Tag Archive for 'sncc'

Remembering the Albany Movement

On November 17, 1961—51 years ago today—representatives from various civil rights organizations including the NAACP and SNCC, as well as individual residents frustrated by segregation, came together in Georgia to form the Albany Movement—a coalition that would spend the next year fighting for integration.

Two weeks earlier, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s official ban of interstate bus segregation had gone into effect; on instruction from SNCC leaders, nine students from Albany State College had conducted a sit-in to test these policies. These students’ actions, as well as the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott several years earlier, helped inspire the formation of the Albany Movement.

Hoping to achieve the desegregation of all facilities throughout Albany, Georgia, activists utilized nonviolent mass demonstrations, sit-ins, litigation, and other tactics, all the while fighting for the release of individuals jailed in desegregation protests and for the establishment of a biracial committee to further the desegregation movement. These protesters lived under the constant threat of arrest; more than 500 were jailed in the first couple of weeks, and that number quickly reached 1,000.

Once Martin Luther King, Jr., became involved with the coalition, the Movement predictably gained national attention. After King was arrested on December 16, city officials and protesters reached a truce. However, the peace did not last, and demonstrations and arrests both increased.

Unfortunately, despite its success in mobilizing mass nonviolent protests, the Movement was not concretely successful at eliminating segregation policies. Albany’s police chief, Laurie Pritchett, was determined to block the movement’s progress, and his tactics were quite effective. That said, as King explained, civil rights leaders were able to learn from the Albany Movement, paving the way for future struggles, such as the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. And of course, local activism continued even after the Albany Movement itself wound down, with segregation laws ending in the spring of 1963.

To learn more about the Albany Movement, check out this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, this page from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from the University of Georgia, and this page from PBS.

Archival resources can be found in the Civil Rights Digital Library. Information on the Albany Movement is also included in Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.

To learn more, check out this news story published fifty years after the movement.

To learn more about Charles Sherrod, one SNCC activist who helped start the campaign and later became a city commissioner, check out this article.

To learn more about the Interstate Commerce Commission’s segregation ban, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration and this blog post. To read the regulations, click here.

To learn more about SNCC, check out this blog post.

On This Day: Arrests in Atlanta

On October 19, 1960—52 years ago today—Martin Luther King, Jr., and dozens of other individuals were arrested during a sit-in protest at Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta, Georgia.

More than eight months after four African American college students launched the student sit-in movement at the F.W. Woolworth Co. lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, protests were underway in numerous cities across the county. The movement had already achieved some success, furthered by the organization of a new group: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In March, San Antonio had become the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, by April Galveston had become the second city in Texas to integrate its lunch counters, and by June six more cities across the nation had followed suit. The students in Atlanta sought to continue this success.

Although he did not lead this demonstration, King participated in it as he did in other sit-in demonstrations.  (He had previously urged college students to “fill up the jails of the South … to arouse the dozing conscience of the nation.”) On October 19, 52 protesters were arrested for violating legislation from 1960 which allowed individuals to be charged with a misdemeanor if they refused to leave private property when asked.

Charges against sixteen of the activists were dismissed by October 20, but 35 protesters remained in jail. King vowed to remain in the cell for a year rather than make bond.

Ultimately, the 35 jailed protesters were released on bond. However, unrelatedly, King had been given a 12-month probationary sentence on a charge of driving without a valid Georgia license (based on an “anti-trespass” law enacted to curb lunch counter sit-ins). Officials used this violation to hold him in jail, and King was sentenced to four months in a Georgia public works camp.

This steep sentence for an arguably frivolous charge was met with shock and anger by the NAACP, civil rights activists, the American populace. NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins stated “This incident and the picketing and the protest and other demonstrations are merely evidence of a problem to which the state of Georgia will have to address itself, whether it wants to or not.”

Fortunately, King did not remain incarcerated for long. His attorneys quickly filed an appeal. Meanwhile, Senator John F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, expressed his support to King’s wife, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinced a judge to grant bond. King was released on October 27, two days after he was sentenced and one day after he arrived at the Georgia State Prison.

The Kennedys’ efforts to free King convinced many African Americans to vote for the Democratic candidate in the national presidential election less than two weeks after King’s release, which Kennedy won. Click here to read a news article from the Associated Press, in which King thanks Kennedy.

Over the next eight years, before he was assassinated, King continued his fight for civil rights and equality, through sit-in protests, mass marches, writings and speeches, and more. Last October, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated (click here to see pictures from the dedication ceremony). With the construction of the memorial, King became the first African American of the many American officials honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C. To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., check out this blog post.

Activists continued sit-in protests across the country. Their work, in tandem with other civil rights protests such as the freedom rides, eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public spaces. (Click here to see a photograph of King at the Act’s signing.)

For a comprehensive list of early sit-ins, click here. Time magazine provides a brief photographic history of the sit-in movement here, including a photograph of the sit-in at Rich’s.

To learn more about sit-ins and other student-dominated civil rights protests, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

For a firsthand account by a sit-in protester from Tennessee, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

In their illustrated children’s book, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea and Brian Pinkney celebrate the Greensboro Sit-In and the movement to which it contributed.

49 Years Ago: The March on Washington

On August 28, 1963—49 years ago today—more than 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., present what would become his most famous speech.

It had been a long time coming. Famed activist A. Philip Randolph had proposed the march in late 1962. Organization took time, because Randolph needed to bring together various civil rights organizations, notably the NAACP, the SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the National Urban League. Randolph’s associate, Bayard Rustin, worked with roughly 200 volunteers to put together the nonviolent protest.

The largest human rights demonstration in U.S. history, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought individuals and civil rights organizations together. After a mile-long march across the National Mall, participants gathered to listen to speeches by activists and religious leaders. At the end of the day, protest leaders met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

The event’s significance cannot be overstated. In bringing so many people together in support of one common goal, the march helped pressure the federal government to create civil rights legislation. Soon after, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The march is not only famous for its sheer size and success, but also for a speech given that day by Martin Luther King, Jr.—a speech which today is still quoted in books and classrooms throughout the nation. In his “I Have a Dream” speech (audio), King spoke of a brighter future—a time when blacks and whites would be able to come together as brothers and sisters, when his children would be judged by their character rather than by the color of their skin, and when the American creed, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” would truly be realized.

Forty-eight years later, near the spot from which King spoke these famous words, Americans again celebrated the life of this well-known minister and the contributions of the civil rights movement. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened to the public in August 2011 south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In October 2011, politicians, public figures, and citizens from across the country came together to dedicate the memorial, which had been in planning for more than two decades.

The spirit which brought the individuals and organizations together on August 28, 1963, is still remembered today. Large nonviolent protests modeled after the March on Washington have taken place in years since. Five years later, thousands of Americans camped out on the National Mall in opposition to economic inequality and poverty. And just recently, on August 18, 2012, individuals and activists again descended on the National Mall, this time for women’s rights. (Click here to see photos from the We Are Woman rally.)

To learn more, and to see the official program of the 1963 march, check out this page from the Our Documents Initiative, and this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. This page from the White House Historical Association also provides information and photos.

To read a newspaper article published after the march, click here. For photos of the event, published in the Milwaukee Journal, click here.

To view photos from the October 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, click here.

For more on Bayard Rustin, check out PBS’s film Brother Outsider and the related website.

James Meredith and the March Against Fear

On June 6, 1966—46 years ago today—James Meredith was shot and wounded on the second day of his 220-mile March Against Fear.

Meredith, best known for integrating the University of Mississippi four years earlier,  chose to march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to dispel fears of life in Mississippi and to encourage other African Americans to register to vote.  Although he planned the journey as a solitary march, a few companions joined him, as did three police cars.

That was not enough to protect him, though. Aubrey Norvell shot Meredith, who was taken to the hospital for surgery. Suddenly, in the face of violence, a march that had received little attention from larger civil rights organizations garnered interest. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, after visiting Meredith at the hospital, elected to continue the march in his absence. It would be 20 days before Meredith was able to rejoin the march, which ended Sunday, June 26, 21 days after Meredith began the journey.

An estimated 16,000 African Americans and several hundred whites showed up in Jackson that day to see Meredith complete the journey. In his speech, Meredith called for the elimination of “the fear that grips the Negro in America to his very bones, not only in Mississippi, but in every section of this country, because every inch of the country is controlled by the system of white supremacy.” (For more about this speech, click here.)

Aubrey Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). He was released from Parchman Penitentiary in June 1968.

A Duke University student last month fashioned his own march against North Carolina’s Amendment One; he compared the protest with Meredith’s March Against Fear.

For more information about the March Against Fear, click here.

To read news articles published during the march, click here, here, and here.

To watch a video clip of Meredith’s speech on June 26, click here.

To learn more about James Meredith, click here, or check out Charles W. Eagles’ The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (UNC Press, 2009).

Freedom Riders Faced Stones and Fire

On May 14th, 1961—Mother’s day 51 years ago—a Greyhound bus carrying 9 Freedom Riders and 5 other individuals was stoned and burned outside of Anniston, Alabama.

The violence came only ten days after buses departed Washington, D.C., and headed to the segregated south to deliberately challenge Jim Crow laws, in particular strict prohibitions against integrated bus travel.

On May 14th, the Freedom Riders’ bus was forced to stop due to a flat tire. While the driver changed the tire, white men threw a firebomb through a broken window, forcing the passengers to disembark before the vehicle was consumed by fire.

Another group of Freedom Riders faced violence in Birmingham that very same day—and this was just the beginning of the violence these young civil rights activists would face. In the coming months, African American and white riders would be taunted and beaten. (Click here to read about James Zwerg, one young activist who fell victim to an angry white mob).

In the face of hostility, discrimination, and mob violence—in Anniston, in Birmingham, and during later protests—the freedom riders pushed on, determined to bring an end to segregation and inequality. Sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Freedom Rides would ultimately involve more than 400 African American and white individuals, who would prevail in the face of adversity. By the time the rides ended in November 1961 (following the Interstate Commerce Commission’s order to end segregation on interstate transportation), the participants had made a lasting impact on America.

To learn more about the May 14th violence and Anniston’s racial history, check out Phil Noble’s Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town (New South Books, 2003).

For a photograph of the burning bus at Anniston, as well as additional information, click here.

For more information on the Freedom Riders, and for additional resources, click here.

To see a timeline of the movement, click here.

The National Geographic’s children’s book, Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, outlines the convergent paths of two young men who braved the journey.

To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).

Remembering the Freedom Riders

On May 4, 1961—51 years ago today—the first group of Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C., aboard Greyhound buses bound for the segregated South. Their courage and persistence over the next six months would change American history.

Sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Freedom Rides involved more than 400 African American and white individuals who traveled in groups throughout the South, deliberately challenging Jim Crow laws, in particular strict prohibitions against integrated bus travel.

Freedom Riders faced hostility, discrimination, and quite frequently mob violence. (Click here to read about James Zwerg, one young Freedom Rider who fell victim to an angry white mob). But they persevered, maintaining their dedication to nonviolent direct action.

This was not the first such demonstration: 14 years earlier, 16 CORE members had participated in the Journey of Reconciliation, traveling south from D.C. via Greyhound and Trailways buses. Despite this and other early demonstrations—and despite court cases mandating desegregation of interstate travel—African Americans still faced racism while traveling through the South in the early 1960s.

CORE and SNCC brought together individuals of all ages, races, genders, and regional affiliations to challenge the deeply ingrained Jim Crow policies of the South, aiming to move past discrimination and violence into a climate of equality. Heavily reported by national and international media, the Freedom Rides ultimately prevailed. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s insistence, ordered an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities. By the time the rides ended in November 1961, participants had made a lasting impact on America.

To hear civil rights scholar Paul Ortiz discuss the impact of the Freedom Rides, click here.

Mike Wiley’s moving play, The Parchman Hour, commemorates the Freedom Rides and celebrates the courage exhibited by those who served sentences in one of the most brutal prisons in the South, Parchman Farm. To learn more, check out these two blog posts: click here and here.

As part of a larger site connected with the film Freedom Riders, PBS hosts an interactive map allowing viewers to trace the routes of the freedom rides.

For more about this movement, check out Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007), on which PBS’s documentary is based.

For more information about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart, UNC Press, 2007, as well as a series of LCRM blog posts and videos related to SNCC’s 50th reunion.

To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).

Remembering the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

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).

Remembering the San Antonio Sit-In

On March 16th, 52 years ago, San Antonio became the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, marking a decisive victory for the sit-in movement that involved more than 70,000 participants.

After students in Greensboro, N.C., staged a sit-in protest at F.W. Woolworth Co., African American students from across the country followed suit. San Antonio’s protests began in earnest on March 13, and led to swift victory. By March 19th, an interracial, interfaith dinner was held to commemorate the end of the eventful week.

San Antonio’s integration heralded lunch counter desegregation success to come. By April 6th, Galveston had become the second city in Texas to integrate its lunch counters, and by June, six more cities across the nation had followed suit.

For a comprehensive list of sit-ins, click here.

For more on civil rights in Texas, check out Brian Behnken’s Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas (UNC Press 2011).

For a firsthand account by a sit-in protester from Tennessee, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

To learn more about sit-ins and other student-dominated civil rights protests, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

Remembering the Greensboro Sit-In

On this day 52 years ago, four African American students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now NC A&T State University) launched what would become a nationwide student-led movement: the sit-in movement.

On February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond were refused service from the lunch counter at F.W. Woolworth Co. in Greensboro, NC. They refused to leave when asked, and ultimately stayed in their seats until the store closed for the evening.

By the next day, at least 15 other students had joined the cause. Within a week, students in Durham, Fayetteville, and Winston-Salem, NC, had followed suit. By the following week, the sit-in movement was no longer confined to North Carolina, as students in Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee began to take action. And within three months, sit-in protests were in progress in at least 55 cities. (For a full list of sit-in protests, click here).

It would be nearly six months before Greensboro’s F.W. Woolworth Co. agreed to integrate the lunch counter. During those six months, the protesters inspired African American students (as well as some white students) in cities across the South to demand equality.

From this movement emerged the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded in April 1960 to organize nonviolent direct action against racial injustice. Best known for its voter registration campaigns, SNCC organized Freedom Rides and grassroots activism throughout the south. (For more information about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart, UNC Press, 2007, as well as a series of LCRM blog posts and videos related to SNCC’s 50th reunion.)

For audio clips and newspaper articles about the Greensboro sit-in, take a look at this wonderful online exhibit from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The museum, housed in the Woolworth’s store where the first sit-in took place, opened two years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in.

A section of Woolworth’s lunch counter is part of a permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

One protester from Knoxville, Tennessee, published a diary about the experience. It is available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection: Diary of a Sit-In, by Merrill Proudfoot.

Mentoring a Movement

At the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s 50th anniversary conference in 2009, the activists who as a group formed the tip of the spear in the segregated South, transforming the region with a rare combination of courage, organization, intellect, and creativity, gathered to reflect on their part of the civil rights movement. Civil rights luminaries like Bob Moses rubbed elbows with scholars like Taylor Branch. The event was, like SNCC itself, rich with emotion and intelligence. But as Sue Thrasher wrote after the conference, what was missing was a prescription for the future. “I didn’t sense much connection to work that is being done,” she wrote (read her full piece on the conference here).

Having built a movement in the 1960s and sustained it through the 1970s and beyond, it may be too much to ask that an aging generation continue to stoke the fire that burned in their youth, let alone light a fire for a new generation. The responsibility for sustaining the movement or building a new one lies with the generation that will experience the largest gap ever in wealth between old and young, and who are coming of age in a nation deeply divided by questions of faith and family, and far adrift on questions of education, the environment, and, of course, rights. This is a nation made great by wealth, made fat by wealth, made sick by wealth–and perhaps made great again by wealth if that wealth and its symptoms can be dragged into the light to inspire (or force) the legal, political, and economic reforms we so desperately need. If that happens, it will have to be accomplished by the new generation of anonymous young people who are gathering around the country as part of the movement now known as Occupy Wall Street.

But that doesn’t mean it should happen without input and support from the veterans among us. It was inspiring, therefore, to learn that Occupy Atlanta is consulting with activists like the Reverend Joseph Lowery and others as they seek their voice. At the same time, it is oddly troubling to see Jesse Jackson joining protestors in Atlanta. Jackson’s celebrity brings attention, certainly, but as we have quickly learned this is a movement capable of getting headlines without celebrity involvement, or even of generating its own celebrities–Jesse LaGreca has become the voice of the movement after smacking down Fox News in footage that went viral despite Fox’s choice not to broadcast it. (For the record, LaGreca is a longtime activist and writer, not just some guy in a funny hat who wandered into Zucotti Park.)

LaGreca’s deftness with language is invaluable because the media expects this sprawling protest to articulate their message on par with the machines they’re used to covering and can understand: the very political parties and corporations whose behavior, including their so-called messaging, has hollowed out America’s public life. For weeks, even journalists at the allegedly liberal NPR have set a high bar for protestors attempting to explain their demands, as if the repeated refrain of “economic justice” isn’t clear enough. Imagine if the media today was covering the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “What is it these people want? Is it desegregation or voting rights? Economic justice or women’s rights? It’s just a bunch of jerks with signs!”

With capable hands like LaGreca’s ready to take it, the civil rights movement generation should seize this opportunity to pass the torch; after all, it was the young people in the 1960s who learned from the radicals of the 1950s, and they from the radicals of the 1930s. (Not that civil rights heroes like Pete Seeger should stay home.) The most important way they can help? Messaging and media. Here’s hoping that Jackson, Lowery, and others will impart hard-earned lessons about message discipline. After all, the demands of the movement are certainly clearer than a credit default swap (I defy you to read this Wikipedia entry once, then explain it to a friend.) It’s certainly clearer than the labyrinth of non-regulations that will pour anonymous corporate money into our political process next year. I’ll take a dirty hippy over a SuperPAC any day.