Northern students joining the civil rights campaign in Mississippi this summer will attempt to give Negro teen-agers--some of whom think that no Negro has ever written a book--a sense of pride in their culture, and to stimulate them to seek further education on their own.
The students will be teaching in freedom schools established throughout the state by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an alliance of local civil rights groups. The COFO project is expected to draw more than a thousand students to Mississippi. Many of them will teach in the freedom schools.
Those students with experience in civil rights will do field work, such as helping Negroes register to vote. Those in the field run a greater risk of clashing with the police, Mrs. Dorothy Zellner, New England representative of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, said yesterday, SNCC provides most of the manpower for COFO.
Mrs. Zellner also said that the deadline for filing applications for the project has been extended one month, until May 15. She is now interviewing interested students on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The final number of students accepted will be determined by the amount of housing available in Mississippi.
The freedom schools will teach basic subjects such as civics and English composition, mechanical skills such as sewing and running mimeograph machines. More importantly, Mrs. Zellner explained COFO hopes that contact with Northern students will give local Negroes an idea of the opportunities opened to them through education.
We want to give students in the freedom schools "the benefit of others' experience," she said. This means that Northerners will not only teach school, and urge Negro students to orient themselves toward college. They will also expose the Negroes to new cultural experiences such as classical music and art, Mrs. Zellner said.
Moreover, the COFO project will aim at giving Negro students pride in the achievements of their race. John O'Neal, a SNCC field secretary, is organising a "Freedom Theater,"--a company of Mississippi Negroes which will tour the state performing works by Negro authors such as Ossis Davis and Langston Hughes.
Merely seeing Negroes presenting plays by Negro authors will "mean a great deal" to people in Mississippi, Mrs. Zellner said.
Enhancing Negroes' pride is their race is also partly behind the campaign currently being conducted by the first Negro women in Mississippi ever to run for national office. A 47-year-old sharecropper has qualified to run in the June 2 primary against Rep. Jamie Whitten in the Second Congresional District, Another Negro is running against Sen. John Stennis in the Democratic primary.
Their campaigns are a protest against the disenfranchisement of Negroes in the state, but they also aim to stimulate more Negroes to register, and even to aspire to elective office.
Mrs. Zellner called the COFO project "unprecedented." She said it was "the first time segregation has been attacked from so many angles by so many people."
She added that COFO is still unsure of local reaction to the project. It is known that Jackson, the state capital, has expanded its police force and added anti-riot weapons such as dogs and an armored tank to the police arsenal.
But tactics vary "from community to community," Mrs. Zellner said, "and nobody knows what they'll do." In general, however, "there is a lot of trepidstion," she said. None of the COFO wokers in Mississippi doubt that "things are going to be very hot this summer."