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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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    SNCC: What We Did

    by | Apr 27, 2010

    “Strong people don’t need strong leaders,” Ella Baker told us. We were strong people. We did strong things. I want to talk about some of the things we did.

    It began for me as it did for many more.

    On February 4, 1960, I was sitting in a cafe near my college campus in Atlanta, Georgia, a place where students went between or instead of classes.

    A student named Lonnie King approached me. He held up a copy of that day’s Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta’s daily black newspaper. The headline read: “Greensboro Students Sit-in for Third Day!”

    The story told, in exact detail, how black college students from North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro had, for the third day in a row, entered a Woolworth’s Department Store and asked for service at the whites-only lunch counter.  It described their demeanor, their dress, and their determination to return the following day – and as many successive days as it took – if they were not served.

    “Have you seen this?” he demanded.

    “Yes, I have,” I replied.

    “What do you think about it?” he inquired.

    “I think it’s great!”

    “Don’t you think it ought to happen here?” he asked.

    “Oh, I’m sure it will happen here,” I responded.  “Surely someone here will do it.”

    Then to me, as it came to others in those early days in 1960, a query, an invitation, a command:

    “Why don’t we make it happen here?”

    King, Joe Pierce, and I canvassed the cafe, talking to students, inviting them to discuss the Greensboro event and to duplicate it in Atlanta.  The Atlanta student movement had begun.

    We formed an organization, reconnoitered downtown lunch counters, and within a few weeks, 77 of us had been arrested.

    In an early 1960 Freedom Song, the youth who joined together to create the southern student movement were described in this way:

    “The time was 1960, the place the USA,

    That February 1st became a history-making day.

    From Greensboro across the land, the news spread far and wide,

    As quietly and bravely, youth took a giant stride.

    (Chorus) Heed the call, Americans all, side by equal  side.

    Sisters, sit in dignity, brothers sit in pride.

    From Mobile, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee

    From Denver, Colorado to Washington, D. C.

    There rose a cry for freedom, for human liberty.

    The time has come to prove our faith in all men’s dignity.

    We serve the cause of justice, of all humanity

    We’re soldiers in the army, with Martin Luther King

    Peace and love our weapons, nonviolence is our creed.

    (Chorus)

    This is a land we cherish, a land of liberty

    How can Americans deny all men equality?

    Our Constitution says we can’t and Christians, you should know.

    Jesus died that morning, so all mankind could know.

    (Chorus)

    No mobs of violence and hate shall turn us from our goal

    No Jim Crow laws nor police state shall stop my free bound soul.

    Three thousand students bound in jail still lift their heads and sing.

    We’ll travel on to freedom, like songbirds on the wing.

    (Chorus)”  [1]

    As former President Jimmy Carter told Mary King, “If you wanted to scare white people in Southwest Georgia, Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC] wouldn’t do it.  You only had to say one word – SNCC!” [2]

    John F. Kennedy said that compared to Martin Luther King’s SCLC, SNCC workers were “real sons of bitches.”

    The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960 by southern student protesters engaged in sit-in demonstrations against lunch counter segregation.

    Within a year, SNCC evolved from a coordinating committee to a hands-on organization helping local leadership in rural and small-town communities across the South participate in a variety of protests and political and economic organizing campaigns, setting SNCC apart from the civil rights mainstream of the 1960s.

    Its members, youth, and independence enabled the organization to remain close to grass-roots currents that rapidly escalated the southern movement from sit-ins to freedom rides to voter drives to political organizing.

    By 1965, SNCC fielded the largest staff of any civil rights organization operating in the South.  It had organized nonviolent direct action against segregated facilities and voter registration projects in Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi. It had built two independent political parties and organized labor unions and agricultural co-operatives. It gave the movement for women’s liberation new energy. It inspired and trained the activists who began the “New Left.” It helped expand the limits of political debate within black America, and broadened the focus of the civil rights movement.

    Unlike mainstream civil rights groups, which merely sought integration of Blacks into the existing order, SNCC sought structural changes in American society itself. [3]

    In 1960, the dominant organization fighting for civil rights was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Its preferred method was litigation, and it had achieved its greatest victory in 1954 in Brown v Board of Education, outlawing segregation in public schools. The NAACP lobbied Congress and Presidents to adopt anti-segregation measures.  Its local Branches were often the main civil rights outposts in many communities.

    The NAACP – and similar groups and many individuals – fought against a tripartite system of racial domination which whites had solidified over time.

    The system “protected the privileges of white society and generated tremendous human suffering for blacks. In the cities and rural areas of the South, blacks were controlled economically, politically and personally,” relegated to the worst jobs, prevented, often by force and terror, from free participation in the political process, denied due process of law and personal freedoms all whites routinely enjoyed. [4]

    Ironically, a consequence of the segregation system was the development in close-knit communities, of institutions, churches, schools and organizations … which nurtured and encouraged the fight against white supremacy.

    The young people who began the 1960 student sit-in movement lived and learned among such institutions.

    The student movement’s goals were described to the Democratic Convention’s Platform Committee in 1960 by SNCC’s first Chair, Marion Barry, as “seeking a community in which man can realize the full meaning of self, which demands open relationships with others.” [5] Barry declared southern students wanted an end to racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, and voting. SNCC’s goals were similarly broadly described by Executive Secretary James Forman in 1961 as “working full-time against the whole value system of this country and by working toward revolution;” [6] in 1963 as a “program of developing, building and strengthening indigenous leadership;” [7] and by third SNCC Chair John Lewis, at the 1963 March on Washington, as building “a serious social revolution” against “American politics dominated by politicians who build their careers on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic and social exploitation.” [8]

    SNCC pioneered first-time races by blacks in the 1960s Deep South, added foreign policy demands to the black political agenda, and broadened the acceptable limits of political discourse.

    SNCC was in the vanguard in demonstrating that independent black politics could be successful. Its early attempts to use black candidates to raise issues in races where victory was unlikely expanded the political horizon.  SNCC’s development of independent political parties mirrored the philosophy that political form must follow function and that non-hierarchical organizations were essential to counter the growth of personality cults and self-reinforcing leadership.

    For much of its early history, SNCC battled against the fear which had kept southern rural blacks from aggressively organizing and acting in their own behalf. It strengthened or built aggressive, locally led movements in the communities where it worked.

    While organizing grass-roots voter registration drives, SNCC workers offered themselves as a protective barrier between private and state-sponsored terror and the local communities where SNCC staffers lived and worked.

    The rural South SNCC entered in 1961 had a long history of civil rights activism; in many instances, however, SNCC staffers were the first paid civil rights workers to base themselves in isolated rural communities, daring, as it was reported then, to “take the message of freedom into areas where the bigger civil rights organizations fear to tread.” [9]

    SNCC workers were more numerous and less transient than those from other civil rights organizations and their method of operation was different as well.

    The NAACP was outlawed in Alabama in 1956 and did not begin operating there again until 1964, although NAACP activists continued under other sponsorship. In 1962, the NAACP had one Field Secretary each in South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi and a regional staff headquartered in Atlanta. [10]

    One historian writes, “SCLC has to adopt a strategy of ‘hit and run,’ striking one target at a time. SCLC’s willingness to run as well as hit provoked consistent criticism from SNCC which organized the same communities for years rather than months or weeks.” [11]

    “SCLC mobilized,” someone said. “SNCC organized.”

    By Spring, 1963, SNCC had 11 staff members in Southwest Georgia, and 20 staff – with 6 offices – in Mississippi.  By August, SNCC had projects and permanent staff in a dozen Mississippi communities; in Selma, Alabama; Danville, Virginia; and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. There were 12 workers in the Atlanta headquarters, 60 field secretaries, and 121 full-time volunteers. [12]

    Typically, SNCC began campaigns by researching the economic and political history of a target community. Field workers were supplied with detailed information on a community’s economic and financial power structure, tracing corporate relationships from local bankers and business leadership in a local White Citizens Council to the largest American banks and corporations. Other research provided the economic and political status of a state’s black population. [13]

    SNCC organizers spent their first weeks in a new community meeting local leadership, formulating with them an action plan for more aggressive registration efforts, and recruiting new activists through informal conversation, painstaking house-to-house canvassing and regular mass meetings.

    Registering rural southern blacks, a SNCC worker wrote, “would greatly liberate American politics as a whole. At the very least, these new voters would defeat the powerful, hidebound, Southern Democrats who were holding the reigns of Congress and the Senate on the basis of being elected year after year from districts where Black citizens were denied the franchise.  The southern Democratic legislators weren’t just holding up civil rights legislation, they were a serious impediment to any kind of liberal social or economic changes.” [14]

    SNCC and other organizations fought white terror and helped create a willingness to risk danger to register to vote. By one estimate, “a majority of the unregistered had at least been confronted with registration’s challenge” by 1965. [15]

    SNCC’s broader definition of the civil rights movement’s purposes was obvious from its beginnings. At its founding conference, in April 1960, SNCC Executive Committee member Charles Jones declared, “this movement will affect other areas beyond [lunch counter] services, such as politics and economics.” [16]

    A report from the conference concluded with a warning about America’s false preoccupations in early 1960. “Civil defense and economic power alone will not insure the continuation of Democracy,” it said. “Democracy itself demands the great intangible strength of the people able to unite in a common endeavor because they are granted human dignity. This challenge cannot be met unless and until all Americans enjoy the full promise of our democratic heritage – first class citizenship.”

    Another recommendation noted: “Students have a natural claim to leadership in this project. They have pioneered in nonviolent direct action. Now we can show we understand the political implications of our movement – that it goes far beyond lunch counters. We are convinced of the necessity of all local areas joining in the campaign to secure the right to vote.  No right is more basic to the American citizen, none more basic to a democracy.” [17]

    Within four months of these declarations, SNCC volunteer worker Robert Moses was planning a student-staffed voter registration project in all black Mound Bayou in the Mississippi Delta for the summer of 1961. [18]

    Mississippi, the most resistant state, became a laboratory for SNCC’s unique methods of organizing.

    SNCC’s work began in southwestern Mississippi in 1961, but when its workers were driven from the area by violence, state suppression, and federal indifference, the organization regrouped in Jackson and in Mississippi’s Delta counties in early 1962.

    Earlier in 1961, SNCC’s Nashville affiliate had continued the Freedom Rides when Alabama violence threatened to bring them to a halt; after they were released from Parchman Penitentiary, many jailed Riders had joined the McComb movement. Several became part of the organizing cadre for the Mississippi movement that followed.

    Unencumbered by allegiances to the national Democratic Party which frequently constrained other, older organizations, SNCC encouraged two black candidates to run for Congress. Moses served as unofficial campaign manager. They ran “to shake loose the fear” among Mississippi blacks, and, through their progressive platforms, gave their intended constituents an expanded notion of what meaning politics might have in their lives. [19]

    They talked of matters which white Mississippi politicians had never dreamed of mentioning, ideas which resonate today – “legislation improving the school system, a broader plan of medical coverage, special training facilities to develop industrial skills among the great mass of Mississippians who lacked these completely.” [20]

    To demonstrate that disenfranchised Mississippi blacks did want to vote, SNCC mounted a “Freedom Vote” campaign in November 1963. Over 80,000 blacks cast votes in a mock election for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. One hundred northern white students worked in this campaign, attracting attention from the Department of Justice and the national media as black registration workers had never done, paving the way for the “Freedom Summer” campaign in 1964.

    “Freedom Summer” brought 1000 mostly white volunteers to Mississippi for the summer of 1964.  They helped build the new political party SNCC had organized, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), [21] registered voters, and staffed 28 “Freedom Schools” intended by their designer, Charles Cobb, “to provide an education which will make it possible for them to challenge the myths of our society, to perceive more clearly its realities, and to find alternatives, and ultimately new directions for action.”

    Over the next several years, SNCC-backed candidates for Congress ran in Albany, Georgia; Selma, Alabama; Danville, Virginia, and Enfield, North Carolina. [22]

    SNCC helped candidates for Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) Boards in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi, aided school board candidates in Arkansas in 1965, and worked toward “solving the economic problems of the Southern Negro” by organizing the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union and Poor People’s Corporation and mounting economic boycotts against discriminatory merchants. [23]

    Among SNCC’s contributions to electoral politics were the formation of two political parties and the conception and implementation of my successful campaigns for the Georgia State Legislature.

    The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenged the seating of the regular, all-white delegation from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic Convention, and, in 1965, challenged the seating of Mississippi’s congressional delegation in Washington.

    The convention challenge ended in failure when pressures from President Lyndon Johnson erased promised support from party liberals. An offer was made – and rejected – of two convention seats to be filled by the National Party, not the Freedom Democrats.

    Fannie Lou Hamer declared: “We didn’t come for no two seats when all of us is tired!”

    Each challenge served as an object lesson for strengthening black political independence, and the organizing and lobbying efforts for each laid the groundwork for congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    The MFDP served “as a prototype for the model of Black Power advocated and popularized by Stokely Carmichael.” [24]

    In 1965, the McComb MFDP Branch became the first black political organization to express opposition to the war in Vietnam. State MFDP officials not only refused to repudiate the McComb statement, they reprinted it in the state MFDP newsletter, giving it wider circulation and laying the groundwork for future black opponents of the war. [25]

    The MFDP’s legal efforts against white resistance to political equality proved important to black political efforts across the South.  An MFDP-directed court suit resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 decision in Allen v. State Board of Elections, [26] “critical to continuing black political progress throughout the South. For the first time,” a scholar wrote, “[although in the context of interpreting the Voting Rights Act rather than applying constitutional principles] the Supreme Court recognized and applied the principle of minority vote dilution – that the Black vote can be affected as much by dilution as by an absolute prohibition on casting a ballot.” [27]

    The MFDP wasn’t the only organization SNCC helped build and not the only one that survived the demise of the parent.

    In 1964, SNCC encouraged a group of New York progressive health professionals to form a group to provide health care to workers in the Freedom Summer campaign. Most were veterans of past attempts to organize physicians to push for integration of the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) segregated southern affiliates and of sporadic attempts to win support for national health insurance.

    They called their new organization the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR).

    “Wherever there was a demonstration or confrontation,” historian John Dittmer writes, “be it at the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma or on the Meredith March in the South, in Resurrection City with the Poor People’s Campaign, at Columbia University during the student rebellion, in the streets of Chicago outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968 or at Wounded Knee with the American Indian Movement, men and women in white coats and Red Cross armbands were on the scene, providing ‘medical presence’ and assistance to the people who were putting themselves at risk.” [28]

    Dittmer writes:

    “Throughout it all, Medical Committee activists were in agreement that health care in the United States was inadequate, unjust, racist, and in need of a major overhaul. MCHR members established free health clinics in inner cities and created the model for the comprehensive health center. They also campaigned for a national health service that would provide quality health care for everyone.” [29]

    In summary, he writes:

    “…. MCHR helped bring about permanent improvements in the availability and delivery of health care. Its five-year campaign against the AMA facilitated the desegregation of state and local medical societies in the South and the subsequent awarding of hospital privileges to hundreds of black physicians. It played a major role in desegregating Southern hospitals and other health facilities.”

    “MCHR stimulated consumer participation in health affairs, and successfully pressured medical schools to add programs in family and community medicine and to admit more black and female students. Medical Committee lobbying directly influenced passage of health care legislation and implementation of federal programs. It was in the creation of the model for the comprehensive community heath center that MCHR activists made their most important contribution to the well being of impoverished Americans.  By 2009 nearly 1,300 centers were providing primary care for more than sixteen million Americans at 7,354 sites in urban and rural medically underserved communities across the nation.” [30]

    The mid ’60s were a turning point in the southern human rights struggle. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 accomplished the immediate goals of many in the civil rights movement. Cleveland Sellers wrote, “When the federal government passed bills that supposedly supported Black voting and outlawed public segregation, SNCC lost the initiative in these areas.” [31] Northern urban riots in the late ’60s made the nation and southern civil rights workers aware that victories at lunch counters and ballot boxes meant little to blacks locked in northern ghettoes. [32]

    SNCC had long believed its work ought to be expanded to larger cities in the South and outside the region. Executive Committee minutes from December 1963 quote Forman asserting, “SNCC is going to have to go into the poor sections of large cities to work.” [33]

    My campaign for the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965 was an attempt to take the techniques SNCC had learned in the rural South into an urban setting, and to carry forward SNCC’s belief that grass-roots politics could provide answers to problems faced by America’s urban blacks.

    In keeping with SNCC’s style, a platform was developed in consultation with the voters.

    The campaign supported a minimum wage of $2.00 an hour, repeal of the right-to-work law, and abolition of the death penalty.

    When the legislature twice rejected me, objecting to my support of SNCC’s anti-war position, the resulting two campaigns gave SNCC a chance to successfully test its critique of American imperialism at the ballot box.

    The campaign – like the MFDP – enabled SNCC to provide a political voice for the politically impotent and inarticulate black poor.

    In 1966 in Alabama, SNCC helped to create a black political party called the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), “an independent political party which would prove to be a factor in Alabama politics for years to come. …  The political consciousness of some of Alabama’s blacks had been raised to another level.” [34]

    The party was formed in reaction to the racism of local and state Democratic parties. Like the MFDP, the new party was open to whites, but no whites in Lowndes County would participate in a black dominated political effort.

    Concurrently with the organizing efforts of the MFDP and LCFO and the Bond campaign, SNCC was reassessing its concentration on the South.

    At a retreat in May 1966, Ivanhoe Donaldson argued in favor of SNCC’s replicating its successful southern political organizing efforts in the North, and the staff agreed. Donaldson and Robert Moses suggested that techniques learned in southern campaigns could be employed to ease SNCC’s passage into northern cities.

    Organizing for political power and community control could mobilize northern urban dwellers, they contended. [35]

    Michael Thelwell proposed in 1966 that the organization move “to the ghetto and organize those communities to control themselves. The organization must be attempted in Northern and Southern areas as well as in the rural Black belt of the South,” Thelwell said. [36]

    Projects were established in Washington, D.C., to fight for home rule; in Columbus, Ohio, where a community foundation was organized; in New York City’s Harlem, where SNCC workers organized early efforts at community control of public schools; in Los Angeles, where SNCC helped monitor local police and joined an effort at creating a “Freedom City” in black neighborhoods; and in Chicago, where SNCC workers began to build an independent political party and demonstrated against segregated schools.

    In each of these cities, the southern experiences of SNCC organizers informed their work.

    As SNCC Chair, Marion Barry had written members of Congress in 1960 to “urge immediate action to provide self- government to the vote-less residents of our nation’s capitol, the District of Columbia.”  In February 1966, Barry, then Director of SNCC’s Washington Office, announced the formation of the “Free DC Movement” (FDCM).  He wrote, “The premise…is that we want to organize Black people for Black power.”  Barry and the FDCM conducted a successful boycott of Washington merchants who did not support home rule. [37]

    In New York, SNCC worker William Hall helped a Harlem group working for community control of Intermediate School #201 in Fall, 1966.  His work laid the groundwork for later successful protests for community control of schools throughout the city.

    In Los Angeles, SNCC worker Clifford Vaughs described his work as “a manifestation of self-help, self-determination, power for poor people.” [38]

    As the focus of the southern movement had changed, so would the aim of the northern organizer. Desegregation had proven both illusive and insufficient to the problems of American blacks, north or south.  Their ability to control the black community itself and to direct the community’s elected officials had become paramount in rural Mississippi and in urban New York.

    Just as its concern for social change had never been limited to the southern states alone, SNCC’s concern for human rights had long extended beyond the borders of the United States.

    It had linked the fight of American blacks with the struggle for African independence from its first public statements.

    At its founding conference, SNCC first announced its identification with the African liberation struggle. “We identify ourselves with the African struggle as a concern for all mankind,” they said.  At SNCC’s Fall, 1960 conference in Atlanta, a featured speaker was Alphonse Okuku, an Antioch College student and brother of Kenya labor leader Tom M’Boya.  The mass meeting program said Okuku “brings to our attention the great significance of the African struggle and its relationship to our fight.”  SNCC Chairman John Lewis told the March on Washington in 1963, “One man, one vote is the African cry. It must be ours!”

    In December 1963, SNCC workers in Atlanta conferred with Kenya leader Oginga Odinga and in September 1964, an eleven-member SNCC delegation went to Guinea as guests of that country’s President, Sekou Toure; two members of the group toured Africa for a month following the Guinea trip. [39]

    In October 1965, two SNCC workers represented SNCC at the annual meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Ghana. [40]

    SNCC’s January, 1966 anti-war statement charged the United States with being “deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of colored people in such other countries as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa and the United States itself.”

    Singer Harry Belafonte organized a supportive reception at the United Nations with 15 African diplomats and myself in early 1966, and on March 22, 1966, seven SNCC workers were arrested at the South African Consulate in New York, preceding by twenty years the “Free South Africa Movement” that later saw hundreds arrested at the South African embassy in Washington. [41]

    At a June, 1967 staff meeting, SNCC declared itself a human rights organization, dedicated to the “liberation not only of Black people in the United States but of all oppressed people, especially those in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”  At that meeting, Forman became director of SNCC’s International Affairs Commission; in this capacity, he visited Tanzania and Zambia. [42]

    SNCC Chair Stokely Carmichael visited Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Guinea, and Tanzania in mid-1967.  In November 1967, Forman testified for SNCC before the United Nation’s Fourth Committee against American investments in South Africa. [43]

    There are many reasons for the demise of this important organization. The current of nationalism, ever-present in black America, widened at the end of the 1960s to become a rushing torrent which swept away the hopeful notion of black and white together that the decade’s beginning had promised.

    SNCC’s white staff members were asked to leave the organization and devote their energies to organizing in white communities; some agreed, but most believed this action repudiated the movement’s hopeful call to “Americans all, side by equal side.”

    For many on the staff, both white and black, nearly a decade’s worth of hard work at irregular, subsistence-level pay, under an atmosphere of constant tension, interrupted by jailings, beatings, and official and private terror, proved too much.

    When measured by the legislative accomplishments of the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts, SNCC’s efforts were successful. But the failure of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to gain recognition at Atlantic City predicted the coming collapse of support from liberals. The murders of four schoolgirls in Birmingham and Medgar Evers in Jackson in 1963, of civil rights workers and others in Mississippi in 1964, and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 argued that nonviolence was no antidote to a violent society. The outbreak of urban violence at the decade’s end further produced a sense of frustration and alienation in many SNCC veterans.

    Throughout its brief history, SNCC insisted on group-centered leadership and community-based politics. It made clear the connection between economic power and racial oppression. It refused to define racism as solely southern, to describe racial inequality as caused by irrational prejudice alone or to limit its struggle solely to guaranteeing legal equality.  It challenged American imperialism while mainstream civil rights organizations were silent or curried favor with President Lyndon Johnson, condemning SNCC’s linkage of domestic poverty and racism with overseas adventurism.

    SNCC refused to apply political tests to its membership or supporters, opposing the Red baiting which other organizations and leaders endorsed or condoned. It created an atmosphere of expectation and anticipation among the people with whom it worked, trusting them to make decisions about their own lives.

    SNCC widened the definition of politics beyond campaigns and elections; for SNCC, politics encompassed not only electoral races, but also organizing political parties, labor unions, producer cooperatives, and alternative schools.

    It initially sought to liberalize southern politics by organizing and enfranchising blacks. One proof of its success was the increase in black elected officials in the southern states from 72 in 1965 to 388 in 1968. [44]

    But SNCC also sought to liberalize the ends of political participation, by enlarging the issues of political debate to include the economic and foreign policy concerns of American blacks.

    SNCC’s articulation and advocacy of Black Power redefined the relationship between black Americans and white power. No longer would political equity be considered a privilege; it had become a right.

    One SNCC legacy is the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee helped to break those chains forever.

    It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks; they did then and can do so again.

    What began 50 years ago is not history. It was a part of a mighty movement that started many years ago and that continues to this day – ordinary women and men proving they can perform extraordinary tasks in the pursuit of freedom.

    (Editor’s note: Julian Bond delivered this speech at the 50th anniversary reunion of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee earlier this month in Raleigh, N.C. In an earlier form, it was published some years ago in Monthly Review. Julian Bond was Communications Director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from l960 until l965; today he is Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC and a professor in the History Department at the University of Virginia. He is chairman emeritus of  the NAACP.)

    @ 2010 by Julian Bond

    Footnotes:


    [1] “Ballad of the Student Sit-ins”, words and music by Guy Carawan, Eve Merriam and Norma Curtis, Sing for Freedom, Ed. By Guy and Candie Carawan, A Singout Publication, Bethlehem, Pa. (1990).

    [2] Carter anecdote from Mary King, April 22, 1995.

    [3] Papers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (hereinafter “SNCC Papers”); Carson, Clayborne, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, Harvard University Press (1981); Zinn , Howard, SNCC: The New Abolitionists, Beacon Press (1965); Forman, James, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Open Hand Press (1985); Forman, 1967: High Tide of Black Resistance, SNCC (1967); Sellers, Cleveland, and Robert Terrell, The River of No Return, William Morrow & Co. (1973); Stoper, Emily, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Carlson Publishing Co. (1989); “Dear Friend”, find-raising letter from SNCC Chairman John Lewis, (1965) hereinafter “Lewis letter”.).

    [4] Morris, Aldon, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement, pp. 1-4, The Free Press, New York (1984).

    [5] “Statement submitted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Platform Committee of the National Democratic Convention, Thursday morning, July 7, 1960, Los Angeles, Ca.,” (SNCC Papers).

    [6] Forman, p 236.

    [7] Laue, James H., Direct Action and Desegregation, 1960-1963, p 252, Carlson Publishing Co., (1989).

    [8] Branch, Taylor, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, p 880, Simon & Schuster, (1988).

    [9] Atlanta Inquirer, March, l962.

    [10] Hughes, Langston, Fight for Freedom: The story of the NAACP, Berkeley Medallion Books, (l962).

    The Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE’s) southern staff  fluctuated between 5 and 10 in 1962 and l963; in 1964, CORE had 18 field secretaries in Mississippi; there were four CORE staff in Alabama in 1965. Meier, August and Elliot Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968, University of Illinois Press (1975).

    The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hired its first field secretary in 1960; in 1964 SCLC staff numbered 62. By summer, 1965, SCLC had staff in every southern state except Florida and Tennessee. Much of the organization’s work – like the NAACP’s efforts – were conducted through affiliates. Fairclough, Adam, To Redeem the Soul of America: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr., the University of Georgia Press (1990).

    [11] Fairclough, id.

    [12] Carson, p 71.

    [13] See The Economic Status of Blacks in Alabama, SNCC Research Office, 1965 (SNCC Papers).

    [14] Norman, Martha, Paper delivered to Civil Rights Conference, Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia, May 5, 1988.

    [15] Watters, Pat & Reese Cleghorn, Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Arrival of the Negro in Southern Politics, p 53, Harcourt, Brace & World (1967).

    [16] Note from Organizing Conference, April 14-17, 1960, Raleigh, North Carolina, Group leader Charles Jones (SNCC Papers).

    [17] SNCC Papers.

    [18] Letter from Robert Moses to Father LaBaure, St. Gabriel’s, Mound Bayou, Miss. (Sept 4, 1960) (SNCC Papers).

    [19] Forman, p 263.

    [20] Salter, John R., Jackson, Mississippi, pp. 32-33, Krieger Publishing Co. (1987).

    [21] McLemore, Leslie Burl, The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: A Case Study in Grass Roots Politics, pp. 106-249, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Massachusetts (1971),

    [22] Stoper, pp. 14-15.

    [23] Lewis letter.

    [24] Lawson, Steven, In Pursuit of Power: Southern Blacks and Electoral Politics, 1965-1982, p 94, Columbia University Press (1985).

    [25] McLemore, pp. 234-242.

    [26] 393 U. S. 544 (1969).

    [27] Parker, Frank, Black Votes Count, pp. 71-72, The University of North Carolina Press (1990).

    [28] Dittmer, John, The Good Doctors: the Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care, pg. xi, Bloomsbury Press, New York, (2009).

    [29] Dittmer, at xc.

    [30] Dittmer, at 271.

    [31] Sellers, p 133.

    [32] “The North was a different thing,” CORE Director James Farmer wrote. “Civil rights organizations had left the Northern poor to Malcolm X. … The movement had been means oriented up until the March on Washington, now as the poor in the streets came in, the Movement ceased being that. Ghetto folks had been politicized by the Muslims, by Malcolm X, and by others. They were not means oriented; they demanded results, concrete results.”  Farmer, James, Paper delivered to the Civil Rights Conference, Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia, May 5, 1988.

    [33] SNCC Papers.

    [34] Frye, Hardy Thomas, The Rise of a Black Political Party: Institutional Consequences of Emerging Political Consciousness, p 68, University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D. Thesis (1975).

    [35] Thelwell, Michael, The Massachusetts Review (1966).

    [36] SNCC Papers.

    [37] Barry, Marion, Memo to SNCC Executive Committee, March 15, 1966.

    [38] SNCC Papers; Ivanhoe Donaldson interview; William Hall interview, August 8, 1990; Carson, pp. 233-234.

    [39] SNCC Papers.

    [40] Letter from Donna Richards and Robert Moses to Dr. Horace Mann Bond, October 6, l965.

    [41] Atlanta Journal, March 22, l966; Interview with James Bond, August 10, 1990. The seven were John Lewis, James Bond, James Forman, Cleveland Sellers, Willie Ricks, Judy Richardson and William Hall.

    [42] Forman, pp. 480-492.

    [43] Forman, Resistance, pp. 25-27.

    [44] Morris, John B. ed., Black Elected Officials in the Southern States, The Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council (1969).

    ###
    Julian Bond

    Julian Bond

    A long-time leader in the civil rights movement, Julian Bond was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. From 1998 to 2010, he served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Earlier he was elected — first to the House and then to the Senate — in the Georgia General Assembly, where he served for two decades.

     

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