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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 necessary.

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 second chair).

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 Voice.

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 conventions.

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 Association.

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 movement."

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."


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