In several senses, the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 was SNCC's supreme, all-out effort. An effort that left a good number of the organization's long-time leaders and organizers exhausted and at odds over future strategy and direction. The summer campaign had proven both the effectiveness and the limits of voter registration as a strategy of community organizing and achieving a share of political power. The MFDP challenge to the Democratic convention in Atlantic City had mobilized a mass movement, but LBJ's opportunism and the betrayal by party-loyalist liberals sowed fierce anger, deep bitterness, and strategic dissension among many Freedom Movement activists. Now, in the Fall of 1964, there was no consensus about what to do next — and hostility from pro-Johnson establishment liberals was seriously undermining SNCC's fundraising abilities.
As Freedom Summer ended, a significant number of new activists — many of them white — were added to the SNCC staff, and though the organization remained overwhelmingly Black, internal debates over race and racial roles fermented. As did issues related to gender and gender-roles.
Competing visions over what kind of organization SNCC was, and should become, were emerging more forcefully than ever before. Some argued for continuing as a decentralized organization of community organizers empowering autonomous local groups, others advocated for a disciplined centralized organization capable of waging broad, effective campaigns. And those were just two of many contending views. Inherent in these debates were competing goals for SNCC as an organization, opposing concepts about the roles SNCC field secretaries, local leaders, and local groups, and divergent assumptions about what it meant to be activists, organizers, and freedom fighters.
A meeting of the SNCC Executive Committee in September failed to resolve these issues so all SNCC members were summoned to a multi-day retreat in a Waveland MS church to thrash them out. Somewhere between 75 and 150 attended some or all of the conference. SNCC member Mary King later recalled:
[A] call went out from Jim [Forman] and a committee in Atlanta inviting all of the staff flung across the South, from Arkansas to the Eastern Shore [of Maryland], to a staff meeting to take place in Waveland, Mississippi, in November 1964. And each of us was invited to prepare a position paper on anything we wanted to write about. In SNCC's radical egalitarian tradition, we could say anything we wanted to say, write about any topic, challenge the staff to anything we wanted to challenge them to. And these position papers were gathered and mimeographed in Atlanta and sent out. There were, as I recall, 37 position papers as we convened for the staff retreat. These papers were not to be the central defining question on the agenda, but they were to inform the overall environment of the meeting. — Mary King, A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC.
Retreat Minutes (Summary). James Forman Keynote Speech. Summary Report, Campus Travellers, Joyce Brown & Bill Hall. Organization of Friends of SNCC in the Bay Area, Mike Miller Persons at Waveland conference (partial list), unsigned Papers that Should be in your Packets, Unsigned SNCC. November 6, 1964
Individual Position & Working Papers
SNCC Structure Papers James Forman: Memorandum on the Structure of SNCC, (may have been distributed earlier) Many people: Proposal for the Structure of SNCC Marion Barry: Who Do We Organize, Where Do We Organize, What Do We ... Casey Hayden: Memorandum on Structure Howard Zinn: Some Suggestions in Answer to Questions Raised by the "Memo" Unsigned: What is SNCC? Unsigned: What is SNCC? What Should it be to Accomplish it's Goals? Unsigned: Some Notes on How SNCC Might Organize Itself Barbara Brandt: All Those Little Newspaper Articles... Joyce Brown: What is the Student Voice? Rev. Tom Brown: Position Paper Charlie Cobb: On Snick Revolution and Freedom James Forman: SNCC — A Band of Brothers, a Circle of Trust [text], [PDF]
(Also titled: "What is the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee?")
Betty Garman: A Note to the SNCC Staff About the Northern SNCC Staff Betty Garman: A Note About Friends of SNCC — What Do They Do? Jeanette King: Thoughts on Education Mary King: Working Paper (re Communications Section) Mike Miller: Questions Raised for National Staff Meeting (re organizing) Mike Miller: An Internal Education Program in SNCC Silas Norman: What is the Importance of Racial Considerations Among the Staff? Silas Norman: What is the Student Voice? Who Decides it's Content? What Should the Voice Be? James Pittman: Untitled, re SNCC decision making Charles Sherrod: From Sherrod, Frank Smith? Position Paper #1 (on organizing) Maria Varela: Training SNCC Staff to be Organizers Unsigned: SNCC Position Paper (Regarding women in the Movement) Unsigned: Introduction: Semi-Introspective (thinking about SNCC) Unsigned: The New Building (new SNCC offices) Unsigned: Position Paper (SNCC as a boat) Unsigned: SNCC's Goals and Bourgeoise Sentimentality Unsigned: SNCC in the North (Friends of SNCC chapters) Unsigned: Some Basic Considerations for the Staff Retreat Unsigned: What We Can Do On Campuses Unsigned: Working Paper: Poor Whites and the Movement Unsigned: Untitled, re staff meetings & discussions Unsigned: Notes for Position Papers Never Written (possibly related to Waveland conf.) Unsigned: SNCC relationship and responsibilities to the southern campus, (possibly Waveland conf.) Unsigned: Paper on the salary structure of SNCC, (possibly Jim Forman, possibly Waveland conf.)