A Brief History

A Brief History of CDF Freedom Schools®

The model for CDF Freedom Schools® was the late Ella Baker who, in 1957, with a group of Southern Black clergy helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SLCC) to coordinate racial reform efforts across the South. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as SCLC’s first president, with Baker as its director.

After leaving SCLC in 1960, Baker helped college activists organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This Committee, which included Black and White college students from across the nation, became one of the foremost Civil Rights organizations in history, by embracing the teachings of Indian Mohandas Gandhi of nonviolent protests and demonstrations, to push for racial desegregation in the south.

The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project provided a reading and humanities curriculum of English, other languages, art, creative writing, math and science to motivate young people to become critically engaged in their communities. These interracial teams of students traveled throughout the U.S. South engaging Black Americans in education and empowerment.

Baker continued to be a respected and influential leader in the fight for human and civil rights until her death in 1986.

Freedom Schools was reborn in 1993 by Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund© Black Community Crusade for Children initiative.  Today’s CDF Freedom Schools® model draws on the vision, philosophy, and experience of those who conducted Freedom Schools as part of the 1964 Mississippi  Freedom Summer Project.