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Film / Freedom on My Mind

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Freedom on My Mind is a 1994 documentary film directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Milford.

It is a history of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, 1961-1964. In Mississippi, perhaps the most racist and definitely the most segregated of the 50 United States, black people from around the state rise up in the early 1960s and demand the right to vote. White people in Mississippi resist violently. Herbert Lee, a black sharecropper, attempts to register to vote but is murdered by a white Mississippian who is also a member of the state legislature; the white man is acquitted.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) enters Mississippi and begins working to gain civil rights for black Mississippians. Progressive young white students from across America come to Mississippi to help the movement, and they do, but not without conflict from black people native to the state. Three civil rights workers are murdered, but SNCC does not back down. The film culminates with the efforts of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to unseat the all-white, segregationist Mississippi Democratic Party delegation at the Democratic National Convention of 1964.


  • Barefoot Poverty: All too true for black people in Mississippi in the early 1960s, as shown in stock footage clips.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party is rejected at the 1964 Democratic convention, mainly because LBJ was trying to hang on to at least some Southern votes. But the activists keep working and it's noted that eventually black Mississippians do take over the state Democratic Party and elect many officials.note 
  • Book Ends: The same stock clip of an older black man leading a black child down a country road both opens and closes the film. At the end it's used to underline the theme that the younger generation needs to continue the struggle.
  • Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit: A stock footage newsreel shows a fat double-chinned sheriff in a white shirt blocking entrance to a county courthouse where voter registrations are accepted. This causes a moment of conflict between the white and black activists. The white kids from all over Yankeeland laugh at the stereotypical newsreel. The black activists who are native to Mississippi get angry, pointing out that this is all deadly serious.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used for pretty much every still picture in the film.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: More than one person interviewed notes that the most important reason that white college kids had to be brought to Mississippi to help, is that the national media would care a lot more if clean-cut white kids get murdered in Mississippi than they would if black people get murdered. Thus the presence of the white volunteers is necessary to draw attention and to gain the sympathy of white America.
  • Promiscuity After Rape: One interviewee tells a candid and horrifying story about how she was raped at the age of 11 by the white man whom she worked for as a servant girl. Afterwards, she became a prostitute. The Mississippi civil rights movement led her out of that life, and she eventually got a doctorate.
  • Stock Footage: Almost the entire movie, except for the Talking Heads. In many instances one leads to another, as a Stock Footage clip of an activist from 1960s Mississippi leads to a Talking Head of that same person thirty years later.
  • Talking Heads: Another stock documentary trope played straight. Many activists from the civil rights movement, both white and black, are identified.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: All the Talking Heads in the movie get one last interview segment during the credits. Captions identify what happened to their lives. SNCC leader Cleveland Sellers became a professor at the University of South Carolina.
  • Widow's Weeds: James Chaney's mother appears in a white dress and veil, sobbing at his funeral.