Celebrating the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee: The Engine and Energy of the Civil Rights Movement
Surely, Martin Luther King had the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in mind when he asserted: â€śI am convinced that the student movement that was taking place all over the South in 1960 was one of the most significant developments in the whole civil rights struggle. It was no overstatement to characterize these events as historic. Never before in the United States had so large a body of students spread a struggle over so great an area in pursuit of human dignity and freedom.â€ť Thus, out of the crucible of struggle, SNCC (pronounced â€śSnickâ€ť) emerged as the leading and most important civil rights organization in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The achievements of SNCC are unparalleled.
Birth of SNCC
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC 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. Ella Baker, one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century, saw the potential for a new paradigm of leadership and organizational model for the Civil Rights Movement, an organization which could revitalize the freedom movement. Baker wanted to bring together the leaders and of the sit-ins in a way that would sustain the momentum of the sit-in movement.
Under the auspice of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), on April 15, 1960, Baker called together some 300 campus-based activists at Raleigh, North Carolina on the campus of Shaw University to discuss and assess their respective struggles and explore the possibility of a new organizational structure and approach. From this working conference SNCC was formed, became a national touchstone for the movement, and basically laid a blueprint for youth organizing for generations to come.
SNCC: In Struggle
SNCC came to the attention of the American public in 1961 through the Freedom Rides, garnering visibility and recognition as a major political force in the civil rights movement. Â After the Freedom Rides, SNCC was viewed as the movementâ€™s shock troops. They were able at critical junctures to mobilize people to go to sites of intensified racial conflict: Birmingham in 1963, Selma in 1965, and James Meredithâ€™s short-circuited one-man march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, in the summer of 1966. Moreover, SNCC changed the face of the civil rights movement by sending young organizers into some of the most dangerous parts of the Delta to register poor black voters and help change the political landscape of the South as well as cultivating and reinforcing local leadership. Its uncompromising style of non-violent direct action confronted racial injustice throughout the South contributed to the elimination of racial segregation.
SNCC approach to organizing represented a major shift in the way civil rights groups operated in the South. First, they built ties to the rural and small-town black poor. SNCC activists work with blacks who had little formal education, asking them to analyze the situation around them and helped them shape the agenda for change. This was a major departure from the approach of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which operated from a top-down approach, believing that leadership came from the educated.
The Last Influence of SNCC
The contributions of SNCC to the Civil Rights Movement are significant and fundamental and laid the basis for 1960s activism and the Vietnam Peace, womenâ€™s and black student movements. Further SNCC produced a generation of leaders whose influence reaches from the 1960s to the present. Â SNCCâ€™s unique â€śfrom-the-bottom-upâ€ť approach to organizing led to the emergence of powerful community organizations. With voter registration campaigns and the 1964 Freedom Summer, SNCC paved the way for a new generation of black elected officials across the south. By breaking the grip of â€śDixiecratsâ€ť on southern politics they changed forever politics in America. It is this work that laid the foundation for the election of Americaâ€™s first African-American President, Barack Obama.
The student movement led the opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The protests gained momentum from the Civil Rights Movement that had organized to oppose segregation laws, which had laid a foundation of theory and infrastructure on which the anti-war movement grew.
The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. It was made up mainly of members of the middle class, and thus partook of the spirit of rebellion that affected large segments of middle-class youth in the 1960s.
During the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, Black students were experiencing racism from the long-standing segregationist policies of many of the universities they attended. Shortly after the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles, San Francisco State College became the focus of national attention as the campus erupted in protest demonstrations and turmoil. Shortly after the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles, San Francisco State College became the focus of national attention as the campus erupted in protest demonstrations and turmoil. With Black Student Unions essentially installed on all California campuses, the highly organized student unions began making demands on university administrators to stay the course for educational equality or else potentially face economically crippling mass demonstrations and protests on their campuses.