During the weekend of April 15-17, 1960—52 years ago today—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded during a gathering of some 300 students at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC.
Eminent civil rights activist Ella Baker invited African American college students who had participated in the early 1960 sit-ins to the gathering, with the intention of forming a locally based, student-run organization. Vanderbilt University theology student James Lawson emerged as one leader, drafting the initial organizational Statement of Purpose, which read, in part:
We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian tradition seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step toward such a society.
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.
By May 1960, the group became a permanent organization, with Fisk University student Marion Barry as the elected chairman. The first official meeting was held in Atlanta May 13-14.
The next few years were busy ones for SNCC, as student activists became deeply involved in the freedom rides, the Albany Movement, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Issues addressed ranged from desegregation of public facilities to racial problems in education.
After Stokely Carmichael—who would soon be known for his promotion of “black power”— was elected chairman in 1966, the group became increasingly divided over questions of nonviolence and interracial cooperation. By the 1970s, SNCC had disintegrated; however, in its decade-long life, the Committee—made up of young people from across the country—made lasting contributions to the fight against segregation and discrimination.
SNCC’s contributions are remembered and honored today through the SNCC Legacy Project and its strategies of nonviolent direct action continue to be used in such modern-day movements as the 99% Spring Movement.
For more information, and to read the full text of the original Statement of Purpose, click here.
For a detailed summary of SNCC’s history and work, click here.
To hear one SNCC veteran’s stories, click here.
Click here for activist, writer, and educator Sue Thrasher’s thoughts about SNCC, written during the 50th anniversary conference two years ago.
For more about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).
For more about Ella Baker, check out Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (UNC Press 2005).