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The undying spirit of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Herb Boyd | 9/26/2013, 2:13 p.m.
Ella Baker

No group epitomized the role of young people in the Civil Rights Movement as resolutely as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Founded at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., during a conference on the campus from April 16-18, 1960, SNCC, or “Snick” as it was popularly called, was the brainchild of activist Ella Baker, then executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). What she envisioned was an offspring of SCLC in which young people would be free to organize themselves without necessarily looking to the elders of SCLC.

“SNCC’s founding was an important step in the transformation of a limited student movement to desegregate lunch counters into a broad and sustained movement to achieve major social forms,” writes Clayborne Carson in his definitive “In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening in the 1960s.”

Despite three years of their heroic and courageous work in the sit-in movement, acting as freedom riders on the buses and prominent boycotters and demonstrators in major cities across the South, it was not until John Lewis’s speech at the March on Washington in 1963 that the SNCC began to get the notice it deserved. The group gained further recognition and admiration when it launched its Freedom Summer Project of 1964, mainly in Mississippi. Hundreds of young volunteers, after being trained in the tactics of nonviolent protest by such notables as James Lawson and James Forman, ventured south and began knocking on doors of Black residents in rural towns to register to vote.

It wasn’t long before Snick was in the news when three civil rights workers—Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, who were essentially connected to CORE (Congress of Racial Equality)—were abducted by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Their bodies were found on Aug. 4, 1964, in an earth-filled dam near Philadelphia, Miss. It took three years before seven white men were convicted of the crime and sentenced to prison.

It’s perhaps unfair to single out one freedom fighter from this cast of brave young people, but Bob Moses is someone who needs more than just a mention. Without his steadfast commitment to the SNCC and its various strategies to bring about justice and equality in the bowels of the South, the movement would not have accomplished as much as it did. His defiance of danger has been captured in several books, none more noteworthy than James Forman’s “The Making of Black Revolutionaries,” in which he depicts episode after episode of Moses’ acts of valor in the face of possible death.

Moses was also significantly involved with Fannie Lou Hamer in the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which was formed to challenge the all-white Democratic Party from the state. When they appeared en masse at the Democratic Convention in 1964 in Atlantic City, it marked a milestone in the fight against racism and white supremacy. Hamer, like Moses, was the guiding spirit of the SNCC, and they passed on their leadership skills and fortitude to the late Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin), both of whom would later be at the helm of the SNCC.