Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mayor Robert Wagner, President Johnson and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats at the 1964 Democratic Convention

                           Mayor Wagner & President Johnson     Fannie Lou Hamer

Steven A. Levine, Ph.D.
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Fifty years ago the Democratic Party Convention met in Atlantic City, NJ to nominate Lyndon Baines Johnson for a full term.  Johnson’s nomination was not in doubt, but who would represent Mississippi was up in the air: the all white segregationist regular Democrats or the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).  The MFDP were activists from Mississippi Freedom Summer (To learn more about Freedom Summer see the Archives’ Curriculum.) who came to Atlantic City determined to oust the regular Democrats.  Sharecropper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer gave a powerful speech  to the Credentials Committee about the terrorist tactics used to prevent Hamer and other African-Americans from registering to vote.  After her speech it appeared that the MFDP had a chance to be seated by the Credentials Committee.

President Johnson used his political skills and power to seat the Mississippi regular Democrats.  He did this not out of support for them, but out of fear that other southern delegations would walk out of the convention if they were not seated and many southern states would then support his opponent Senator Barry Goldwater.  New York State had two seats, John English and Joyce Austin, on the Credentials Committee.  Johnson called his ally NYC Mayor Robert Wagner on the telephone to find out how they would vote and if he could sway them.  (Johnson recorded this and other telephone conversations in the Oval Office.)  Wagner thought that English could be swayed, but Joyce Austin, an African-American woman who worked for him, would support the MFDP. The MFDP lost their bid to be seated as Mississippi delegates and rejected a proposed compromise where they would have been given two at-large delegates to the convention.  The Regular Mississippi delegation walked out of the Convention and the MFDP would unofficially take their seats.  Goldwater would win Mississippi, but Johnson carried most of the southern states in a landslide victory.

If you want to learn more about the 1964 Democratic Convention and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, please feel free to contact me at the Archives at slevine@lagcc.cuny.edu 

Mayor Robert F. Wagner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Discuss the 

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