The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. SNCC’s founding conference was held April 18-18, 1060 also in Raleigh convened by Ella Baker of the South Christian Leadership Conference. According to Claybourne Carson in his history of SNCC, In the Struggle (Harvard University Press, 1981), Baker was the one who realize the student need for autonomy and encourage the founding of a separate student group. Many founders and early workers are now legendary. John Lewis, Robert Moses, Jane Stembridge, Marion Barry, Diane Nash, James Lawson, Ruby Doris Robinson, Stokely Carmichael, Willie Peacock, Julian Bond, Bob Zellner, Charles Sherrod, the list could go on and on. It is wonderful that they are all being celebrated.
According to the conference website
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced “Snick”) emerged from the student sit-ins that erupted on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although just four students launched these sit-ins, within two months thousands of students across the south were engaged in similar protests against racial segregation. On April 15, 1960, some 200 of these campus-based activists began meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina on the campus of what is now Shaw University and formed SNCC. In 1961, a handful of these activists committed to full-time work in the southern civil rights struggle; some of them postponing their college plans. SNCC became an organization of grassroots organizers.
Historians characterize SNCC as the movement’s “cutting edge”. Its “field secretaries” worked in the most dangerous parts of the south seeking to both cultivate and reinforce local leadership. Its uncompromising style of non-violent direct action confronted racial injustice throughout the South and contributed to the elimination of racial segregation. And SNCC’s unique “from-the-bottom-up” approach to organizing led to the emergence of powerful grassroots organizations.
With “One Man, One Vote” voter registration campaigns SNCC paved the way for a new generation of black elected officials across the south. By breaking the grip of “Dixiecrats” on southern politics they changed forever politics in America. It is this work that laid the foundation for the election of America’s first African-American President, Barack Obama.
NRP also had a story on Weekend Edition this morning.
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee has its 50th reunion this weekend. The civil rights group dates back to the first lunch counter demonstrations in Greensboro, N.C., that quickly spread across the South. One of the goals of the reunion is to get young people involved in tackling social, political and economic issues.
The story of Elwin Wilson’s apology to John Lewis was broadcast on NRP on April 16 as part of the coverage of SNCC’s 50th Anniversary.
Bunt Gill wipes raw egg off his clothing during a civil rights protest in February 1960 in downtown Rock Hill, S.C. Among the hecklers in the crowd is a young Elwin Wilson (center, wearing a football jersey). Wilson later admitted attacking John Lewis, now a Georgia Congressman, in May 1961. He has since apologized.
These photographs from the anniversary website were taken by Danny Lyon who was a photographer for SNCC and had an exhibit at the conference.
Of course times were very complicated and there were divisions between black and white students, between northern and southern student groups and eventually between movement men and movement women. I was too young to go south for Mississippi Summer, so I had to content myself with boycotting Woolworth’s and going to concerts by the Freedom Singers. By the time I was in college in 1965, I joined an SDS group and was very briefly an organizer for the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SOCC) in Virginia. SOCC was a southern “affiliate” of SDS and was founded at the time that SNCC was becoming a more militant, black organization. SOCC disbanded in 1969.
So it makes me happy to see that SNCC has come full circle and is welcoming an integrated group of third grade students from Oakland, CA as future civil rights leaders.
Happy Birthday, SNCC!
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