SNCC and My Movement Life
Michael Wright

[As told to 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.]

I'm Michael Wright, and in the community, namely the bars and the dance joints, they call me "Mickey" as a nickname.

But I was going to talk about my history in the Movement as well. I'll try to do that briefly, because I know I look younger than most of you might believe. I was actively in the Movement since I was eight years old. I desegregated personally a theater in Salisbury, Maryland, where my relatives are from, because I just didn't understand what it meant to be in a short white line or a long colored line, so I chose the short white line. And it made a lot of sense to me, and I never went back on that, though I tell my friends that I ended up in a balcony where any 8-year-old would end up anyway. So it didn't really matter too much in the final analysis.

But in 1960, because my mother and step-dad were very politically active and the rest of my family had been politically active and progressive, probably since about 1760, we trace our ancestors to Maryland that far back, and freemen and mixture of freemen and slaves of Maryland, so we go back a long way in the family tradition. I was kind of born into it.

In fact, it's a real possibility that one of Harriet Tubman's — they're called the Underground Railroad — actually began on our property on the eastern shore of Maryland, because her farm was right across a crick from where we owned a lot of land. So anyway, with that background, I was kind of drawn into the Movement, and in 1960, I was on a picket line, found myself in a very cold, bitter winter on a picket line supporting the sit-ins in Carolina. And my sister and me, we had one glove, and my sister had the other glove, and my step-father gave us each a glove so we could carry a picket sign, because it was probably 10 degrees out there in Harlem at the time.

So my Movement experience actually started with a CORE picket line, but by 1965, I was old enough to leave the North and go to the South where I met some of my lasting friends in life, and I started working with SNCC toward the end of that year. With that, we were doing voter registration and desegregating anything we could find. If it looked segregated, we were going to attack it. There was no question about it. And so we got every little nook and cranny and speak-easy and store, bar, school, it didn't matter, if it was segregated by 1965, it had to go.

So we were very much active, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and comrades in that Movement. I was not a leadership personality or anything like that, because I was just coming in pretty young. I think I was about 17. So after awhile though, I ended up starting — I got arrested several times with various and sundry charges, and I saw the Movement grow. I met all the great people that have been active — not all of them, but many of the people who have been active — from Mississippi and from the Albany campaign and Birmingham and Freedom Riders and so on and so forth, and many of them carry over into the second half of SNCC which was roughly from 1965 until about 1970 or thereabouts.

But my active years were in that second half, and I salute all my colleagues here and friends I was with, even if I was a little boy and you didn't know about me, but I was there. And when you were in Mississippi fighting in the trenches, all of your work and your sacrifices are deeply, deeply appreciated by those of us who have lived through this and your being here is a testament to your integrity and your tenacity and your sincerity, every single one of us.

So with the second half of SNCC, we got into the Black Consciousness part of SNCC — Black Power, Black political parties, Black Pantherism, Black Everything, because that was a necessary and absolutely obligatory and wonderful stage of SNCC to evolve into. It was that important, and the testament, the validity of that was that it became a mass movement, and you don't need any other validity other than the fact that it became a mass movement, and there were reasons for it.

[Applause] But not to exclude anyone; it is just simply to say that all of us had our different roles and parts to play where look, we're here together now celebrating each other's contributions. We all — a bullet's a bullet. You know? You ran that risk. You're valid in my book, and I love you all, so I'll leave it at that. I didn't, like I said, I didn't expect to speak at this moment, but this is what I've — speaking from my heart, I hope to see you in North Carolina, and the music is called Freedom Songs, different mass media and Freedom Singers. I hope you enjoy it, and if you want a party and really party, let me know, because that's what I do best. All right. Thank you so much.

Copyright © Michael Wright, 2010

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