some of the Freedom Riders, would come to control the new party’s administration.
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Original Members
The MFDP’s elected delegates traveled to the convention by bus.
They challenged the Mississippi Democratic Party’s delegation’s right to attend the convention, claiming that the regulars were illegally elected in a completely segregated process that violated both party and federal law, and that the regulars had no intention of supporting the party’s candidate, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in the November election. Instead of the segregationist regulars, they requested that the MFDP delegates be seated.
Lawrence Guyot, Peggy J. Conner, Victoria Gray, Edwin King, Aaron Henry, Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, and Bob Moses were among the first members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation in 1964.
The Democratic Party has referred the matter to the credentials committee for the Democratic National Convention. Delegates from the MFDP campaigned and pleaded their case, while large groups of sympathizers and volunteers set up a 24-hour picket line on the boardwalk immediately outside the convention.
The MFDP drafted a court brief outlining why the “normal” Mississippi delegation failed to appropriately represent the state’s constituents, citing the strategies used to keep Black people out of the process.
“MFDP, with the assistance of SNCC, prepared booklets, mimeographed biographies of the MFDP delegates, histories of the MFDP, legal reasons, historical arguments, moral justifications” that were sent to all convention participants, according to Jack Minnis.
Their actions attracted a lot of attention.
Fannie Lou Hamer speaks to the credentials committee in the middle of her speech.
The credentials committee’s deliberations were aired, allowing the entire country to watch and hear the MFDP delegates’ testimonies, particularly Fannie Lou Hamer’s.
She presented a riveting and evocative account of her harsh existence as a sharecropper on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, as well as the punishment she faced for attempting to register to vote.