As Summer 2014 draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment to remember Freedom Summer nurses.
This summer was the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was also known as the Mississippi Summer Project. The campaign was an effort to register African American voters in Mississippi — which was infamous for attempts at voter intimidation and exclusion during the era — in an effort to give them more say and political power within their communities. Freedom Summer also worked to offer aid to students and community members in many other capacities.
The Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) included 100+ nurses, doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals. While they were not licensed to practice in the state of Mississippi, they were able to deliver crucial emergency care and first-aid to activists, civil rights workers and volunteers, and community members. Their work was extremely important and needed!
In the then-segregated south, many African American patients were regularly denied treatment at certain hospitals and by certain doctors, regardless of how sick they were. For some community members MCHR even provided the first professional healthcare they’d ever had.
That refusal of treatment also extended to civil rights activists. According to Civil Right Movement Veterans, “Of those few [doctors and nurses] willing to care for African Americans, fewer still were willing to risk the wrath of the White Citizens Council and Ku Klux Klan by treating civil rights workers. It often took hours to get ill or wounded movement activists to a hospital or to a doctor who would treat them.”
As the fight for civil rights continued to rage in the Deep South, MCHR continued its Mississippi efforts and also expanded into Alabama and Louisiana. In addition to providing essential care and treatment, members of the group supported and even marched alongside protesters.
Thanks to all of the nurses involved with the MCHR, who took on an incredibly difficult and dangerous mission!