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Council of Federated Organizations or COFO

Council of Federated Organizations or COFO, umbrella organization composed of various civil rights groups working independently in Mississippi.

In February 1962, fearing that the divisiveness among various civil rights organizations would undermine what small progress they had made in Mississippi, Bob Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) met with representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

His goal was to establish a coordinating agency that would unite the civil rights organizations and define a common goal. At the initial meeting, the representatives determined that the NAACP’s Aaron Henry would serve as president, Moses would serve as director, and CORE’s David Dennis would act as assistant director. Funding would come mainly from the Voter Education Project.

Staffed predominantly by SNCC workers and inspired by Moses, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) initiated various programs, including the Freedom Vote in September 1963, in which 80,000 disfranchised black Mississippians voted in a mock election to protest their exclusion from the political process.

Based on its success, in 1964 COFO organized Freedom Summer, a massive voter registration and education project. Although relatively few blacks registered because of white supremacists’ violent reaction to Freedom Summer, the news media heavily reported the program, moving the Civil Rights Movement closer to the center of the national consciousness. Consequently, Freedom Summer is considered by many to be a critical milestone of the Civil Rights Movement.

Although some historians believe that the various groups set up COFO solely to allocate funds more efficiently, others maintain that COFO represented a group that belonged to and worked for the people of Mississippi. The organization was short-lived, disbanding in 1965, but the programs it sponsored focused the national spotlight on the plight of black Mississippians and the repressive, sometimes violent reaction of whites.

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