The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools Lesson Plan

Karla Smith


Nearly ten years after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), most Southern school districts remained racially segregated, and decades of educational disparities wrought devastating economic consequences for Black Mississippians. In the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) established forty-one Freedom Schools in Mississippi. Over the course of roughly two months, more than 1,000 volunteers arrived in the state to help draw media attention to the state’s Black freedom movement, to register African American voters, and to teach in Freedom Schools that were established to supplement the inferior educational opportunities provided to Black youths in the state’s public schools. Across Mississippi today, there are hundreds of former Freedom School students whose lives were changed during their experiences in the summer of 1964. Many of them went on to become teachers, social workers, lawyers, and lifelong activists. Some were among the first to integrate Mississippi’s public schools the following autumn. Even those who did not become civil rights activists or community organizers finished that summer with a new sense of expectations about their civil and political rights.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 3 and 4

Common Core

RH.1-2, 5; WHST.1-2, 4-6, 9

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12


  • Mississippi History NOW article, “The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools”
  • Breaking It Down Worksheet
  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Data projector


The students will:

  1. Determine specific details and elements of an historical event.
  2. Compose a summary.
  3. Create a written and oral project/presentation about an aspect of a historical movement.

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will ask the students the following questions:

  1. What do you know about the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. What events took place in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement?

Once the teacher has held a class discussion based upon the answers provided by the class, the teacher will show a five minute clip from the television series, “American Experience,” titled Freedom Summer, which focuses upon the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools.

After viewing the clip, the teacher will ask the students the following questions:

  1. What did you learn about Mississippi Freedom Schools?
  2. What aspects of the Mississippi Freedom Schools were not covered in the clip that you would like to learn more about?
    The teacher will tell the students that over the next few days they will have an opportunity to learn more about the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools.

Developing the Lesson

  1. The teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Mississippi History NOW article, “The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools.” 
  2. Once the students complete the reading, the teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Breaking It Down Worksheet found in Materials. The students will also be instructed to record information from the article onto the worksheet. Students should also list the heading and the paragraph number of where they found the information within the article. On the back of the worksheet, the teacher will instruct the students to write a summary of the article based upon the information they recorded on the worksheet. Once the students have completed this segment of the lesson, the teacher will conduct a class discussion about the Mississippi History NOW article.
  3. For the next segment of the lesson, the teacher will place students in groups of no more than four. The teacher will assign or allow students in each group to choose a topic for a further research relevant to the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. Suggestions for research topics are listed below:
    • Mississippi Freedom School lesson plans and daily activities
    • Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)
    • Training and recruitment for Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteers
    • Civil Rights activities in specific counties in Mississippi
    • Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and Fannie Lou Hamer
    • Murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County, Mississippi during the summer of 1964
  4. The project should include a written report and an oral presentation. Students should include the following resources in their research report and presentation: (a) Primary sources; (b) Secondary sources; and (c) Visuals. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, The Civil Rights Movement Veterans site (hosted by Tougaloo College), Wisconsin Historical Society, and the University of Southern Mississippi Digital Collection are four websites among many that contain primary sources, secondary sources, and visuals for use in research. The students should use a PowerPoint presentation to present their research to the class.

Closing the Lesson

Students will present their projects to the class. After all presentations have been made to the class, the teacher will use the 3-2-1 strategy to ask the students questions about what they have learned during the lesson.

The teacher will ask the students to write a response to the statements below.

  1. Name three new facts you discovered during the lesson.
  2. Name two facts that you found interesting during your study of the lesson.
  3. Name one question you still have about the topic studied during the lesson.

To close the lesson, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their responses to the questions.

Assessing Student Learning

  • Class participation
  • Breaking It Down Worksheet
  • Written Summary * Research report and presentation


  • A Civil Rights veteran can be invited to the class as a guest speaker.
  • A guest speaker can be invited to the class to talk about the voter registration process and the importance of voting. * Students can research the current Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Program. * The teacher can use other Mississippi History Now articles on various civil rights leaders and events.
  • Students can create an original song or poem about events during the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement or current day issues affecting the state.

Follow up this lesson with other Mississippi History NOW articles

Aaron Henry: A Civil Rights Leader of the 20th Century

The Last Stand of Massive Resistance: Mississippi Public School Integration, 1970

Street Theater and the Collapse of Jim Crow: How the Black Freedom Movement Outsmarted Mississippi Segregationists

On Violence and Nonviolence: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

When Youth Protest: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1970

Karla Smith is the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.