The CDF Freedom Schools program is proudly rooted in the American Civil Rights Movement and the courageous efforts of college age youth to make a difference.

Freedom Summer of 1964  

The "Mississippi Freedom Summer Project" of 1964 was organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), two leading Civil Rights organizations.

SNCC, a political organization formed in 1960 by Black college students in the United States was dedicated to overturning segregation in the South. The COFO was an umbrella organization that coordinated activities of various leading groups such as Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  These two major entities continued the struggle in Mississippi and called for "Freedom Summer."

The Freedom Summer Project was a major political action program designed to engage White and Black students and community volunteers in a variety of strategic activities to ensure basic citizenship rights for all Mississippians, most importantly the right to vote..

The Freedom Summer Project of 1964 activities included:

  • promoting a massive drive for voter registration among disenfranchised Blacks and coordinating a mock election;
  • creating community centers to provide weekly instruction and entertainment for Blacks;
  • conducting Freedom Schools, a summer education program to provide Black children and teenagers with a richer educational experience than was offered in Mississippi public schools; and
  • modeling for Mississippi children their responsibility to become a force for change in their state and nation.

These Freedom Schools provided reading instruction; a humanities curriculum emphasizing English, foreign languages, art, creative writing; and a general mathematics and science curriculum. These schools were structured to motivate young people to become engaged in their communities and to help them identify and design authentic solutions to local problems.

Freedom Schools Reborn: the CDF Freedom Schools Program Model

The Freedom Schools movement was reborn under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund's Black Community Crusade for Children® (BCCC®) campaign. The goal was to advance a transforming vision of education for all children through the CDF Freedom Schools program.

In the words of Dr. John Hope Franklin, honorary co-chair of the BCCC program, “[We want to help our children develop] an understanding and appreciation for family, for their own rich heritage derived from their African forebears as well as their American experience, the kind of understanding that will simultaneously provide them with roots and wings."

In 1995, the first two official CDF Freedom Schools sites opened their doors, serving children in Bennettsville, SC and Kansas City, MO. With an increased focus on literacy, parent involvement, conflict resolution, and social action, the CDF Freedom Schools program utilizes an award-winning integrated reading curriculum and develops engaging lesson plans and hands-on activities to accompany it.

The CDF Freedom Schools model engages students in their local community and the larger national and world context. We expect our teachers, parents, children and staff to set high expectations for themselves and welcome the challenges of personal growth and transformation.

Much like the summer of 1964, trainings for college students at Shaw University and Miami of Ohio, each June, college age servant leader interns from all CDF Freedom Schools program sites participate in the Ella Baker Child Policy Training Institute, a national training workshop, at the historic CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, TN and University of Tennessee at Knoxville to learn how to deliver the IRC, develop their teaching skills and build awareness of challenges facing their community.