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Euvester Simpson oral history interview conducted by John Dittmer in Jackson, Mississippi, 2013 March 12

Political Parties and Primary Sources: Civic Participation

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When learning about political parties, students may wonder how and why every-day people can participate. Oral histories provide a unique source for thinking about civic participation. What students might see as abstract or unrelatable could shift to being tangible. Oral histories allow us to think about big ideas but from a personal level. They can reveal thoughtful motivations and experiences that we can connect to.

Euvester Simpson’s oral history interview in the political parties primary source set gives students a chance to hear directly from Ms. Simpson about her experiences participating in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Students can listen to or read the transcript of the interview. The relevant section starts at 1:02:50 and concludes at 1:05:17.

As they listen or read, help students pause and reflect on the idea of participation in the party.

  • How does Ms. Simpson describe her participation?
  • What can this interview reveal about its importance to Ms. Simpson?
  • How was Ms. Simpson’s participation important to the broader goals of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party?

Transcript of relevant section in PDF format. 

ES: Oh, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Well, as everybody knows by now, if black people couldn’t vote, they couldn’t participate in the democratic process. And so, the Democratic Party from Mississippi was almost always an all-white delegation. And the Freedom Democratic Party was formed, and it was made up of a cross-section of individuals, you know, to kind of reflect the makeup of the state. And when we went to Atlantic City—I was not actually, you know, an official part of the delegation, but I went along. I took a bus. And I think Mrs. Hamer was on that bus, and I remember sitting with her.

JD: Well, talk about your experience there.

ES: Okay.

JD: I didn’t know that you were there.

ES: Oh, I actually went! Oh, yes!

We rode a bus up to Atlantic City. And when we got there, of course, we couldn’t go in. We spent most of our time, you know, just outside the convention center there. But I remember that when a few people, we were allowed in, then we would share the badges to allow as many people as possible. Only a few could go in at a time, so the badges were shared, and I got a chance to go in for just a few minutes. And we heard about Mrs. Hamer’s testimony and what President Johnson did, you know, when she was giving that really, really powerful testimony.

JD: He called a press conference to get her off the air.

ES: He called a press conference to get her off the air! But most of our time was just spent, you know, just being there and being outside, being on the boardwalk, and sometimes singing freedom songs and just giving our support.

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After students listen to or read the transcript of the interview, encourage them to think about the “so what” of this interview. What does this source reveal about the role that people can play in political parties? If individuals like Ms. Simpson hadn’t participated, what impact might it have had?

If you or your students are interested in more oral histories, and other sources, related to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, consider looking to these resources.

We hope you enjoyed this post and other blogs in the series related to the political parties primary source set. Have you used any of the sources or strategies discussed? Please tell us in the comments!

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