Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

views updated Jun 27 2018

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Excerpt from "The Basis of Black Power," 1966
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, 2003; also available online at

"Negroes in this country have never been allowed to organize themselves because of white interference. As a result of this, the stereotype has been reinforced that blacks cannot organize themselves."

On February 1, 1960, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat down at an all-white Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, to order some coffee. When the waitress refused to serve them, the students stayed, stating that they would not leave until they could place an order. The four remained sitting at the counter quietly without service for about an hour until the store closed. The next day, nearly thirty students occupied the lunch counter for about two hours, attracting the attention of local news reporters. The day after that, sixty-six black students filled nearly every seat at the lunch counter. After a week of steady protests, no black student had been served at the lunch counter, and the Woolworth's manager decided to close the store temporarily. Students at other colleges became inspired to organize their own sit-ins. By the end of April, more than 50,000 protestors, mostly students, had staged nonviolent sit-ins in every southern state.

To organize their efforts, several of the student sit-in protestors gathered at a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 16, 1960. The result of the conference was the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "snick"). One of the founding principles of the organization was nonviolence. Members agreed that in order to win the support of nonblacks, they must never respond with acts of violence, even if attacked. During the first half of the 1960s, SNCC members strictly followed their doctrine of nonviolence. Some members were beaten; others shot. And when these attacks hit newsstands and aired on television, SNCC won supporters.

Cooperative black and white civil rights activism culminated on August 28, 1963, when 250,000 people rallied at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in support of the proposal of civil rights legislation introduced by President John F. Kennedy. During the rally, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech that envisioned a color-blind society. All three television networks broadcast the speech to millions of viewers. But for SNCC, this rally marked not a victory, but a real disappointment with the struggle for civil rights. SNCC chairman John Lewis (1940–) had planned to publicly criticize the Kennedy administration for proposing civil rights legislation that did too little to really help blacks. Although other civil rights leaders at the rally persuaded Lewis to temper his speech that day, Lewis and other SNCC members did not let go of their angry disappointment at the slowness of progress within the civil rights movement.

By the mid-1960s, the strategy of SNCC officially changed when Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) gained control of the organization. Speaking in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1966, Carmichael announced: "The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin' us is to take over. We've been saying freedom for six years—and we ain't got nothin'. What we gonna start saying now is 'Black Power,'" according to The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s. Under Carmichael's leadership, SNCC produced a position paper, titled "The Basis of Black Power," in 1966 that outlined a new strategy for success: one that would exclude whites from the organization and made a case for excluding interaction between blacks and whites in all facets of society.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "The Basis of Black Power":

  • While SNCC members had hoped that white support would help their efforts to win civil rights, by the late 1960s SNCC members found support from whites complicated. White protestors often did not receive the same harsh treatment as black SNCC protestors. And if they were killed, white protestors were mourned by the nation but the deaths of black protestors were often ignored by national news organizations.
  • In 1964 SNCC members and other civil rights activists organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as an alternative to the established all-white Democratic Party. When the MFDP candidates failed to gain entrance to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, SNCC and other activists felt betrayed and angry, and they believed that the established white community would never live up to the promise of a fully integrated, equal society.
  • By 1964 SNCC had abandoned its regular seminars to promote nonviolence and completely abandoned the idea by the end of the 1960s.
  • SNCC membership voted to expel all whites from the organization in 1967.

Excerpt from "The Basis of Black Power"

The myth that the Negro is somehow incapable of liberating himself, is lazy, etc., came out of the American experience. In the books that children read, whites are always good (good symbols are white), blacks are evil or seen as savages in movies, their language is referred to as adialect , and black people in this country are supposedly descended from savages.

Any white person who comes into the movement has the concepts in his mind about black people, if only subconsciously. He cannot escape them because the whole society has geared his subconscious in that direction.

Miss America coming from Mississippi has a chance to represent all of America, but a black person from either Mississippi or New York will never represent America. Thus the white people coming into the movement cannot relate to the black experience, cannot relate to the word black, cannot relate to thenitty gritty , cannot relate to the experience that brought such a word into existence, cannot relate tochitterlings , hog's head cheese , pig feet , ham hocks , and cannot relate to slavery, because these things are not a part of their experience. They also cannot relate to the black religious experience, nor to the black church, unless, of course, this church has taken on white manifestations.

White Power

Negroes in this country have never been allowed to organize themselves because of white interference. As a result of this, the stereotype has been reinforced that blacks cannot organize themselves. The white psychology that blacks have to be watched, also reinforces this stereotype. Blacks, in fact, feel intimidated by the presence of whites, because of their knowledge of the power that whites have over their lives. One white person can come into a meeting of black people and change the complexion of that meeting.… People would immediately start talking about brotherhood, love, etc.; race would not be discussed.

If people must express themselves freely, there has to be a climate in which they can do this. If blacks feel intimidated by whites, then they are not liable to vent the rage that they feel about whites in the presence of whites—especially not the black people whom we are trying to organize, i.e., the broad masses of black people. A climate has to be created whereby blacks can express themselves. The reasons that whites must be excluded is not that one is anti-white, but because the effects that one is trying to achieve cannot succeed because whites have an intimidating effect. Ofttimes, the intimidating effect is in direct proportion to the amount of degradation that black people have suffered at the hands of white people.

Roles of Whites and Blacks

It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest.The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and saying that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind ofpaternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.

People now have the right to picket, the right to give out leaflets, the right to vote, the right to demonstrate, the right to print.

These things which revolve around the right to organize have been accomplished mainly because of the entrance of white people into Mississippi, in the summer of 1964. Since these goals have now been accomplished, whites' role in the movement has now ended. What does it mean if black people, once having the right to organize, are not allowed to organize themselves? It means that blacks' ideas about inferiority are being reinforced. Shouldn't people be able to organize themselves? Blacks should be given this right. Further, white participation means in the eyes of the black community that whites are the brains behind the movement, and that blacks cannot function without whites. This only serves to perpetuate existing attitudes within the existing society, i.e., blacks are dumb, unable to take care of business, etc. Whites are smart, the brains behind the whole thing.


In the beginning of the movement, we had fallen into a trap whereby we thought that our problems revolved around the right to eat at certain lunch counters or the right to vote, or to organize our communities. We have seen, however, that the problem is much deeper. The problem of this country, as we had seen it, concerned all blacks and all whites and therefore if decisions were left to the young people, then solutions would be arrived at. But this negates the history of black people and whites. We have dealtstringently with the problem ofUncle Tom , but we have not yet gotten around toSimon Legree . We must ask ourselves, who is the real villain—Uncle Tom or Simon Legree? Everybody knows Uncle Tom, but who knows Simon Legree? So what we have now in SNCC is a closed society, a clique. Black people cannot relate to SNCC because of its unrealistic,nonracial atmosphere; denying their experience of America as a racist society. In contrast, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Martin Luther King, Jr., has a staff that at least maintains a black facade. The front office is virtually all black, but nobody accuses SCLC of being racist.

If we are to proceed toward true liberation, we must cut ourselves off from white people. We must form our own institutions, credit unions, co-ops, political parties, write our own histories.

To proceed further, let us make some comparisons between the Black Movement of the early 1900s and the movement of the 1960s—i.e., compare the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with SNCC. Whites subverted the Niagara movement (the forerunner of the NAACP) which, at the outset, was an all-black movement. The name of the new organization was also very revealing, in that it presupposed blacks have to advanced to the level of whites. We are now aware that the NAACP has grown reactionary, is controlled by the black power structure itself, and stands as one of the main roadblocks to black freedom. SNCC, by allowing the whites to remain in the organization, can have its efforts subverted in much the same manner, i.e., through having them play important roles such as community organizers, etc. Indigenous leadership cannot be built with whites in the positions they now hold.

These facts do not mean that whites cannot help. They can participate on a voluntary basis. We can contract work out to them, but in no way can they participate on a policy-making level.

Black Self-Determination

The charge may be made that we are racists, but whites who are sensitive to our problems will realize that we must determine our own destiny.

In an attempt to find a solution to our dilemma, we propose that our organization (SNCC) should be black-staffed, black-controlled, and black-financed. We do not want to fall into a similar dilemma that other civil rights organizations have fallen into. If we continue to rely upon white financial support we will find ourselves entwined in thetentacles of the white power complex that controls this country. It is also important that a black organization (devoid ofcultism ) be projected to our people so that it can be demonstrated that such organizations areviable .

More and more we see black people in this country being used as a tool of the white liberal establishment. Liberal whites have not begun to address themselves to the real problem of black people in this country–witness their bewilderment, fear, and anxiety whennationalism is mentioned concerning black people. An analysis of the white liberal's reaction to the word nationalism alone reveals a very meaningful attitude of whites of anideological persuasion toward blacks in this country. It means previous solutions to black problems in this country have been made in the interests of those whites dealing with these problems and not in the best interests of black people in the country. Whites can only subvert our true search and struggles forself-determination , self-identification, and liberation in this country. Reevaluation of the white and black roles must now take place so that white no longer designate roles that black people play but rather black people define white people's roles.

Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them to tell us what was good about our Afro-Americanmusic, art, and literature. How many black critics do we have on the jazz scene? How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche (except in the oppressor's role) interpret the meaning of the blues to us who are manifestations of the song themselves?

It must be pointed out that on whatever level of contact blacks and whites come together, that meeting or confrontation is not on the level of the blacks but always on the level of the whites. This only means that our everyday contact with whites is a reinforcement of themyth of white supremacy . Whites are the ones who must try to raise themselves to our humanistic level. We are not, after all, the ones who are responsible for a genocidal war in Vietnam; we are not the ones who are responsible forneocolonialism in Africa and Latin America; we are not the ones who held a people in animalistic bondage over 400 years. We reject the American dream as defined by white people and must work to construct an American reality defined by Afro-Americans.…

What happened next…

In 1967 more than 150 American cities reported riots or, as black activists called them, "rebellions." Huge numbers of rioters burned city blocks and fought with police and National Guardsmen. The eruption of riots helped cement SNCC members' belief that nonviolent protest was no longer effective. Activists banded together with a sense of resistance to white society and common brother and sisterhood that came to be called "Black Power."

SNCC became an increasingly radical group throughout the later years of the 1960s. SNCC cooperated with the Black Panther Party starting in 1968, sharing offices and organizing rallies and violence. The Black Panther Party came to be known as one of the most violent groups supporting "Black Power." Many of the group's members were killed or imprisoned after conflicts with police in Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland, California.

SNCC leaders Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998) and H. Rap Brown (1943–) gained national reputations as black radicals. Although Carmichael was kicked out of SNCC in 1968 for advocating violence in cities, when Brown succeeded him as chairman he took the word "Nonviolent" out of the name and renamed SNCC the Student National Coordinating Committee, to reflect the organization's willingness to react violently if necessary.

The surge of violent protests united blacks, but also gave rise to conservative, white politicians who began focusing attention on liberal government policies that they linked to riots and other civil rights violence. Some of the most prominent conservative politicians during the era were Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), who won the California governorship in 1966, and George Wallace (1919–1998), who began campaigning for the presidency in 1967.

Ultimately, as protestors grew more violent and others grew more conservative, both blacks and whites, no matter their opinion of the civil rights movement, had a hard time figuring out the truth about the causes of riots and the solutions for the civil strife. By the early 1970s, SNCC lost its momentum as its leaders spent increasing amounts of time dodging legal troubles. Brown was imprisoned in 1971 for robbing a tavern, and without his leadership SNCC dissolved as a forceful political group.

Did you know…

  • In 1960 blacks made up approximately 10 percent of the American population.
  • In 1967 the prominent African American newspaper, the Amsterdam News of New York, announced that it would no longer use the term "Negro."
  • Martin Luther King Jr. and the leaders of the NAACP vocally opposed the embrace of violence promoted by SNCC and other groups in the late 1960s.
  • Many members of SNCC became powerful politicians: Marion Barry became mayor of Washington, D.C., Julian Bond served as a Georgia senator, and John Lewis served as a Georgia congressman.

Consider the following…

  • Explain why SNCC members may have changed their view from nonviolent protest.
  • Do you think nonviolent protests would be effective if violent attacks from opponents to these protests were not reported by television cameras or newspapers? Explain your opinion.
  • What do you think SNCC gained from expelling white supporters from membership?

For More Information


Bloom, Alexander, and Wini Breines, eds. "Takin' It to the Streets": A Sixties Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Farber, David. The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Farber, David, and Beth Bailey, with others. The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam, 1987; revised, 1993.

Dialect: A variation of a language that is distinguished by unique vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and is used by a distinct group or in a particular region.

Nitty gritty: The everyday experiences.

Chitterlings, hog's head cheese, pig feet, ham hocks: Various pork dishes traditional to Southern black culture.

Paternalism: The practice of governing or managing individuals in a manner similar to that of a father dealing with his children.

Stringently: Severely.

Uncle Tom: The character in the book Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose name became slang for any black acting in a submissive or deferential way toward whites.

Simon Legree: The character of the brutal slave trader in the book Uncle Tom's Cabin whose name became slang for any harsh authority figure.

Tentacles: Extensions of a larger body with the ability to grasp.

Cultism: Like a cult, a group obsessively committed to an idea.

Viable: Capable of working.

Nationalism: Devotion to and promotion of the interests and culture of a particular nation.

Ideological persuasion: A certain mind-set or attitude.

Self-determination: The free choice of a people about their own political status.

Myth of white supremacy: The idea of white superiority.

Neocolonialism: A governmental policy of influencing a less powerful nation by economic and political means.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

views updated May 18 2018

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Complete text of "Position Paper On Vietnam," January 6, 1966
Reprinted from "Takin' It to the Streets:" A Sixties Reader, published in 2003; also available online at

"The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee has a right and a responsibility to dissent with United States foreign policy on any issue when it sees fit. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee now states its opposition to the United States' involvement in Vietnam on these grounds.…"

The 1960s are known for the many organized movements that worked to bring about social change. Student activists, women's rights activists, gay rights activists, and civil rights activists, among others, are a few examples of groups that organized to press for important changes they felt were needed to ensure that all Americans had access to equal rights. In the late 1950s, some college students had participated in nonviolent sit-ins to protest the separation according to race in eating facilities, pools, theaters, and other public facilities in the South. These students were deeply influenced by the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), who advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to bring about social change. In 1960 a group of these students organized themselves into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC (pronounced "snick") participated in the famous Freedom Rides of 1961, in which students integrated bus service in southern states, and helped organize the massive March on Washington in 1963.

Under the leadership of founder John Lewis (1940–) SNCC devoted itself to integrating facilities restricted by race and to expanding voting rights for African Americans, but by the late 1960s the group had grown more radical. SNCC president Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998), elected in 1966, grew impatient with the group's efforts to bring about gradual change. He pushed the group to advocate for sweeping social change, and he aligned the group with the radical Black Power movement, a movement that called for militant action by armed blacks.

In the position paper reprinted below, which was first released in January of 1966, SNCC links its resistance to U.S. policy in Vietnam with America's failure to assure civil rights or equality at home. The paper charges the United States government with being hypocritical, with pretending to take a virtuous stand and with saying one thing but actually doing something very different. This charge had special significance in the 1960s, when young people especially were concerned with being "authentic" and "true to themselves," and thought that older people were willing to betray their ideals in support of the government.

Things to remember while reading the SNCC "Position Paper On Vietnam":

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee "Position Paper On Vietnam"

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee has a right and a responsibility to dissent with United States foreign policy on any issue when it sees fit. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee now states its opposition to the United States' involvement in Vietnam on these grounds:

We believe the United States government has been deceptive in its claims of concern for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, just as the government has been deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of colored people in other countries [such] as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia, and in the United States itself.

We, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, have been involved in the black people's struggle for liberation and self-determination in this country for the past five years. Our work, particularly in the South, has taught us that the United States government has never guaranteed the freedom of oppressed citizens, and is not yet truly determined to end the rule of terror and oppression within its own borders.

We ourselves have often been victims of violence and confinement executed by United States governmental officials. We recall the numerous persons who have been murdered in the South because oftheir efforts to secure their civil and human rights, and whose murderers have been allowed to escape penalty for their crimes.

The murder ofSamuel Young in Tuskegee, Alabama, is no different than the murder of peasants in Vietnam, for both Young and the Vietnamese sought, and are seeking, to secure the rights guaranteed them by law. In each case, the United States government bears a great part of the responsibility for these deaths.

Samuel Young was murdered because United States law is not being enforced. Vietnamese are murdered because the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy in violation of international law. The United States is no respecter of persons or law when such persons or laws run counter to its needs or desires.

We recall the indifference, suspicion and outright hostility with which our reports of violence have been met in the past by government officials.

We know that for the most part, elections in this country, in the North as well as the South, are not free. We have seen that the1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1966 Civil Rights Act have not yet been implemented with full federal power and sincerity.

We question, then, the ability and even the desire of the United States government to guarantee free elections abroad. We maintain that our country's cry of "preserve freedom in the world" is ahypocritical mask , behind which it squashes liberation movements which are not bound, and refuse to be bound, by theexpediencies of United States cold war policies.

We are in sympathy with, and support, the men in this country who are unwilling to respond to amilitary draft which would compel them to contribute their lives to United States aggression in Vietnam in the name of the "freedom" we find so false in this country.

We recoil with horror at the inconsistency of a supposedly "free" society where responsibility to freedom is equated with the responsibility to lend oneself to military aggression. We take note of the fact that 16% of the draftees from this country are Negroes called on to stifle the liberation of Vietnam, to preserve a "democracy" which does not exist for them at home.

We ask, where is the draft for the freedom fight in the United States?

We therefore encourage those Americans who prefer to use their energy in building democratic forms within this country. We believe that work in the civil rights movement and with other human relations organizations is a valid alternative to the draft. We urge all Americans to seek this alternative, knowing full well that it may cost them their lives—as painfully as in Vietnam.

What happened next…

Statements made by civil rights leaders and groups like SNCC had a powerful influence, for many people recognized and admired the moral position that these groups had taken. Like SNCC, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the war. Soon after this position paper was issued, however, SNCC's influence began to decline. Like many protest groups of the era, especially those founded by young people without a great deal of experience in holding together large organizations, SNCC fell apart as its members squabbled over the direction the group should take. Certain members' struggles for power drove other members from the organization. SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael left the group in 1968 to lead California's Black Panther party, a radical black political group. James Forman took over the leadership of the organization, but it ceased to exert a major influence in the civil rights struggle and faded away in the early 1970s.

Did you know…

  • African Americans served and died in the Vietnam War in disproportionate numbers. From 1961 to 1966, African Americans made up 13 percent of the American population but accounted for nearly 20 percent of combat-related deaths. In 1965 alone, African Americans accounted for nearly one-fourth of those killed in battle. Late in the war, when military leaders were made aware of this problem, they began to direct black soldiers away from frontline combat positions.
  • Many of America's wealthiest and more privileged young men were able to avoid service in the Vietnam War through draft deferments, or special exemptions given to people who fit in certain categories. For example, those who were attending a four-year university or graduate school received deferments for most of the war, as did those who supervised four or more workers. Two American presidents—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—were criticized because they sought exemptions from service during the Vietnam War years. As a result of these deferments, the makeup of the armed forces tended to be dominated by members of the working classes and minorities.

Consider the following…

  • If you were a newspaper reporter writing on SNCC's position on Vietnam, how would you summarize its charges?
  • Do you think that SNCC's complaints about the war in Vietnam were legitimate?
  • When SNCC founder John Lewis campaigned for the U.S. Congress in 1986, his opponents took him to court claiming that his statements urging people to resist the draft disqualified him from public office. If you were the judge presiding on this case, how would you rule? Why?

For More Information


Bloom, Alexander, and Wini Breines, eds. "Takin' It to the Streets": A Sixties Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Farber, David. The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Super, Neil. Vietnam War Soldiers. New York: Twenty-First Century Books, 1993.

Tucker, Spencer C. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. 3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.

Westheider, James E. Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Web sites

Battlefield: (accessed on August 1, 2004).

"Sixties Project: Primary Document Archive," The Sixties Project. (accessed on August 1, 2004).

Vietnam (accessed on August 1, 2004).

Samuel Young: A SNCC activist murdered for defending a black girl's right to drink from a water fountain.

Hypocritical mask : This refers to the idea that the United States says one thing and does another.

Expediencies : Actions taken to achieve a goal, without regard for ideals.

Military draft : The system by which men between the ages of 18 and 34 were randomly selected to join the military.

Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee

views updated Jun 08 2018


As a focal point for student activism in the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, popularly called Snick) spearheaded major initiatives in the civil rights movement. At the forefront of integration efforts, SNCC volunteers gained early recognition for their lunch counter sit-ins at whites-only businesses and later for their participation in historic demonstrations that helped pave the way for the passage of landmark federal civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965. SNCC made significant gains in voter registration for blacks in the South, where it also ran schools and health clinics. Later adopting a more radical agenda, it ultimately became identified with the black power movement and distanced itself from traditional civil rights leaders, before disbanding in 1970.

SNCC grew out of the southern christian leadership conference (SCLC), led by martin luther king jr. On Easter 1960, SCLC executive director, ella j. baker, organized a meeting at Shaw University, in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the goal of increasing student participation in the civil rights movement. Students were already taking action on their own: in February, they had staged a sit-in at a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, refusing to leave the whites-only lunch counter. One hundred and forty students met with Baker and representatives of other civil rights organizations at the Easter conference, where SNCC was conceived and founded. SNCC soon set up offices in Atlanta. Among its earliest members were john lewis, a divinity student; Marion S. Barry Jr., a future mayor of Washington, D.C.; and julian bond, a future Georgia state senator and liberal activist leader.

In its statement of purpose, dated April 1960, SNCC embraced a philosophy of nonviolence:

We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of non-violence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action…. By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.

One method of non-violent protest adopted by SNCC was the sit-in. Used to integrate businesses in northern and border states as early as 1943, this tactic was a risky undertaking in the segregated South of 1960. What SNCC met at lunch counter sit-ins was far from a spirit of reconciliation: whites taunted the demonstrators, poured ketchup and sugar on their heads, and sometimes hit them. SNCC volunteers persevered, and by late 1961, sit-ins had taken place in over one hundred southern communities.

The pressure brought by these actions soon increased as SNCC rallied white and black students to a number of causes. In 1961, it joined members of the congress of racial equality (CORE) in a series of Freedom Rides—interstate bus trips through the South aimed at integrating bus terminals. Over the next three years, in states such as Georgia and Mississippi, SNCC began a grassroots campaign aimed at registering black voters. It also opened schools in order to teach illiterate farmers, and it established health clinics. In a 1964 project called Freedom Summer, it sent hundreds of white and black volunteers, mostly northern, middleclass students, to Mississippi to test the newly passed civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.). Throughout these endeavors, volunteers were met with beatings and jailings,

and three civil rights workers were slain in Mississippi during Freedom Summer.

By the mid 1960s, tensions had developed within the civil rights movement. Under King, SCLC stayed its course. Frustrated by the pace of civil rights gains and doubtful of traditional methods, SNCC and CORE became increasingly aggressive. In 1965, after the nation watched televised footage of black marchers being beaten in Selma, Alabama, SNCC decided to hold a second march, in which King chose to participate. More assaults and a murder followed. In their wake, President lyndon b. johnson appealed to the nation for stronger civil rights legislation. Consequently, the Selma marches hastened the passage of the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.).

SNCC took a more radical course under the leadership of activist stokely carmichael. As a dramatically successful SNCC field organizer in Lowndes County, Mississippi, Carmichael had increased the number of registered black voters there from 70 to 2600. He was elected chairman of SNCC in 1966, the year in which he coined the term black power. According to the organization's position paper, titled The Basis of Black Power, its message of political, economic, and legal liberation, rather than integration, for blacks marked a turning point in the civil rights movement: "In the beginning of the movement, we had fallen into a trap whereby we thought that our problems revolved around the right to eat at certain lunch counters or the right to vote, or to organize our communities. We have seen, however, that the problem is much deeper." SNCC, which now called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) reactionary and white U.S. citizens 180 million racists, was joined in espousing harsher views by CORE and the newly formed black panther party for self-defense.

Along with the new rhetoric came new policies. SNCC purged white members from its ranks, declaring that they should work to rid their own communities of racism. When SNCC members began carrying guns, Carmichael's explanation drew a line between the old guard and the vanguard: "We are not King or SCLC. They don't do the kind of work we do nor do they live in the same areas we live in" (Johnson 1990, 71). The organization subsequently deepened this division by pulling out of the White House Conference on Civil Rights.

Toward the end of its existence, SNCC was torn apart by troubles. In 1966, clashes with the police in several cities began when 80 police officers raided SNCC's Philadelphia office, charging that dynamite was stored there. The federal bureau of investigation, which had been wiretapping SNCC since 1960, targeted the group in 1967 for a Counterintelligence Program effort aimed at disrupting it. Critics blamed Carmichael's inflammatory speeches for causing riots, and he left to join the Black Panthers. Amid growing militancy and an expanded vision that included antiwar protest, financial support began to dry up. SNCC disbanded in 1970 shortly after its last chairman, H. Rap Brown, went underground to avoid arrest.

further readings

Carson, Clayborne. 1982. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn, ed. 1998. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press.

Harris, Janet. 1967. The Long Freedom Road: The Civil Rights Story. Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.: McGraw-Hill.

Johnson, Jacqueline, and Richard Gallin, eds. 1990. Stokely Carmichael: The Story of Black Power. Parsippany, N.Y.: Silver Burdett.

Levy, Peter B. 1992. Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement. New York: Praeger.

Martinez, Elizabeth, ed. 2002. Letters from Mississippi. Brookline, Mass.: Zephyr.

Zinn, Howard. 2002. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.


Carmichael, Stokely; Civil Rights Movement; Integration.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

views updated May 21 2018

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee


On February 1, 1960, four black freshmen from North Carolina A & T College (now University) went to the Woolworths 5 and 10 cent store in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. After shopping for a few items they proceeded directly to the stores lunch counter, their real objective. They all took seats and were promptly ignored. The students were not surprised by the waitresss refusal to serve them. In fact they knew they were flirting with danger by flagrantly violating the local segregation ordinance barring African Americans from service in white restaurants, because they had recently spent several weeks talking about the options available to them to combat segregation.

The Greensboro students were not the only ones discussing protest strategies during the 19591960 school year. On the contrary, black students all over the South were holding discussion groups and workshops on the topic. In the days and weeks following the Greensboro sit-ins, African American students from other schools began to sit in at segregated downtown lunch counters. Adult leaders soon recognized that a full-fledged student movement had begun. One of those who appreciated the effectiveness of the fledgling student movement was longtime activist Ella Baker (19031986). Previously, Baker had worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Some time later she advocated the creation of a permanent organization in the wake of the Montgomery bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, resulting in the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957.

In April 1960 Baker urged student leaders to attend a conference that she planned to hold at her alma mater, Shaw College (now university) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Before the students left Raleigh they had established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). By the spring of 1961, the young organization became involved in civil rights campaigns of national scope such as the Freedom Rides (when members of the SNCC rode interstate buses through the Deep South to test a 1960 law forbidding racial segregation in interstate transportation). By the end of the summer, two competing strategies emerged in SNCC: nonviolent direct action and voter registration. At a particularly stormy meeting in August 1961, the group decided that it would do both.

As the organization matured over the next few years, SNCC activists were involved in virtually every major campaign of the Civil Rights movement from the March on Washington in 1963 to Mississippi Freedom Summer, a voter registration campaign in African American communities in Mississippi. During these tumultuous years, the young people of SNCC did the grueling and dangerous work of confronting every aspect of segregation from black disfranchisement to black economic inequality. SNCC organizers were threatened, jailed, brutalized, and a few were even killed. Along the way some of them denounced the Vietnam War, as well. The FBI placed them under surveillance, and the organization was harassed by the IRS. After several years of working for reform in some of the most isolated areas of the rural South, some members of the organization began to rethink their position on a number of issues, including their support for integration. This critical philosophical shift soon resulted in a very public expression of support by some members of SNCC for the concept of Black Power, a political movement that sought to bolster racial consciousness among African Americans. Consequently, many members of the group began to shift their focus to issues of black economic equality and black political education. As the 1960s drew to a close, SNCC members drifted to pursue individual goals. For a brief time in the late 1960s, some attempted to form an alliance with the Black Panther Party, a political organization founded to promote civil rights and self-defense, but it was shortlived, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee soon passed out of existence. But in many of the communities where SNCC worked, black people still remember and appreciate the efforts of the SNCC kids to help them organize for social change.

SEE ALSO Black Panthers; Black Power; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Davis, Angela; Desegregation; Forman, James; Jim Crow; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Passive Resistance; Protest


Carson, Clayborne. 1981. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fleming, Cynthia Griggs. 2004. In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Cynthia G. Fleming

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; pronounced “snick”) was founded in 1960. It arose from an incident on February 1, 1960, in which four black college students attempted to sit and be served at a lunch counter in Woolworth's, a store in Greensboro, North Carolina . In most southern states, seating in such public places was strictly segregated according to race, and blacks were prohibited from sitting at the counter. This small act of protest had launched the student sit-in movement that spread rapidly through the South. Reacting to the upsurge of student activism, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) official Ella Baker (1903–1986) invited student protest leaders to a weekend conference. The student leaders expressed their frustration with the slow pace of the major civil rights organizations. Ready to confront the racism and segregation around them, they agreed to form SNCC. The founders agreed that SNCC would use nonviolent but active and confrontational tactics to provoke social change.

Daring activism

In February 1961, four students affiliated with SNCC traveled to Rock Hill, South Carolina , to join a group of protesters arrested at a segregated lunch counter. There, the SNCC members formed a “jail-no-bail” or “jail-in” strategy. So many protestors were imprisoned—and refused to be released on bail—that the local jails faced crisis-level overcrowding.

In May 1961, SNCC rallied when a group organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) went on so-called freedom rides to defy segregation policies on buses and in bus stations; the freedom riders encountered violence in Alabama and were forced to give up their campaign. SNCC knew it would be a terrible signal to white segregationists to learn that their violence had stopped a civil rights effort. Therefore, they organized dozens of black students to take the place of the original freedom riders. The students risked their lives to ride buses from Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi , where they were arrested and jailed.

From the fall of 1961 through the spring of 1966, SNCC shifted its focus from nonviolent desegregation protests to long-term voting rights campaigns in the Deep South. Operating in the most oppressive areas, dedicated SNCC workers became celebrated for their courage in the face of white intimidation.

Freedom Summer

In 1961, SNCC created the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of civil rights groups that launched a huge campaign for voting rights in Mississippi. Acknowledging the need for more outside support, COFO sponsored a summer project in 1964 that was designed to bring hundreds of white students to Mississippi to participate in a statewide voter registration project. Freedom Summer triggered massive resistance in white segregationists. By the end of the summer, four black Mississippians were killed. Scores of volunteers and participants were beaten; more than a thousand arrests were made; and nearly seventy churches, homes, and businesses were burned or bombed. The murder of three civil rights workers, two of them white, during the early days of the project brought national attention to the suppression of black voting rights in the Deep South.

Growing frustration

By 1963, the failure of the federal government to protect the rights of African Americans discouraged many SNCC staff members. SNCC chairman John Lewis (1940–) expressed this growing disillusionment in a controversial speech given at the massive 1963 March on Washington in the nation's capital. Lewis's speech originally contained the question “Which side is the federal government on?” but the question was removed by his group so as not to offend President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63). Still, the anger lingered.

Black Power: A new direction

Following the bloody 1965 voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama, during which black children, women, and men were beaten, SNCC gave up its early emphasis on nonviolence and Southern community organizing. It adopted instead a philosophy of Black Power , which was being promoted by SNCC leaders Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Turé; 1941–1998) and H. Rap Brown (1943–).

The new SNCC voted to exclude whites from important positions. The organization increasingly pushed for withdrawing from the American mainstream and forming a separate black society. As SNCC made these changes, though, conflicts erupted among its leaders. By 1967, SNCC's Black Power message and internal conflicts had caused many of its former supporters to abandon it. Although SNCC's calls for black pride brought much-needed unity to poor urban blacks, the organization had little impact on African American politics after 1967. It remained in existence until the early 1970s.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE (SNCC) was founded in April 1960 to coordinate southern black college students in nonviolent protests against lunch counter segregation. As many chain and department store dining facilities in Texas and the Upper South dropped the color bar, this phase of the southern black protest movement subsided toward the end of the year. SNCC changed from a committee coordinating campus-based groups to a staffed organization that initiated its own projects in local communities. It played a central role in the desegregation and voter registration campaigns that followed in the Deep South. Operating in the most oppressive areas, its dedicated workers became celebrated for their courage in the face of white intimidation. Beginning in 1961, SNCC met with publicized hostility after sending integrated buses through the most segregated areas of the South on "Freedom Rides." In 1963 SNCC organized the Freedom Ballot in Mississippi to prove that blacks would vote if given the opportunity. Despite violent opposition from whites, almost eighty thousand blacks voted, nearly four times the number registered in the state. This event paved the way for SNCC to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and register voters. Three men associated with this party disappeared and were later found dead with gunshot wounds. Sometime after 1964 the idea of Black Power emerged in SNCC, and it later came to prominence when Stokely Carmichael became head of the organization. With this transition SNCC declined as an organization, but it continued to act as a catalyst for civil rights activity and social change.


Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Dell, 1968.

Stoper, Emily. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1989.

August Meier / h. s.

See also Black Power ; Congress of Racial Equality ; Freedom Riders ; and vol. 9: Black Power Speech ; Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Founding Statement .

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