Our latest interview from our Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee 50th Anniversary Conference interviewing project is up! We spoke to Bruce Hartford, a lifelong activist who left California for Mississippi and Alabama, where he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in their efforts to desegregate schools and register voters. Hartford’s interview is one of many that emphasize the passion of civil rights organizers and the grueling strain of facing down violent segregationists day after day.
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In 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sent Stanley Boyd to Clarksdale, Mississippi, to infiltrate the white community there and identify the power players. Boyd, a pacifist who grew up in Pasadena, California, arrived in Clarksdale saying he was a graduate student working on his thesis. He was soon plugged into the town’s power structure–bankers, mainly–and free to roam and observe the mechanics of the white and black communities. He dined with powerful whites and attended services at black churches, submitting reports to SNCC in an effort to guide their efforts to force desegregation. And he escaped Clarksdale unscathed. Not Holly Springs, though–later that year he was idling his his car, waiting to evacuate civil rights activists in case threatened violence took place, when he was arrested, jailed, and beaten. Though he left SNCC not long afterward (with many whites), Boyd remained active in the civil rights community.
The Southern Oral History Program and the Duke Oral History Project spoke with Boyd at the 50th anniversary conference hosted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Shaw University in April. Take a look:
Civil rights veterans, students, and scholars–and not a few camerapeople and photographers–gathered in the chapel on Shaw’s campus to discuss “The Societal Response to SNCC.” Panelists were Larry Rubin (who worked in southwest Georgia), Timothy Jenkins (Mississippi), Dottie Zellner (Mississippi), John Doar (civil rights division of the Justice Department), and Peniel Joseph (Tufts historian).
It was, in SNCC style, a loosely formatted panel that emphasized questions from the audience. John Doar opened the discussion by recalling his role in the Justice Department and how
“the SNCC kids” inspired him and his fellow lawyers to try to enforce the law in Mississippi, where the “system was absolutely corrupt.”
“If you were white and you were 21 and you could breathe, you could vote,” he remembered. Not so for blacks.
Timothy Jenkins cited the Freedom School’s as SNCC’s crowning achievement, because they taught black kids for the first time that they could be somebody, that not everyone was out to crush their dreams, and that they could choose success. “That was the impact of SNCC.”