SNCC Organizing Presence in Alabama: A Partial Timeline

by Dr. Gwen Patton

May 1961 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston. The KKK threw firebombs on the bus, which forced the Freedom Riders out of the bus into the violent arms of the KKK, who wielded bats and chains upon the Freedom Riders.

Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham, and after meeting with unabated KKK assault, the bus challenge was aborted.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) resumed the bus challenge and arrived in Montgomery into the awaiting brutal KKK assault, which became known as the Mother's Day Massacre.

Freedom Riders were escorted by the local leadership of Rev. Solomon S. Seay, Sr. to safe refuge in the historic Madison Park community, named after Black patriarch, Eli Madison, who bought the Mays Plantation of 634 acres in 1881.

Freedom Riders and over 1,000 Montgomerians at a Mass meeting were held hostage in Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy's church, First Baptist, for 16 hours while the KKK menacingly encircled the church, burned cars and threw fire and stink bombs into the church.

CORE's James Farmer arrived in Montgomery and stayed in the home of SNCC supporter, Mrs. Idessa Redden. A strategy was determined for the Freedom Ride to continue to Jackson, Ms.


1963 SNCC organizers, under the leadership of Bernard and Colia LaFayette, were sent to Selma to assist with the local on-going Black Movement for 1st-Class Citizenship, symbolized by the Right to vote.

The organized struggle for the right to vote by Black Alabamians began in the 1930s. By 1960, a state-wide movement was in motion with Voters Leagues and Citizenship Schools to prepare Blacks in filling out literacy tests in counties with significant Black populations.


1964 A large, mainly Black, SNCC contingent came to Tuskegee (Institute) University, which became the RRR (rest, relaxation and retreat) for SNCC planning and Movement Building. Tuskegee students formed the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL), which entered into equal coalition with SNCC.

SNCC and TIAL organizers fanned out into the Black Belt counties of Macon, Bullock, Lowndes, Wilcox, Dallas, Greene and Sumter for Movement Building.


1965 The Dallas County Voters League invited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as violent, White resistance mounted against SNCC and local organizers.

At a night voting rights march in adjacent Perry County, Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot by state troopers when he attempted to aid his 80 year old grandfather who had been beaten by state troopers, and to protect his mother from the troopers billy clubs. When Jackson died from gun-shot wounds on 2/26/65, a decision was made to march from Selma to Montgomery, the seat of the State Capitol, to petition for unfettered voting rights and for a redress of the deadly wrongs perpetrated by the state.

Thousands of Americans, Black and White, came to Selma to join the march after seeing on television the brutal and savage attack of state troopers upon Blacks as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge en-route to Montgomery. This sad event became known as Bloody Sunday, 3/7/65.

On 3/11/65, Unitarian Minister James Reeb, a White Chicagoan who came to support the march, was beaten to death by KKK sympathizers.

The marchers finally began on 3/21/65 and arrived in Montgomery on 3/25/65, covering 54 miles.

That night, Viola Luizzo, a march supporter, while driving her car, was murdered by the KKK with FBI complicity.

On 8/6/65, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law.

On 8/20/65, Episcopalian seminary student Jonathan Daniels, who remained in Selma after the March, was murdered by a deputy sheriff in Lowndes County. Jonathan was attempting to protect Tuskegee coed, Ruby Nell, when he caught the fatal bullet.

(On 11/12/1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the law initiated by U.S. Congressman and SNCC organizer John Lewis [and earlier pushed for such a recognition by SNCC organizer Bob Mants who remained in Lowndes County since the March and raised his family in the county], designating the March route as the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail.)

Additional, mainly White, SNCC workers came to Tuskegee. After a tour through the Black Belt, White SNCC workers commented on the beauty of the cotton-fields, now high in the peak of the cotton-picking season. These SNCC workers lacked the insightful appreciation that cotton represented neo-slavery for Black people, including children who were forced to pick cotton until the end of October, and then taken out of the county-training schools in March to plant cotton. Throughout the spring and summer, Black people were forced to weed, hoe and chop cotton in order to eke out a miserable living.

TIAL unanimously agreed that it would not be productive for White SNCC organizers to work in Alabama s Black Belt. SNCC s Executive Committee agreed.


1965-66 With the passage of the 1965 VRA, Blacks, especially tenant farmers and sharecroppers, registered in record numbers in 90% Black Belt Lowndes County. As a result, plantation landowners evicted Black farmers and their families.

SNCC, which had organizers in the country, procured tents, and with the leadership of local Blacks, erected Tent City on land owned by Blacks.

Concurrent with this development was the crystallization that Black people had a right to defend themselves against racist perpetrators and the right to self-determination. This philosophy was the foundation for the formation of the independent party, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization with the Black Panther as its symbol. This was the first Black Panther Party (BPP) in the country.

Eldridge Clever visited Lowndes County to write about the BPP for Ramparts magazine. Cleaver carried the concept back to Oakland, CA, whereupon he and others established a BPP in that city. Immediately thereafter, the BPP took on a national character and established chapters throughout the nation, particularly in urban cities in South, North, East and West. The quest for Black Power as A means for self-determination to govern their own lives in Lowndes County was the quiet, rallying call of the people.


1966 On January 3, TIAL/SNCC organizer Sammy Younge, Jr. was shot and Killed for daring to us the white-only public toilet in a Tuskegee gas station by the White attendant, Marvin Segrest.

After the Home-going Services for Sammy Younge, Jr., attended en-masse by SNCC organizers, Tuskegee students demanded a shut-down of the university and declared a moratorium, the first-ever held on a USA university campus. (Read James Forman's Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement.)

May, 1966. Several Tuskegee students and faculty members joined SNCC Staff in Atlanta.

Summer, 1966. SNCC supporter, Mrs. Idessa Redden, organized a Montgomery contingent to join SNCC s Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael) and Mukasa (aka Willie Ricks) and SCLC's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy and Bernard Lee in the Mississippi March Against Fear. (Redden's photos of the March are in her collection at Trenholm Tech Archives.) Black Power! shouted by Mukasa and Kwame on the March became a household goal in the national Black community.

November 1966. Lowndes County BPP held its first independent political Election for local offices. SNCC organizers assisted in political education and get-out-the-vote workshops. US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy pleaded with local residents to forfeit their independent thrust and to join the Democratic Party. The sell-out of the Democratic Party and the insult to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party were still vivid in the minds and hearts. Kennedy's request was soundly rejected by the local leadership and the people.


1967 February, 1967. SNCC called the first Black Power! Conference, which was held in Tuskegee.

December 1967. SNCC organizers attended the trial which found Sammy Younge, Jr. s murderer not guilty. Tuskegee University students shut down the campus and a second moratorium of the University was declared. Students painted a yellow strip down the back of a Confederate statute in the downtown square of Tuskegee and attributed the deed by painting Black Power! at the base.


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