At the intersection of Rose Street and John R. Lynch Street rests three small buildings that are so close that they appear to be one. These structures have housed pool halls and night clubs—businesses that some say serve as liberation from a long day at work. However, there is one building among these structures that served as the headquarters of liberation for African-Americans during the civil rights movement. That building is 1017 John R. Lynch Street.
1017 John R. Lynch Street served as the state headquarters of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) from 1961 to 1965. COFO was established to operate as a formal coalition of organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Through this coalition, COFO proved to be a strong civil rights organization and focused on gaining voting rights for African Americans who were collectively denied such rights. With the establishment of freedom schools, community centers, and a very active involvement with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, COFO strived to educate African Americans on important issues and encouraged all that were able to register to vote.
One of COFO’s most recognized efforts include the 1963 Freedom Vote–a statewide mock election in which 80,000 African Americans cast their votes for Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party running mates Aaron Henry and Reverend Ed King. Henry, a black man, was the president of the Mississippi NAACP and appeared on the ballot as Governor. King, a white man, served as Chaplain at Tougaloo College and appeared on the ballot as Lieutenant Governor.
The most recognized effort of COFO was the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project–better known as Freedom Summer. This campaign attracted multitudes of students from out of state who worked alongside local leaders to promote voter registration and youth education.
There are several efforts underway that seek to highlight the importance of COFO. One effort includes the renovation of the organization’s former headquarters to be reused as a civil rights education center and student-run business. Jackson State University has been awarded $500,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration to initiate this effort. Renovations have recently been completed and program planning for the building is still underway. The JSU Center for University-Based Development serves as the project manager.
Another effort seeks to tell the story of COFO–specifically the women of COFO–through film. Directors Marlene McCurtis and Susan Carney along with producers Cathee Weiss and Joy Silverman are creating a documentary named “Wednesdays in Mississippi.” The movie’s title pays homage to an effort initiated in 1964 by Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan. These women brought women from cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago to Mississippi during COFO’s Freedom Summer. On Wednesdays, these women (later known as Wednesdays Women), delivered support and supplies to the rural communities of Mississippi. As mentioned on the documentary’s website, “most of the ‘Wednesdays’ women’ are in their 70’s and 80’s. There is an urgent need to capture these unsung heroines’ stories in their own words before they are lost to us forever.” Such is the goal of this documentary.