Stoper: What was the most important change in SNCC's history?
Bond: Diane Nash and James Bevel had met [James] Forman in Fayette County. They told him that they would not work for SNCC any more unless there was someone in the office they could trust. Forman turned out to be a fantastic administrator and fund-raiser. Under him we moved from a tiny corner office to our present one. When I flrst started working for SNCC (around October '61), there was a lot of romanticism, a great mystique of working with the rural poor under great danger. This mystique never disappeared, but Forman helped to make it more serious. He instituted fleld reports, a fund-raising apparatus and a no-nonsense attitude.
Stoper: In general, have Northerners played a different role in SNCC than Southerners?
Bond: [Stokely] Carmichael, [Courtland] Cox and [Bob] Moses were all Northerners. In general, they are more articulate, better educated, have a wider view and are more interested in international questions. They were the first to develop anti-war feelings. Northerners in general are better able to promote their own ideas.
This caused tensions in the organization between those who thought of themselves as organizing a faceless mass and those who thought you ought to let the faceless mass decide what to do. Almost all the Northerners, and most of the whites, believed in loose structure. Black Southerners wanted a tight organization.
Bond: Because the Northerners were more philosophical. The Southerners might have needed more authority. The Northerners tended to jump from project to project a lot, whereas the Southerners would settle in one place and work. Since the Northerners were more restless, they felt the need for more freedom.
Stoper: Perhaps another reason was that an informal structure gave more arbitrary power over resources to the people in Atlanta, who tended to be Northerners and to favor their Northern friends.
Bond: Yes, I definitely agree. The tight-structure people often felt that they did not get their share of the resources. Also, whites tended to be for loose structure and Southern Negroes were the ones most resentful of whites.
Bond: One reason for the loose-tight structure debate was the question: where does SNCC's responsibility lie — to the organization or to the people with whom we work?
Bond: The dispute over loose versus tight structure was somewhat racial. Bob and Donna Moses, Mary King, Mendy Samstein, Casey Hayden, Mike Sayer, were all strong advocates of loose structure. The people who tended to be against whites in the organization were the most likely to be tight-structure people. Southern Negroes, especially. They were irritated because they often could not follow the arguments at staff meetings when whites were speaking. These meetings sometimes went on for seven days and nights. I wanted very tight structure.
The debate never really came to a head. The loose people sort of gave up and drifted out. This meant the loss of some very creative people.
Stoper: Is SNCC more Northern now since May '66?
Bond: No. The Northerners are not in a majority, nor are there more Northerners now than there were before. However, in '66, the Northerners were much more in leadership positions than they had been in '61.
An important difference between Northerners and Southerners is that many Northerners had been active in campus politics and therefore had more experience in political maneuvering. (I consider Diane Nash [Bevel] a Southerner, even though she's from Chicago, because she went to college in the South and was part of the Southern faction.)
Bond: The Northerners who did fund-raising in the North came back frustrated because they couldn't say what SNCC's policy on Vietnam was. The McComb [MS] project put out an anti-Vietnam leaflet before the organization as a whole took a stand.
Then came the death of Sammy Younge, a SNCC worker in Tuskegee. He had lost a kidney while in the service and then was killed trying to use a segregated bathroom [January 3, 1966]. This touched off the feeling that SNCC had to say something about Vietnam [January 6, 1966].
Stoper: When did the resentment against whites in SNCC develop?
Bond: Before the summer project. It was not necessarily racial but rather based on the fact that white people brought trouble wherever they worked. (Some people felt that way about SNCC in general.) Then, during the summer project, whites took over so much that they reinforced the feeling among the local people that you had to have them.
Bond: There was a lot of opposition to having the summer of '64, particularly from the native Mississippians. The only reason we had the summer project was that Bob Moses insisted on it. He believed that this was the only way to break the back of segregation in Mississippi.
after the summer of '64, SNCC sort of died. It never did anything new after that except Lowndes [AL]. Maybe the summer was just too much effort, too much tension. A lot of people were burned out after it.
Bond: The FDP failure in Atlantic City was a crushing blow. Many people felt that the FDP had all the right — legal, moral, etc. — on its side. I personally had thought the convention would seat them. This was probably naive, but I was very disappointed.
Bond: The FDP Challenge turned a lot of people off. It seemed you couldn't do anything if you couldn't get through such a clearly right challenge.
Bond: The Atlanta Project started in January '65, at the time I was expelled from the legislature and ended about a year later, having accomplished nothing. The idea was to build a political base in my constituency. [Bond was a Georgia state legislator.] There were a lot of tensions between the Atlanta Project and the office about the use of funds, etc. The Project never did anything. They spent most of their time talking about black consciousness, black power, etc.
Stoper: How did the Atlanta Project affect SNCC?
Bond: It was more militant than SNCC as a whole. When it started it had a white member, Mendy Samstein.
Bond: I resigned from SNCC in September '66 because I wasn't doing anything. I was spending all my time on my own, campaigning, etc. My resignation had nothing to do with the drift of the organization.
Bond: The main office was always here in Atlanta, even during the summer of '64. That was just a publicity move, saying the office had moved to Mississippi. All of the records and equipment were still here.
Bond: The summer of '64 enabled us to move into parts of Mississippi we'd never been in before.
Stoper: Has SNCC's over-all purpose changed?
Bond: At first SNCC just wanted to coordinate lunch-counter sit-ins. Its second focus was voter registration. The third was organizing in general, e.g., for rent strikes. The fourth was helping prepare Negroes mentally for the day when there will be open racial warfare, or for taking advantage of some of the tools which they've won, e.g., the vote. It becomes less a matter of doing something as of preparing people psychologically for something, I don't know what. That explains why SNCC is doing less now. [Stoper: Another explanation for this last is that is has a smaller staff.]
Bond: The '64 and '65 Civil Rights Acts took the pressure off the country. People weren't as concerned about civil rights because they figured they'd done what they should do for it.
Bond: There were tensions in SNCC between people who thought of themselves as organizing a faceless mass and others who thought you ought to let the faceless mass decide what to do. But what if the faceless mass just wants a TV set?
Bond: For some people, like Charles Sherrod and John Lewis, nonviolence was a way of life. For others, it was a tactic. The situation in Mississippi — where local Negroes carried guns for self-defense as a matter of custom — raised difficult questions. From 1960 on, the number of people in SNCC who believed in nonviolence as a tactic only began to increase, as new members joined SNCC and the sit-in people faded out.
Bond: The biggest change in SNCC came in '63-'64 when we decided to build political organizations as well as just trying to get people to register to vote.
The reason this was so important was because of the increase in size. We acquired a fantastic, two-story office with printing press, darkroom, etc. Around the time of the summer of '64, our paid staff was about 200.
Stoper: How did Stokely Carmichael come to power?
Bond: Jim Forman decided not to run again. John Lewis's version of the election is probably correct.
Most people probably didn't care between Lewis and Carmichael. The ones who wanted Lewis probably wanted him because he'd been chairman and because he was a Southern boy.
At one period, in '60-61, the Atlanta student movement had financed SNCC (paid Ed King's salary, etc.). SCLC only gave SNCC money when embarrassed into it, e.g., when a SNCC man caught Wyatt Tee Walker making a deposit in the bank.
Copyright © Emily Stoper & Julian Bond. 1968.