1960 April 15

SNCC Founded by Sit-In Leaders


Leaders of the Southern sit-in movement, which began on February 1, 1960, met at the Student Youth Leadership Meeting at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina, and founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ella Baker, although much older than the students, played a major role in helping to organize SNCC independently of existing civil rights organizations. (For more on Ella Baker, see December 13, 1986.) SNCC (pronounced “snick”) quickly became one of the most militant civil rights organizations in the early 1960s. It led the desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia (November 17, 1961) and was the principal organizer of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer (June 21, 1964).

It was at this conference that folklorist and folk singer Guy Carawan taught the song “We Shall Overcome,” which had been a labor union song since the 1940s, to the sit-in leaders. And this is how the song became the anthem of the civil rights movement.

The SNCC leader with the longest and most courageous career in public life was John Lewis. As a member of the 1961 Freedom Ride, Lewis was beaten in Rock Hill, South Carolina on May 9, 1961. He was again beaten by a racist mob in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 20th. Fifty-two years later, on March 2, 2013, the then-police chief of Montgomery apologized to Lewis for the failure of the police to protect him in 1961, and presented him with his police badge as a symbol of reconciliation. At the historic 1963 March on Washington on August 28, 1963, Lewis’ speech was censored by march leaders because of his criticisms of the Kennedy administration for failing to fully support civil rights.

Lewis was brutally beaten in the first attempted Selma voting rights march on March 7, 1965 (“Bloody Sunday”). The beatings outraged public opinion across the U.S. and around the world, and led directly to the enactment of the historic Voting Rights Law, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965.

Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, and eventually became one of the most senior and respected member of the House of Representatives as a representative from Georgia.

SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael, meanwhile, coined the slogan “Black Power” during a march in Mississippi on June 16, 1966.

Read the SNCC founding statement (excerpt): “Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear. Love transcends hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Faith reconciles doubt. Peace dominates war. Mutual regards cancel enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes immoral social systems.”

Read the call to the conference: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/6004_sncc_call.pdf

Read the SNCC founding statement: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/sncc1.htm

Read: Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1965), and Clayborne Carson, In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (1981)

Find the 52 hour, 38 volume DVD collection, SNCC Legacy Video at California Newsreel:

“Bigger Than A Hamburger.” Read Ella Baker’s Speech: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/sncc2.htm

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