From the "Bland Leading the Bland" to the Mississippi Freedom Vote: William Sloane Coffin Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement at Yale University, 1958 - 1963
When Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. arrived at Yale University in 1958, he found a campus he characterized as "the bland leading the bland." By the time sixty-seven Yale students went to Mississippi in 1963 to register voters during the freedom vote, Coffin had played a crucial role in creating a politically aware and directly involved student population. Coffin had infused the Yale campus with "energy." He did this gradually by preaching, introducing outside motivators and leading by example. Through his weekly Sunday sermons in Yale's Battell Chapel, the civil rights leaders he brought to campus and his participation in Operation Crossroads-Africa and the freedom rides, Coffin was able gradually to shift the climate of the Yale campus from apolitical and uninterested in the late 1950s, to socially active and involved. By 1963, Yale was a politically active environment, such that sixty-seven students traveled to Mississippi to participate directly and en masse in the 1963 freedom vote, a protest election to demonstrate the inadequacies of the Republican National Party and the Democratic National Party. The freedom vote also served to draw national attention to Mississippi, in an effort to force the Kennedy Administration to provide national protection for civil rights workers. The issues involved in the freedom vote were issues that much of the rest of the country had been largely ignoring, including Yale University. Thus in October and November of 1963, sixty-seven Yalies went to Mississippi towns such as Clarksdale and Natchez and for three weeks encouraged people to vote in the protest election, by canvassing and handing out pamphlets.
Finger, Wallis, "From the "Bland Leading the Bland" to the Mississippi Freedom Vote: William Sloane Coffin Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement at Yale University, 1958 - 1963" (2004). Kaplan Senior Essay Prize for Use of Library Special Collections. 11.
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