The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced “Snick”) emerged from the student sit-ins that erupted on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although just four students launched these sit-ins, within two months thousands of students across the south were engaged in similar protests against racial segregation. On April 15, 1960, some 200 of these campus-based activists began meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina on the campus of what is now Shaw University and formed SNCC. In 1961, a handful of these activists committed to full-time work in the southern civil rights struggle; some of them postponing their college plans. SNCC became an organization of grassroots organizers.
Historians characterize SNCC as the movement’s “cutting edge”. Its “field secretaries” worked in the most dangerous parts of the south seeking to both cultivate and reinforce local leadership. Its uncompromising style of non-violent direct action confronted racial injustice throughout the South and contributed to the elimination of racial segregation. And SNCC’s unique “from-the-bottom-up” approach to organizing led to the emergence of powerful grassroots organizations.
With “One Man, One Vote” voter registration campaigns SNCC paved the way for a new generation of black elected officials across the south. By breaking the grip of “Dixiecrats” on southern politics they changed forever politics in America. It is this work that laid the foundation for the election of America’s first African-American President, Barack Obama.
Now, 50 years after its birth, veterans of SNCC are planning a major gathering, partly to commemorate its founding, but also to begin a serious effort at documenting the still under-recognized impact of this organization of young people, most of whom had not reached the age of 25. This 50th reunion and commemoration will emphasize stories and presentations by those who fought the battles, suffered the agonies and achieved the victories in one of the most far-reaching struggles for human rights in the 20th Century.
SNCC veterans have continued to seek meaningful social change, and working to insure that all people had access to vote. Among these veterans are John Lewis, Julian Bond, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who will be joining the commemoration to tell their stories as student activists. Importantly at this commemoration, they and other SNCC veterans will be reaching out to young people who are searching for ways to tackle the unfinished social, political and economic issues that confront them as 21st century activists.
Finally, the conference will formally signal
the beginning of the SNCC Legacy Program, a historical preservation
and interpretation process that will record the oral histories,
collect the original records, photographs, videotapes and
publications produced by SNCC workers that collectively tell the
story of this remarkable movement of young people.