Civil Rights


The SNCC, or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, was a civil-rights group formed to give younger blacks more of a voice in the civil rights movement. The SNCC soon became one of the movement’s more radical branches. In the wake of the Greensboro sit-in at a lunch counter closed to blacks, Ella Baker, then director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), helped set up the first meeting of what became the SNCC. She was concerned that SCLC, led by Martin Luther King Jr., was out of touch with younger blacks who wanted the movement to make faster progress. Baker encouraged those who formed SNCC to look beyond integration to broader social change and to view King’s principle of nonviolence more as a political tactic than a way of life.

The new group played a large part in the Freedom Rides aimed at desegregating buses and in the marches organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC.

Under the leadership of James Forman, Bob Moses, and Marion Barry, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee also directed much of the black voter registration drives in the South. Three of its members died at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

Events such as these heightened divisions between King and SNCC. The latter objected to compromises at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, where the party refused to replace the all-white Mississippi delegation with the integrated Freedom Democrats.

In 1966, Stokely Carmichael was elected head of SNCC and popularized the term “black power” to characterize the new tactics and goals—including black self-reliance and the use of violence as a legitimate means of self-defense. He also drew attention to the plight of blacks in the inner cities.

Carmichael’s successor, H. Rap Brown, went further, saying “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” But the fires and disorders that followed in the summer of 1967 led to Brown’s arrest for incitement to riot, and SNCC disbanded shortly thereafter as the civil rights movement itself splintered.

The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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