15. A CHANGE IS GONNA COME This year marks the 50th anniversary of what was known as Freedom Summer. The idea was to gather up as many volunteers as possible, white and black, from around the country, and bus them to Mississippi to educate and register as many black voters as possible. As expected, native, white Mississippians weren’t very supportive of the idea, and on the night of June 21, three civil rights workers turned up missing. Because two of them were northern whites, it became national news and the Federal government was forced to send FBI agents to begin to look for them. While the white population claimed it was all a hoax, the FBI began to drag the rivers and swamps of the Mississippi Delta looking for clues. Although they didn’t find the three missing students, what they did find was even more alarming – the bodies of eight other black men who were murdered and dumped in the river. Unlike the northern white students who were missing, these 8 men did not have the Federal Government spending thousands of dollars looking for them or journalists from around the country asking the tough questions on their behalf. Why? Because they were black and they were from Mississippi. And that just how things worked in Mississippi. 44 days later, the bodies of the three missing students were found 44 days later, by FBI agents, buried in a levee along the river. Federal agents charged eighteen people in these murders, but only won convictions of seven of them. The FBI prosecuted because the state of Mississippi refused to. Without much help from Mississippi officials, only seven of the accused were convicted, and they got off with light sentences. This triggered even more national outrage, leading to the civil rights legislation that followed in 1964 and 1965.
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, was one of the most prominent civil rights organizations in the country. SNCC organized sit-ins, marches, protests, freedom rides and more. Because they recognized how important music was to their efforts, they actually had their own band, the SNCC Freedom Singers, that composed and performed songs about the movement, and to taught freedom songs to activists wherever they traveled. “In the Mississippi River” was one of their songs.