Freedom House of Hattiesburg

In 1964, beginning with Freedom Day (January 22) and continuing through Freedom Summer, Mrs. Lenon E. Woods, the owner of the Woods Guest House at 507 and 509 Mobile Street, allowed the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) to use a vacant portion of this historic two-story hotel as its headquarters.

The building had been built between 1895 and 1900 as a hotel for African Americans in a racially segregated society. It was located in the heart of Mobile Street, the “main street” of Hattiesburg’s African American community a bustling center of small businesses, restaurants, and movie theaters, patronized not only by local African Americans but also by black servicemen from nearby Camp Shelby.

Dr. Howard Zinn, Boston University professor and faculty advisor to the national civil rights organization the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) describes in his book SNCC: The New Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964) the Freedom House staffed by legendary SNCC Field Secretaries Robert Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer. The house was furnished with the late 19th century marble-topped mahogany furniture of the Woods Guest House.

During Freedom Summer 1964, the Hattiesburg Freedom House was the headquarters of the Hattiesburg and Palmer’s Crossing project, the largest Freedom Summer site in the state. Under the direction of SNCC Field Secretary Sandy Leigh, over ninety volunteers and approximately 3,000 local people organized Freedom School classes for the largest number (650-675) of students in the state and voter registration instruction. Volunteers canvassed local African American neighborhoods, refurbished and furnished of two buildings to serve as community centers, and assisted visiting teams of attorneys, doctors, nurses, folksingers, and the Free Southern Theater repertory troupe.

In addition to housing COFO headquarters and a Freedom Library of books donated by Americans from all over the country, the Freedom House at 507 Mobile Street also served as the Hattiesburg headquarters of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) beginning in 1964. The MFDP was an alternative grass-roots political party which registered over 80,000 black Mississippians and challenged the all-white delegation to the regular Democratic Party’s Presidential nominating convention in Atlantic City in August 1964 and later the all-white Mississippi representation to the U.S. Congress. The two challenges were led by Fannie Lou Hamer from the Delta and Victoria Jackson Gray from Hattiesburg.

The Freedom House was destroyed by fire in September of 1998.

Sources:

Tusa, Bobs. The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections. http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/crsitdoc.htm

Forrest County