The Founding of SNCC
(From SNCC 50th Anniversary Conference)
See also Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Founded.
In early 1960, the sit-ins spread across the
South — where segregation was not simply custom, but the
law — through North Carolina, to Maryland, Tennessee,
Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina.
This upsurge was what Ella Baker had been waiting for. She began to plan
for a gathering of representatives from the protest areas, convincing
the SCLC to put up $800 to cover the expenses of the meeting. She
persuaded King to sign a call"chart new goals and achieve a more unified sense
of direction for training and action in Nonviolent Resistance."
And Baker sent her own letter to protesting students. She urged that the
"great potential for social change" called for a determination of the
question, "Where do we go from here?"
In preparation for the April meeting, Baker went to Raleigh and reached
an agreement with Shaw University on meeting rooms, meals, and
accommodations. Since Shaw could only house about forty people, Baker
contacted nearby St. Augustine College, the YMCA, and local residents
whom she had met as a student there and during her travels for the
NAACP. Baker arranged to stay with a Shaw alumna who had been in the
class behind her, Effie Yeargan, ... one of the founders of the Raleigh
Citizens Association, which was organized to host the students,
cosponsor the gathering, and provide whatever subsidiary housing was
Then Baker began to press the issue of the independence of the students,
which was to be the most important question at the meeting. In a memo to
King and Abernathy, she eased into her agenda by remarking that on a
trip to Raleigh-Durham she had had a chance meeting with Glenn Smiley of
the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Douglas Moore, a young Durham
minister. She pointed out that they "agreed that the meeting should be
youth centered and that the adults attending would serve in an advisory
capacity, and should mutually agree to `speak only when asked to do so."
Charles McDew, an Orangeburg, South Carolina, student who was later to
become SNCC chairman, said that [at the Shaw meeting] Baker lobbied the
students individually and advocated — at a closed
meeting the students held without observers or other
adults — the creation of an independent organization.
Some 300 students and observers, three times the number Baker expected,
gathered at Shaw on Friday April 15.
One of the largest delegations at the Raleigh conference, and the one
that would subsequently provide SNCC with a disproportionate share of
its leaders, was the Nashville student group. Fisk University provided a
number of these protest leaders, most notably Marion Barry and Diane
Nash. Another Nashville protest leader, John Lewis, was a ministerial
student at American Baptist Theological Seminary.
King spoke to the press and students at the beginning of the meeting,
emphasizing "the need for some type of continuing organization."
That evening, James Lawson delivered a keynote speech on the importance
of nonviolence. He had been expelled from Vanderbilt's divinity school in
March for advising the Nashville sit-in students to continue their
protest. He distinguished the student activists both from the rest of
society and from more moderate civil rights leaders. On Saturday, the
delegates split up into discussion groups to talk about nonviolent
protest and the next steps for the student movement.
Ms. Baker's speech to the conference, entitled "More than a Hamburger,"
warned that work was just beginning: integrating lunch counters was one
thing, breaking down barriers in areas as racially and culturally
entrenched as voting rights, education and the workplace was going to be
much tougher. Ms. Baker also warned: "don't let anyone else, especially
the older folks, tell you what to do."
The student delegates held the final plenary meeting on Sunday. Instead
of affiliating with SCLC, they voted to set up a "temporary" Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to be headquartered in Atlanta. The
conference also ratified a Statement of
Purpose drafted by Lawson. Marion Barry, Temporary SNCC's chairman,
conducted his first press conference for the few reporters covering the
meeting. (Barry resigned the chair of SNCC in the fall to return to
graduate work at Fisk University; Charles McDew then became SNCC's
The Temporary coordinating committee held its first official meeting in
Atlanta on May 13 and 14. The 11 students present ratified the statement
of purpose that had been adopted in April, and voted to hire a temporary
staff member whom SCLC offered to house in its office at 208 Auburn
Avenue, Atlanta. Baker recruited Jane Stembridge, daughter of a white
Baptist minister from Virginia and a student at Union Theological
Seminary, to run the SNCC office until a permanent administrative
secretary could be found. In June, Stembridge and other student
volunteers published the first issue of SNCC's newspaper, the Student
In July, Baker and Stembridge were joined by Robert Moses, a former
graduate student at Harvard Universitry. When Stembridge suggested that
Moses assist SNCC by recruiting black leaders in the Deep South for an
October conference, he agreed to do so at his own expense.
Also during that summer Barry and other SNCC representatives addressed
members of the platform committees at both the Democratic and Republican
At a fall conference at Atlanta University on October 14-15, 1960, SNCC
established an organizational structure and clarified its goals and
principles. The delegates voted to drop "temporary" from their name, and
established a Coordinating Committee to be composed of one
representative from each southern state and the District of Columbia. In
addition, there was to be a staff made up of field secretaries and an
expanded office staff. The going salary was $10.00 a week.
About 140 delegates, alternatives and observers from 46 protest centers
attended the conference, as well as over 80 observers from northern
colleges and sympathetic organizations. Workshop leaders included black
students who had been active in sit-ins — Diane Nash,
Ben Brown of Clark College, and Charles McDew of South Carolina State
College. Also leading workshops were a white southern student, Sandra
Cason of the Univ. of Texas, and Tim Jenkins from the National Student
The constitution proclaimed: "SNCC shall serve as a channel of
coordination and communication for the student movement. By direction of
its Executive Committee through its staff it shall have authority to
initiate programs in areas where none presently exists, and to work
closely with local protest groups in the intensification of the
In the formulation of the constitution it was decided to omit the phrase
"in the South" from this paragraph, though SNCC remained a
Southern-based movement. The constitution provided for voting members
from other organizations, one representative each from the National
Student Association, the National Student Christian Movement, and the
National College and Youth Branch of the NAACP There were to be
observers from the American Friends Service Committee, American Civil
Liberties Union, CORE, FOR, NAACP, SCLC, SCEF, National Student YWCA,
the Southern Regional Council, and "any other group to be selected by
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee."
Charles McDew, a native of Massilon, Ohio and a student at South
Carolina State, replaced Barry as chairman. McDew served as chair until
the election of John Lewis in 1963.
During these early days some of Atlanta's "liberal" community criticized
Baker for failing to keep the students sufficiently in check. Baker,
however, felt that the students didn't need adult supervision, that
"they had the right to make mistakes when they were young."
John Lewis noted that although Baker was much older than the students,
"in terms of ideas and philosophy and commitment she was one of the
youngest persons in the movement."