For nearly a hundred years, segregation in the United States prevented almost all African-Americans in Mississippi from voting or holding public office. Most African-American Mississippians lived in fear of authority and white supremacy groups. Many were indebted to white banks. The result of voter suppression was a deep, rooted lack of access to political and economic power. When they attempted to speak out, they were met with violence. Without economic power, African-Americans in Mississippi could be easily controlled in these oppressed conditions.
As such, CORE and SNCC leaders believed that the enlisting white, Northern volunteers would expose the injustices placed upon these people. In a letter home to her family, Vail wrote: "It is tragic and appalling. It’s frightening. Not only the Negroes, but poor whites, the innumerable minority groups - we aren’t giving them a fair deal – they don’t have democracy – most of them aren’t in a position to help themselves with the Anglo-Saxons, etc., 'knocking them down' – or worse – helping with one hand, yet holding them down with the other."