Freedom on My Mind (1994): Docu about Civil Rights Movement

Sundance Film Festival, Jan 28, 1994–Telling the dramatic story of the Mississippi Voter Registration Project, from 1961 to 1964, Freedom on My Mind is a strong documentary that chronicles the most tumultuous and significant years in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Though its style and format may be a bit conventional for exploring such a riveting topic, the importance of the issue, which is placed in a broader political context, should make Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford’s documentary a must-see, particularly for younger viewers in schools and universities.

The saga is told through the recollections of a few courageous black people, mostly local Mississippi sharecroppers, who joined forces with committed organizers. Their personal stories are truly mesmerizing, showing how “second class” citizens, without any formal education, political power, or experience changed their lives and gained new meanings as a result of their membership in the movement.

L. C. Dorsey, a sharecropper’s daughter, whose father was unable to read, talks about how involvement in the movement provided a new identity and a sense of hope for the future. And Curtis Hayes recalls how he was always fascinated by biblical myths and how he saw the interracial struggle as a “David and Goliath” story.
The feature’s most exciting chapter documents the fateful l964 summer, when white middle-class students, from all over the country, went to Mississippi to work. The black members stress the novelty of their encounters with the whites and how they were not used to be called by their first names. As systems, racism and segregation have become institutionalized down to the most personal interactions. The courage of the white students and the media attention devoted to their action added to the national visibility of the movement at large.

If education was perceived as a way to gain political consciousness, voting was seen as the only means to break the rigid caste system. But the movement also performed vital personal functions, by helping to forge identities and supplying meaningful membership in larger collectives than one’s family. As one member says: “All my life I felt odd and then I felt like home.” They had to fight racism on two fronts: of American society at large and of the Democratic Party itself. Docu records in detail the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and its plan to unseat the all-white segregationist delegates to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.

Ultimately, Field and Mulford’s feature serves as a testimony to the power of grass root politics in America, for the 68-member MFDP delegation consisted of sharecroppers, maids, and day laborers. And even though the battle didn’t result in immediate victory, it still demonstrated how the highest political authority could be challenged when the struggle concerns such values as equality and justice.
Docu’s tech credits are excellent: Intimate personal interviews are augmented by archival footage, some of which has not been seen since it was first shot in the l960s. However, what’s missing from docu is some kind of epilogue that will update the lives of the dozen or so individuals whose lives it celebrates.

As an authentic story of empowerment, transformation and change, Freedom on My Mind puts to shame Hollywood’s fiction movies about the Civil Rights Movement, most notably Alan Parker’s l989 Mississippi Burning, which examined the same events from a strictly white and thus distorted perspective.

Winning the grand jury prize at Sundance, Freedom on My Mind may not have been the most exciting or accomplished documentary in competition, but as far as subject matter is concerned, it was certainly one of the most important ones.


Narrated by Ronnie Washington. A Clarity Film Productions film. Produced, directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford. Written, edited by Michael Chandler. Camera, Michael Chinn, Steve Devita, Vicente Franco; music, Mary Watkins; sound, Don Thomas, Larry Loewinger, Curtis Choy; sound editor, Jeffrey Stephens; associate producer, Hardy Frye.