7. Coalition Building: From COFO to Freedom Summer

7. Coalition Building: From COFO to Freedom Summer


Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and the importance of coalition building to achieve civil rights.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene Nine & Scene 10

Standards: Local & national civil rights history, power relations & social justice, Rrelationship between local and national movement, relationship between past and present movement, knowing all of the organizations, acronyms and their perspectives, Freedom Summer

Content Strand 4:

B. Identify and explain the significance of major leaders, groups and events - Freedom Summer

Tactics: Youth participation, intergenerational cooperation, national partnerships & participation, patience & persistence, aligning different political motivations

Counter-tactics: white power structure tactics: intimidation & violence. terror, murder, threats of violence, perversion of the legal system/arrest to intimidate

Time Period: 1964

Leaders: Dr. Aaron E. Henry, Vera Pigee, Clarksdale Chief of Police Ben Collins & Senator Eastland


BACKGROUND: Dr. Aaron E. Henry


LESSON: Coalition Building

DR. HENRY:  Mississippi has so violently distorted the national dream that these young Americans want to help the hundreds of thousands of us who have been denied the right to vote! Soon the saying will be true. “Hands that pick cotton now can pick our public officials!” 


  1. Students will recognize the role of Dr. Aaron Henry and the leadership he provided to COFO in order to build the coalition of organizations to support the collective mission of the Freedom Summer campaign.
  2. Students will identify the goals of Freedom Summer.

 Students will be expected to answer the following:

  1. Who was Dr. Aaron Henry and what was his role in the civil rights movement? (NAACP, COFO)
  2. Identify the organizations named in the speech delivered by Aaron Henry in the script.
  3. What was the importance of building a coalition?
  4. Why is Dr. Aaron Henry working so hard to build unity?
  5. What was the vision of Freedom Summer?

ACTIVITY: Source Investigators

After reading the scene Aaron Henry Speaks to COFO, students will work in groups to search the digital Freedom Summer archive at Wisconsin History Freed Summer Project. Students will be asked to answer the questions above and support their answers using quotes from the scene and documents they have located in the archives. Students will regroup to discuss their findings and share the primary source documents they chose to utilize.


Building a coalition of allied organizations spanning multiple regions and generations is key to leveraging change. Where can we observe coalition building today? Find a current issue and develop a plan to build a coalition with a specific action or goal in mind. Students will identify potential coalition members by looking carefully at membership demographics, guiding principles and influence. Each group will write a persuasive speech that addresses the groups involved which appeals to a sense of common interest that could help to galvanize the groups and persuade them to work together toward a common goal.


Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene Nine & Scene Ten


Scene Nine

Jackson, Mississippi May 1964

Dr. Aaron Henry addresses The Council of Confederated Organizations (COFO) and announces 

                   Mississippi Freedom Summer.


DR. HENRY : Good Evening COFO and members of the National Council of Churches.  I am happy that we are all here tonight. We have in attendance members of the following organizations; the Congress for Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership. Welcome brothers and sisters. (pause) For 250 years the white man acted and the Negro reacted and now the roles are being reversed. The Negro is now acting and the white man is reacting. However, the reaction of the two groups is quite different. We have reacted by using the courts by trying to resort to love and kindness by trying to reach the white man’s heart and overcoming his hostility. The white man’s reaction is a lynch mob, a gun, a bomb, the cross. But regardless of how his reaction continues we are convinced we have enough of what is good to overcome whatever actions that he might try to use to continue to subdue us. (pause) The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to introduce you to the new Mississippi Freedom Summer Initiative. The goals of this initiative are to help the Negro community and convince whites that change is inevitable. Yes, there will be repression and privation that will hover over us. But have no fear - help is on its way. Those students who helped out with the Freedom Vote last year will return with others to participate this summer.  We have developed a network and that network is continuing to grow. Our supporters have multiplied to over 1,000! And we have called on them to donate their political and organizational abilities to help us. Bob Moses, Dave Dennis, Hunter Morey and I have been recruiting college students across the country from Harvard to Hawaii. Outside help is vital. (pause) Mississippi has so violently distorted the national dream that these young Americans want to help the hundreds of thousands of us who have been denied the right to vote! Soon the saying will be true. “Hands that pick cotton now can pick our public officials!”

Black Out / End of Scene 


Scene Ten

Freedom Summer 1964

The scene opens with Mary Jane on the phone trying to get information about the disappearance of three Freedom Summer volunteers.

MARY JANE: Thank you, I will be sure to call you once I have more information. Good bye.

NICK: What have you heard from neighboring counties?

MARY JANE: Nothing new, nobody wants to say anything over the phone so if you want information you have to travel and most folks are too scared to go far.  

NICK: And the jails?

MARY JANE: I’ve called every jail in Mississippi. Nobody has any account of arrests under the names Goodman, Chaney or Schwerner.

NICK: I think we should drive to Longdale to or and find out what’s happening there.

MARY JANE: Do you think there’s any hope?  Northerners helping the southern movement are missing.  They have the mark of Cain! Nothing good will come from that.

NICK: They can’t be dead Mary Jane. Not yet. They’ll be arrested and held for questioning.

MARY JANE: There’s no gossip. Barely any news coverage! (slight pause) The officials who are supposed to be looking for them, seem pretty content that…“the boys went out for a swim... and drowned.”

NICK: Did they search the river? No! No one’s even looking. (cross to the table next to Mary Jane) Look, we know Mickey, Andrew and Bear left Meridian at noon and made it to Kirkland’s house by one. They all went together to Mount Zion church to look at the fire damage and spend time with the congregation.

MARY JANE: Bud Cole - he told them that the Klan had been looking for Mickey that night and that the blows he took were intended for him. Mickey would have been there too if he hadn’t been working at the Freedom School.

NICK: They never got out of Neshoba County.  

(Dr. Henry enters the scene - Door Knocks)

NICK: Dr. Henry, it’s great to see your face. Did you shake up Washington?

DR. HENRY: We got an audience with Bobby Kennedy. Charles Evers, Roy Wilkins and I marched to the Justice Department and they let us in.

MARY JANE: What’d Kennedy have to say?

DR. HENRY: The Attorney General is on our side - as an advisor. He’s ordered the FBI to expedite the search and appointed Allen Dulles to investigate.

NICK: Dulles the former CIA director?

DR. HENRY: Yes. Once he arrives, Charles Evers and I will brief him on the abduction, and the failure of the FBI to effectively assist us. President Johnson will be sending the troops from the Naval Air Station in Meridian to help with the search. The President is making a very loud statement. How are things here Mary Jane?

MARY JANE: The second group of volunteers will be here Sunday and I’m not sure if we are sending any to Neshoba County. I’m making alternate arrangements for them just to be on the safe side.

[Telephone rings. Mary Jane answers -- it's - Vera again]

MARY JANE: Pigee’s Beauty Salon, how can I help you?

VERA: Mary Jane -

MARY JANE:Yes, Mama! 

VERA: Is Dr. Henry there yet?

MARY JANE: Yes, he just arrived and we’re ----

VERA: Good. Tell him things are in place. Listen, I have to be quick. They found the station wagon by a swamp off of 491. They’d burned it. They’d burned it! Gov. Johnson has offered to send in the Mississippi National Guard to lead the search. Now, I’ve got to go. I’ll be home late.

MARY JANE: Please be careful Mama. Good bye.

(Hangs up the phone)

NICK: The National Guard! That’s the end of it. Might as well send in the Klan.

DR. HENRY: Senator Eastland will deny any KKK activity.

NICK: Invalidating our movement. Exactly what the Dixiecrats need to fuel their filibuster against the Civil Rights Act. Will the rest of the country believe him?

DR. HENRY: God help us. If we can crack Mississippi we can crack the whole south.

Black Out / End of Scene 


Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director







Lesson Seven Video: Coalition Building: From COFO to Freedom Summer (scene nine)

Lesson Seven Video: Coalition Building: From COFO to Freedom Summer


Lesson Seven Video: Coalition Building: From COFO to Freedom Summer (scene ten)

Lesson Seven Video: Freedom Summer