Throughout July and August of 1964, Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan sent teams of women to Mississippi to bear witness to the need for change. They listened to the women they met and experienced a sort of culture shock as they came face to face with the reality of southern life. The interracial, interfaith teams of northern women flew into Jackson, Mississippi, on a Tuesday in groups of five to eight women. On Wednesday they visited the Freedom Summer projects in a community outside the state capital and met for coffee with Jackson women to discuss what they had seen; on Thursday they returned home.
To avoid drawing attention to themselves, they maintained a policy of separating by race at the airport as if they were strangers and traveled in segregated groups. They had come to open lines of communication, not to test the recently passed Civil Rights Act of 1964, and therefore did not want to risk making waves. African American women were welcomed to stay in the homes of southern black women homes from the beginning, but the white women stayed in hotels because they did not receive similar invitations until Team 6’s arrival in mid-August. Dr. Height explained, “The black women had a whole community to greet them; the white women [were] met with a lot of white community hostility, so we made sure there were enough of them to reinforce their courage and commitment.”
In 1965, the climate in Mississippi had changed dramatically. The team members came in teams as part of a professional exchange, and they were able to eat, meet, and stay in integrated groups. In 1966, the NCNW shifted away from the team approach and refashioned the program to address poverty directly through Workshops in Mississippi.