Debriefing Summary

We have provided a summary of the debriefing, organized into chapters for ease of use.

Date of Debriefing: July 13, 1964
Team members: Jean Benjamin, Polly Cowan, Dorothy Height, Marian Logan, and Anne McGlinchy.

The Team 1 debriefing opens with each of the five team members holding the floor in turn to relate their personal experiences and their perceptions of the effectiveness of the project’s efforts. In the general discussion, the women describe the emotional impact of seeing first hand the effects of segregation and discrimination in the South. The conversation flows comfortably between the team members, and they obviously developed a fast friendship from this experience. An undetermined number of individuals concerned with the project are present in the audience.

Dorothy Height opens the debriefing with a review of their purpose in going to Mississippi and the ways in which they felt threatened during their visit. Anne McGlinchy offers her views of the strength of the African-American women and the action they are taking to secure their rights. Marian Logan discusses the feeling of being alone when the group separated by race at the airport, her encounter with a child at the Freedom School who wanted to fight the white race, and a failed Molotov cocktail being thrown at the school during their visit. Jean Benjamin details her conversations with the Freedom School children and her impression of the COFO volunteers working there. Polly Cowan informs the group of a grocer donating food to the Vicksburg volunteers and the Catholic Church’s prohibiting Catholic sisters from participation with WIMS. By contrast, she points out that fear of economic retaliation makes other groups such as Jewish women and League of Women Voter members reluctant to participate. Height and Cowan close the meeting with a discussion of the importance of their approach to the overall civil rights effort and the direction for future teams.

Chapter 1 (Side 1 – 01:40-22:46)
Dorothy Height describes the WIMS objective to open lines of communication in the community in order to establish a basis for reconciliation, allowing all individuals to enjoy their full rights as citizens. She relates an experience that she and two other African-American women had attempting to dine at a hotel restaurant. After being subtly threatened by the host as they waited for their food, the African-American employees came out to act as buffers for their safety. In a second story, she discusses the experience of a Freedom School teacher who was upset when a role play of “Uncle Tom” seemed to cause more harm than good. Duration: 22:26.

Chapter 2 (Side 1 – 22:47-34:15)
Anne McGlinchy discusses the dedication of the volunteers at the Freedom Summer projects and their need for supplies. She observes that African-Americans were appreciative of the WIMS effort, and how faith was an important source of strength in their community. Through organizations like WomanPower Unlimited, sympathetic members of the Jackson community were organizing assistance for the COFO volunteers. Lastly, she relates the story of a young woman who had been jailed for picketing and was spat upon by the warden while in jail. She concludes that these African-American women have extraordinary power and will not fail. Duration: 11:49.

Chapter 3 (Side 1 – 34:16-52:45)
Marian Logan relates her sense of feeling alone when she and Dorothy Height were forced to separate from the other team members at the airport. She discusses how impressed she was with the manner in which the women maintained a sense of humor despite their lives and cites as an example the novel approach one maid took to encourage her employer to honor a boycott of a grocery store. Other stories detail her encounter with a young boy at the Freedom School who thought his goal should be to fight against the entire white race, the living conditions of poor children they observed in a rural community, and how she reacted when a fizzled Molotov cocktail was thrown out of a passing car as she was on the phone. Duration: 17:30.

Chapter 4 (Side 1 – 52:46-01:00:27)
Polly Cowan explains her husband Lou Cowan’s belief that it was not necessary to consider a boycott of northern businesses as they were cooperating to send supplies to Mississippi. She cites as an example a grocer who sent 750 pounds of food, or 70 meals for each student volunteer, to the Freedom School in Vicksburg. Marian Logan mentions several key people in the music industry who are willing to offer assistance. Dorothy Height tells of a young man who is amazed to meet two African-American women who have been on television. Duration: 7:52.

Chapter 5 (Side 1 – 1:00:28-01:02:07, Side 2 – 00:00-30:22)
Jean Benjamin gives a detailed description of the many people she met in Mississippi. She begins with young men at the Freedom Schools, including a self-confident teenage boy who was working with CORE and two teachers working with remedial readers. She relates the story of a young boy who wanted to interview her for the school paper but is upstaged by a young girl who says she is interviewing Mrs. Benjamin for a book. She outlines the activities of a number of white women who are working for civil rights and the obstacles that they face to open participation. Duration: 32:02. Begins on F17 S1, continues on F17 S2.

Chapter 6 (Side 2 – 30:23-55:30)
Polly Cowan reports that the leadership of the Catholic Church refused to allow sisters from Boston to meet with members of the Jackson Catholic community. She discusses the ways in which fear hampers members of the Jewish community and the closing of the Hattiesburg synagogue because the rabbi was considered too progressive. As cause for fear, she outlines the ways in which the husbands of League of Women Voters members and Jackson teachers attempting a boycott were threatened with loss of their jobs. Marian Logan further elaborates on the teachers’ boycott and the courage of the women who do work for civil rights. Cowan closes this segment with her own perceptions of the trip and the importance of the example they set by working as an integrated group. Dorothy Height discusses the paradox of white people in Mississippi being willing to help behind the scenes, versus the efforts of groups like the White Citizens Council. She mentions the fizzled Molotov cocktail thrown into the Freedom School during their visit. Duration: 28:22.

Chapter 7 (the following portion appears in the 1964 transcription but was partially recorded, Side 2 – 55:31-57:39)
Dorothy Height explains the importance of the quiet, behind the scenes efforts to the civil rights movement and the necessity of providing people with a sense hope for the future. She discusses how the label “Freedom Schools” has confused some outsiders as to the schools’ purpose. They saw them as being a revolutionary act rather than an effort to improve basic educational skills in order to work with and through government. She reiterates their purpose in coming to Mississippi was not to challenge compliance with the new laws for integrated facilities such as hotels, but to open lines of communication with the women they met there. Polly Cowan outlines the need for supplies at the Freedom Schools, and the group discusses what will happen with the Freedom projects at summer’s end. The steps to protect the WIMS teams’ safety and avoid publicity are reviewed.

Source citation, audio:

  • National Council of Negro Women. “Wednesdays in Mississippi – Team #1,” 13 July 1964. NCNW Collection 1, Series 15, Sub-series 5, File 17, Side 1. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Archives for Black Women’s History, Washington, D.C., 1964. Audiotape converted to MP3 file.
  • National Council of Negro Women. “Wednesdays in Mississippi – Team #1,” 13 July 1964. NCNW Collection 1, Series 15, Sub-series 5, File 17, Side 2. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Archives for Black Women’s History, Washington, D.C., 1964. Audiotape converted to MP3 file.

Source citation, transcript:

  • “Wednesdays in Mississippi – Team #1,” 13 July 1964, NCNW Papers Series 19, Box 14, File 7, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Archives for Black Women’s History, Washington, D.C., 1964.