It was the summer of 1964, and a group of young civil rights activists arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City to make sure the world knew that African Americans from Mississippi were still being denied a seat at the political table.
"We fought against seemingly impossible odds," said Lawrence Guyot, chairman of the group that called itself the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
"We had the state against us, the process against us, and we had an America that was indifferent."
Guyot, 66, and several other veterans of 1964 have for years made their homes in the Washington area. Next week at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, they'll reunite with other former Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party members to observe the 40th anniversary of that tumultuous summer. The festivities will include a convention tribute to civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and others who fought to integrate the Democratic Party. Northeastern University will also sponsor a day-long forum in honor of Hamer, who died in 1977.
"This is a very sentimental occasion for me," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), who was the attorney for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the time. "This is really the 40th anniversary of the opening up of our party to all races. This is Fannie Lou Hamer's legacy."
Norton, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Dorothy Height, the former head of the National Council of Negro Women, are among the many prominent veterans of the civil rights movement who have made the Washington area their home since the 1960s.
There are also the less-well-known in Washington who have special memories every four years as convention season approaches.
Rockville resident Martha Norman was a 19-year-old University of Michigan student when she arrived in Atlantic City to protest. She had spent the previous summer in Greenwood, Miss., with other students and activists, registering people to vote.
"I was outside demonstrating," Norman said. "It was such a small group, but we were center stage at the national convention. It was very exciting. There were people in America unable to vote in 1964, and through our efforts, this became a national issue."
Norman said she will never forget attending the meeting in which senior Democratic Party officials tried to get white members of the Mississippi delegation to accept a compromise and admit black delegates.
"All these top civil rights leaders were urging them to accept a compromise, but they refused," Norman said. "Some of the people were ashamed because when the leaders were talking to them, they were looking down to the ground. They knew it was wrong. I left feeling that we had accomplished a great thing."
Norton, who has been picked to make a prime-time address during the convention next week, said she will never forget the 1964 convention.
"We didn't know if we could even get into the convention. We had to make our case to the credentials committee," Norton said.
"When Fannie Lou Hamer got up to speak, the hierarchy of the Democratic Party knew that they were in trouble because she had this kind of focused intelligence and rhetoric that could make people do what was dangerous."
Norton said that after negotiations, party officials offered two seats for the Freedom Democrats. But the two sides couldn't reach an agreement. She said that even though the group left Atlantic City without being seated, a few years later an African American, Aaron Henry, became chairman of the entire Mississippi Democratic Party. "We owe it all to Fannie Lou Hamer," she said.
Lonnie King, a Columbia resident and a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said Hamer and other activists paved the way.
"That movement was one of the greatest movements in history," King said. "It wasn't fought with guns and bullets but with ideas and the reality that forced America to face this duality. America had no problem sending African Americans off to fight for freedoms that they didn't enjoy back at home."
Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who will serve as co-chairman of the Prince George's County delegation, said he goes to Boston deeply aware of those who struggled before him.
"The Democratic Party has come a long way for someone like me to participate in the political process like this," Ivey said.