Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

largest student-led civil rights organization during the American Civil Rights Movement
(Redirected from SNCC)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, often pronounced /snɪk/ SNIK) was the principal channel of student commitment in the United States to the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Emerging in 1960 from the student-led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, the Committee sought to coordinate and assist direct-action challenges to the civic segregation and political exclusion of African Americans. From 1962, with the support of the Voter Education Project, SNCC committed to the registration and mobilization of black voters in the Deep South. Affiliates such as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama also worked to increase the pressure on federal and state government to enforce constitutional protections.

Quotes about SNCC edit

  • After SNCC came into existence, of course, it opened up a new era of struggle.
  • there were major problems within SNCC, especially around the role of women. The same thing happened with the BPP. It was in that context that I joined the Communist Party, precisely at that time. (TP: Because of gender and sexism and other internal problems going on in these organizations?) AD: Yes, but also because I felt the need to be a part of an organization that addressed class as well as race and gender.
    • 2014 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • there were also very strong sexist tendencies in the Black movement. In the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), for example, we women were running the office, but when the time came to publicly represent the organization at press conferences and rallies, the men would appear, taking credit for our work. We knew that something was wrong!
    • 1988 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • Today most political commentators or historians still do not want to give full credit to the effectiveness of SNCC, but many of the most powerful and successful struggles of the Civil rights movement were initiated and won by SNCC, including most of the voting rights struggles and the Mississippi phase of the freedom movement.
  • Along with the economic exploitation that the whole state of Mississippi inflicts upon the Negro, there was the ever-present problem of physical violence. As we rode along the dusty roads of the Delta country, our companions cited unbelievable cases of police brutality and incidents of Negroes being brutally murdered by white mobs. In spite of this, there was a ray of hope. This ray of hope was seen in the new determination of the Negroes themselves to be free. Under the leadership of Bob Moses, a team of more than a thousand Northern white students and local Negro citizens had instituted a program of voter registration and political action that was one of the most creative attempts I had seen to radically change the oppressive life of the Negro in that entire state and possibly the entire nation. The Negroes in Mississippi had begun to learn that change would come in that lawless, brutal police state only as Negroes reformed the political structure of the area. They had begun this reform in 1964 through the Freedom Democratic Party. The enormity of the task was inescapable. We would have had to put the field staffs of SCLC, NAACP, CORE, SNCC, and a few other agencies to work in the Delta alone. However, no matter how big and difficult a task it was, we began. We encouraged our people in Mississippi to rise up by the hundreds and thousands and demand their freedom-now!
  • Increasing numbers of black leaders wanted to fight segregation with segregation, imposing a black-only social order that at least paid lip service to excluding even white reporters from press briefings. In 1966 Carmichael became head of SNCC, replacing John Lewis, a soft-spoken southerner who advocated nonviolence. Carmichael turned SNCC into an aggressive Black Power organization, and in so doing Black Power became a national movement. In May 1967 Hubert “Rap” Brown, who had not been a well-known figure in the civil rights movement, replaced Carmichael as the head of SNCC, which by now was nonviolent in name only. In that summer of bloody riots, Brown said at a press conference, “I say you better get a gun. Violence is necessary—it is as American as cherry pie.”
  • In the present era of devalued dreams and mocked hopes, we need to confront immoral power with moral power. That was the message of SNCC founder Ella Baker and the essence of the 1960s movements.
  • In the Black civil rights movement, as in the Chicano, Asian/Pacific American, Puerto Rican, and Native American movements of those years, youth led the way in fighting oppression. Before that, the Black struggle in this century had usually centered on professionals or community leaders and middle-class or working class adults, often profoundly brave, persistent and self-sacrificing people. Young activists were everywhere but not the base of rebellion and not the recognized leadership. All that changed in the 1960s. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which initiated the Mississippi Summer Project, had all the hallmarks of youth. Its young black field secretaries and other staff set a tone and style of work that celebrated boldness, energy, untraditional creativity, informality, democratic procedure, and sometimes breathtaking courage. Another reason for today's youthful interest in that era probably rises from the idea of "black and white together, we shall overcome." No matter how complicated or flawed, that goal resonated powerfully through the southern freedom struggle. As an ideal, black/white unity inspired thousands of people from north to south who dreamed of equal rights and opportunity won by joint struggle. The Mississippi Summer Project thereby continued a historic tradition of white anti-racist activism that stands as an alternative to the tradition of white racist activism. Such an alternative does exist and whites can choose to join an honorable tradition or a hateful one. Such a choice demands to be made yesterday, today, and at all times every day.
    • Elizabeth Martinez, Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers and Freedom School Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer (2007 edition)
  • 1968 was also the year when the whole picture with SNCC was kind of beginning to decline. SNCC was talking about forming an alliance with the Black Panther Party, which didn’t work out very well for various reasons that you probably know about, and Eldridge Cleaver and so forth and so on. And so it was a whole lot of ideological confusion, confusion about where do we go from here, and there was a group in Atlanta that was very much more inclined towards Islamic beliefs and having nothing do with white folks, and Jim Forman was saying we need to study Marxism, and took a group to Africa. I mean, there was different pulls, but there was no one clear vision that prevailed at that time, and the only thing that some people were clear about was getting rid of the white folks in SNCC, but even doing that didn’t (unclear). So they didn’t know what me and Maria Varela were — nobody quite knew. Neither did we. I was just SNCC, you know? That’s all. I’m SNCC. That’s what I am. I wasn’t even thinking any other way. And I don’t think she was either, to tell you the truth. So nobody kicked us out, but nobody kicked us in, either. I don’t know. (laughs) We weren’t black; we weren’t white. At that time, as you know, there was no — the racial definition in this country was strictly black and white.
  • Ella Baker was really sort of the godmother for SNCC. I met Ella in the summer of 1960. And in the spring of 1960, she had taken the initiative to get the student sit-in energy at Shaw, her alma mater, and held off on the big civil rights leaders, to say, “Look, the kids ought to have the opportunity to manage their own insurgency,” right? And so, SNCC was the encapsulation of the sit-in movement, the energy of the sit-in movement, right? And so, that — and SNCC took that energy into the Freedom Rides, because it was the SNCC energy which said to the president of the United States and the attorney general, “It doesn’t matter what you’re saying, that, you know, there’s some danger here. Our lives are in danger, but we’ve decided that, with our lives, this is what we want to do.” Right? And so, SNCC, really, and those students became the example for students all over the country — right? — the idea that students should draw a line in the sand and say, “Look, that’s it. That’s enough. We don’t want to live in this country unless we can change it...There are a lot of young people that came out of SNCC, and not just came out of SNCC, but people who came down in to work in the Freedom Summer and spread out into the country — Mario Savio, right? — people in a lot of the different movements in the country. Bernice Reagon, who also came out of SNCC, and Sweet Honey in the Rock, that group of singers, all those were inspired by SNCC. And Bernice says the civil rights movement was the “borning movement,” right? It was — and SNCC was right at the heart of that borning movement.
  • Going south gave northern Jewish women an opportunity to create existential meaning in their lives through moral action. Going south also provided adventure, "authentic" experience (in which theory and practice were linked), a sense of community, and escape from boring jobs, difficult families, and the prospect of marriage and life in suburbia. The movement offered these women the chance to learn from some of the most exciting activist/theorists in the country-people who worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) such as Ella Baker, Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Forman, Charles McDew, Stokely Carmichael, and a host of unsung local heroes.
    • Debra L. Schultz Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (2002)
  • I idolize Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker. And they are supreme examples of what being freedom fighters, principled, fearless — or at least courageous. There’s a difference between being fearless and being courageous. Courageous is actually better, because everyone should have some fear about what might actually harm them. And, of course, Fannie Lou Hamer paid a huge price for wanting to do something as seemingly ordinary as vote. But in the Jim Crow South of that era, Black people, virtually none of them were allowed to vote. She paid a permanent price because of the beating that she received. And I just found out yesterday, if you can believe it, after all these years, that she actually was blinded in one eye. She is known for having worked with SNCC, doing voter organizing and other kinds of antiracist organizing during that Jim Crow era, and then, of course, speaking out so powerfully at the 1964 Democratic convention about what went on in Mississippi, and asking the very, very, very relevant question: “Is this America?”...I actually had the great, great pleasure and honor of meeting Fannie Lou Hamer when I was a teenager in Cleveland in 1965 and was very involved in the civil rights movement as a young person.
  • In 1969, Ella Baker, SNCC’s great mentor, pointed us in the direction of meaningful action when she said, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed.” This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning – getting down to and understanding the root cause. Baker continued, “It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
  • What SNCC taught me was that I needed to act in my own community. It took me some time to put all of this together but finally, eleven years ago, I went to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for the first time. Based on what I saw with my own eyes and the anguish I felt in my own heart I became a Jewish activist against Israeli governmental policies of injustice and inequality.

SNCC: The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn (1964) edit

  • With $800 of SCLC money, the prestige of Martin Luther King, the organizing wisdom of Ella Baker, and the enthusiasm of the rare young people who were leading the new student movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born.
  • For the first time in our history a major social movement, shaking the nation to its bones, is being led by youngsters. This is not to deny the inspirational leadership of a handful of adults (Martin Luther King and James Farmer), the organizational direction by veterans in the struggle (Roy Wilkins and A. Philip Randolph), or the participation of hundreds of thousands of older people in the current Negro revolt. But that revolt, a long time marching out of the American past, its way suddenly lit up by the Supreme Court decision, and beginning to rumble in earnest when thousands of people took to the streets of Montgomery in the bus boycott, first flared into a national excitement with the sit-ins by college students that started the decade of the 1960's. And since then, those same youngsters, hardened by countless jailings and beatings, now out of school and living in ramshackle headquarters all over the Deep South, have been striking the sparks, again and again, for that fire of change spreading through the South and searing the whole country. These young rebels call themselves the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but they are more a movement than an organization, for no bureaucratized structure can contain their spirit, no printed program capture the fierce and elusive quality of their thinking. And while they have no famous leaders, very little money, no inner access to the seats of national authority, they are clearly the front line of the Negro assault on the moral comfort of white America.
  • All Americans owe them a debt for-if nothing else-releasing the idealism locked so long inside a nation that has not recently tasted the drama of a social upheaval. And for making us look on the young people of the country with a new respect. Theirs was the silent generation until they spoke, the complacent generation until they marched and sang, the money-seeking generation until they renounced comfort and security to fight for justice in the dank and dangerous hamlets of the Black Belt.
  • By early 1964, the number was up to 150. In the most heated days of abolitionism before the Civil War, there were never that many dedicated people who turned their backs on ordinary pursuits and gave their lives wholly to the movement. There were William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips and Theodore Weld and Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and a handful of others, and there were hundreds of part-time abolitionists and thousands of followers. But for 150 youngsters today to turn on their pasts, to decide to live and work twenty-four hours a day in the most dangerous region of the United States, is cause for wonder. And wherever they have come from the Negro colleges of the South, the Ivy League universities of the North, the small and medium colleges all over the country-they have left ripples of astonishment behind. This college generation as a whole is not committed, by any means. But it has been shaken.
  • There is another striking contrast to Garrison and Phillips, Lewis Tappan and Theodore Weld: these young people are not middle-class reformers who became somehow concerned about others. They come themselves from the ranks of the victims, not just because they are mostly Negroes, but because for the most part their fathers are janitors and laborers, their mothers maids and factory workers.
  • there is no doubt about it: we have in this country today a movement which will take its place alongside that of the abolitionists, the Populists, the Progressives-and may outdo them all.
  • They are happy warriors, a refreshing contrast to the revolutionaries of old. They smile and wave while being taken off in paddy wagons; they laugh and sing behind bars. Yet they are the most serious social force in the nation today.
  • They are radical, but not dogmatic; thoughtful, but not ideological. Their thinking is undisciplined; it is fresh, and it is new.
  • To visit SNCC field headquarters in these rural outposts of the Deep South is like visiting a combat station in wartime...Over every one of these headquarters in the field, whether a "Freedom House" rented by SNCC, or a home or office donated by a local supporter, there hangs the constant threat of violence. The first SNCC headquarters in Selma was burned down; in Greenwood, two SNCC workers found themselves under siege by a mob of armed men and had to make their way over rooftops to safety; in Danville, police simply marched into the SNCC office and arrested everyone in sight.
  • These are young radicals; the word "revolution" occurs again and again in their speech. Yet they have no party, no ideology, no creed. They have no clear idea of a blueprint for a future society. But they do know clearly that the values of present American society and this goes beyond racism to class distinction, to commercialism, to profit-seeking, to the setting of religious or national barriers against human contact-are not for them.
  • Next to the phrase "nonviolence," however, what you hear most often among SNCC workers is "direct action." They believe, without inflicting violence, and while opening themselves to attack, in confronting a community boldly with the sounds and sights of protest. When it is argued that this will inevitably bring trouble, even violence, the answer is likely to be that given by James Bevel, who in his activity with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference works closely with SNCC in Alabama and Mississippi: "Maybe the Devil has got to come out of these people before we will have peace...."
  • these people are living, hour by hour, the ideals which this country has often thought about, but not yet managed to practice: they are courageous, though afraid; they live and work together in a brotherhood of black and white. Southerner and Northerner, Jew and Christian and agnostic, the likes of which this country has not yet seen. They are creating new definitions of success, of happiness, of democracy. It is just possible that the momentum created by their enormous energy-now directed against racial separation-may surge, before it can be contained, against other barriers which keep people apart in the world: poverty, and nationalism, and all tyranny over the minds and bodies of men. If so, the United States may truly be on the verge of a revolution-nonviolent, but sweeping in its consequences and led by those who, perhaps, are most dependable in a revolution: the young.
  • SNCC workers have found that F.B.I. men in the South often share the segregationist views of the people around them; this is reflected in the lack of enthusiasm which F.B.I. men show in handling civil rights cases. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer once told an F.B.I. agent, "If I get to heaven and I see you there, I will tell St. Peter to send me on back to Mississippi!"

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