Don Jelinek and Jean Wiley

[Introduction to the story-telling portion of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the student-led sit-ins of 1960, the rise of youth-led activism, and the founding of SNCC. Main library, San Francisco, March 27, 2010.]

Don: Welcome SNCC. Welcome Civil Rights workers. Welcome family and friends. This is the 50th anniversary of the — Jimmy, keep quiet! [Laughing] (This is a very informal group.) This is the anniversary, the 50th anniversary of the most significant revolution since that one run by George Washington. [Applause]

We want to thank the San Francisco Library for giving us the beautiful facility, even though they wouldn't allow any booze, but putting that aside, this is magnificent. In a few moments, Jean Wiley is going to speak, but I want to just put a thought before you. Let's go back. It's 1960. And somebody says to you: "Look, I got this gig going on. We're mostly 18, 19, 20, 21. We don't have any money. We don't have any real backing. We don't have any weapons, of course. But we're going to bring Mississippi and other states to their knees. Now, granted, they have the State Police, the County Police, the mayors, the local police, the governors. They got the money, and they've got rage. But nevertheless, we're going to bring them to their knees."

And you say: "You're crazy! You're absolutely crazy! You think that this little group of crazy people can bring a state, states, to their knees? No." But 50 years later, it turns out we did. And let's congratulate ourselves.


Now, I take the pleasure of introducing Jean Wiley who was part of everything in this revolution. Jean?

Jean: Thank you very much. Not part of everything, but I tried. I want to welcome you again to this. For many of us in this room, this is a celebration of ourselves. This is a celebration of community that 50 years ago we didn't even know we would have at this point. I want to start off by asking all of those who worked in the Freedom Movement, in any capacity, to please stand. [Applause]

I want to tell you a little about your host for this afternoon. We're the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. We're a small group that meets pretty much once a month and has for over 10 years. We were staff people in some capacity of the major Civil Rights organizations that were working down there, primarily SNCC and primarily CORE [and SCLC]. We were, back then, youngsters, and sometimes we acted like youngsters, and sometimes we acted like very, very wise men and women.

We have a website, and we urge you to keep the website in mind. There is some wonderful information there. There are interviews there. There are discussions that we've taped and transcribed about key issues there. And an enormous amount of resources. So be sure to remember that there is a website. It is for all veterans in the Civil Rights Movement. Or, as we call it, the Freedom Movement, because that's what it was called in the South, the Freedom Movement, and the people working in it were either the Freedom Riders or the Freedom Fighters. So we urge you to sign up.

This is one of several larger gatherings that we've had, and we hope to have others, so be sure that you've signed in on our list, and you students as well, please feel free to do so, so that you'll know when we're meeting again.

In February 1960, I was beginning my second term as a freshman in Baltimore, at Morgan State College which is now Morgan University. When somebody told me that we were about to celebrate our 50th, I thought somebody had miscounted somewhere. It couldn't possibly be, and it couldn't possibly mean me. But here we are.

The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is the organization that many in our group came from and many of you here went south to work with them, work with that organization. It's celebrating its 50th anniversary where it all began when Ella Baker, whose name you all know, called together the leaders of the sit-in movement sweeping the country on the various Black campuses, called them together to see if they could coordinate. And I'm sure her hope was, and it turned out to be true, accelerate and escalate the Movement. And we did. So [the anniversary celebration] is going to be at Shaw in the middle of next month, and many of us here are going. And we hope to bring you good news when we get back.

This is also the 50th — coming directly out of that meeting that I just mentioned 50 years ago — of the rise of youth power, of the rise of mass student movement. And it was massive. It was all over the country. And as you know, through the years of the 60s, that movement spread to other major issues and challenges, one of which of course was the war against the Vietnamese people and our efforts to stop that. But in addition, it also sparked a number of other movements around the country. Native Americans, for example; Latinos, for example.

The air, and many of us who were there remember it, the air was filled with excitement and energy and exploration. It was a really good time.

There's something else I want to recall too. This is also Women's History Month, and the rise of the second stage of the Feminist Movement. Now, how does that fit in? Well, many of the people in this very room, when they left the South, they entered another kind of movement, and it was the Women's Movement. And I think that's because we found our voices, even though we may not have known that's what we were doing, we found our voices as a result of having participated in the southern struggle. And those were powerful voices. And I'm not going to dwell on that, but I'd just like to acknowledge and give a hand also to that Movement and to us. There's one thing that I forgot to remind you that we are also celebrating, and that is the Freedom Rides. Is there anybody still in the room who was a Freedom Rider? Would you please stand? [Applause]

The Freedom Rides were critical, you see, because these young students who were SNCC that I was a part of — that was the entry into the rural South. You'll hear a lot today about rural Mississippi, rural Alabama, rural Georgia. Well, that was the entry way. Those busses literally plowing through the South, and then people being arrested and remaining there for many months. So all of these things are connected, and it's wonderful to see. It's wonderful to look at the pieces and see them put together. Thank you.


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