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Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Considered one of the most integral organizations in the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”) functioned to offer young people a voice during the Civil Rights Movement. SNCC was founded during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hosted at Shaw University in April of 1960. The meeting was organized by Ella Baker, and SNCC was adamant during its formation that it would function separately from other Civil Rights organizations to facilitate their own projects and strategies.

SNCC was most prominent in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland as they played major roles in the early 1960s by participating in various sit-ins and the freedom rides of 1961. The organization shifted focus in 1962-1966 to increase voter registration for people of color, a project that was initiated in McComb, MS. SNCC also participated in the March on Washington in 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, and were advocates for the formation of the Mississippi Democratic Party in 1964.

After the Democratic Convention of 1964, a dichotomy began to emerge as members began to grapple with the ideology of non-violence as a core value of the organization. One group favored a nonviolent approach while others began to favor black power and Marxism. Under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael as the chairmen of SNCC from 1966-1967, SNCC pulled away from its philosophy of nonviolence. Other members began to question how much longer SNCC could stay nonviolent and remain an effective organization in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1969, SNCC was officially renamed the Student National Coordinating Committee, abandoning their guiding principle of nonviolence. SNCC largely disappeared by the early 1970s due to a decline in funding, ambiguity amongst leadership, and disconnect in organizational philosophy.

History.com (2009). SNCC. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sncc

King Encyclopedia (2017). Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Retrieved from: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee_sncc/

Moses, Robert “Bob”

Robert Moses was born in 1935 and was a major contributor towards the fight towards social equity for all, becoming a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

Moses first got involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Following SCLC, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960 as a field secretary. In 1962, Moses transitioned to a strategic coordinator and project director with the Council of Federated Organization (COFO) in Mississippi. As one of the main organizer’s of COFO’s Freedom Summer Project, he played an integral role in achieving widespread voter registration of blacks in Mississippi. In addition, Moses was a driving force in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which challenged the segregationist-dominated Mississippi Democratic Party delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a critical point in time that brought national awareness to the civil rights struggle occurring in Mississippi.

Moses is the President and Founder and President of the Algebra Project Inc., whose goal is to bring math literacy to low income citizens by utilizing mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education for every child in America.

Sources:

“Board & Staff.” The Algebra Project, www.algebra.org/staff.php#moses.

Cheam, Bunthay. “Moses, Robert P. (1935-).” The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, www.blackpast.org/aah/moses-robert-p-1935.

“Robert ‘Bob’ Moses.” Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th, WordPress, freedom50.org/moses/.

Campbell, Will

Born in Amite County, Mississippi in 1924, Will Campbell became an ordained minister at age 17 before attending Louisiana College. After attending Louisiana College, Will served as a medic during World War II.

Mr. Campbell held a multitude of professions over his career as a civil rights activist that resulted in an impressive resume. In 1954, Mr. Campbell served as the Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi until he received hostility for being a supporter of integration. He then worked as a field director for the National Council of Churches where he aided in efforts to escort black students into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1963, Mr. Campbell became the director of the Committee of Southern Churchmen where his contributions to the Katalagete: Be Reconciled journal had a controversial effect on his reputation as a civil rights activist.

He authored several books, including Brother to a Dragonfly, Providence, Forty Acres and a Goat, and The Glad River.

Mr. Campbell passed away in June of 2013.

God’s Will from The Center for Public Television on Vimeo.

Source:
Anderson, David E. “Feisty Civil Rights Activist Will Campbell Dies at 88.” Washington Post, June 5, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/feisty-civil-rights-activist-will-campbell-dies-at-88/2013/06/05/b752fed4-ce1a-11e2-8573-3baeea6a2647_story.html.

Jay, Jeff. “Will D. Campbell: An Unconventional Approach to Racial Reconciliation”. The University of Chicago, October 10, 2013. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/will-d-campbell-unconventional-approach-racial-reconciliation-%E2%80%94-jeff-jay-0

Amite – Documents

Westbrook Cotton Gin National Registry nomination form (photos removed from original)

The Murder of Herbert Lee and Louis Allen

(1961-1964) August 15, 1961: Bob Moses (a SNCC worker) accompanied farmer Ernest Isaac, Bertha Lee Hughes, and Matilda Schoby to register at the Liberty courthouse. All three filled out a form but were refused the test. Upon leaving Liberty, their car was pulled over by Marshall Carwyle Bates of Liberty, who arrested Moses.

August 28, 1961: Amite’s first voter registration class was held at Mt. Pilgrim Church.

August 29, 1961: Moses accompanied Reverend Alfred Knox and Curtis Dawson to the courthouse to register. Before reaching the courthouse, they were stopped by Billy Jack Caston, a cousin of the sheriff and the son-in-law of E.H. Hurst. Caston beat Moses, who then filed assault and battery charges against Caston—the first time any African American had challenged white violence in Amite County.

August 31, 1961: Billy Jack Caston is tried in Liberty on assault and battery charges. Caston testified that Moses picked the fight with him, and six white witnesses concurred. Moses also testified but was told by the sheriff to leave the courthouse before the jury returned its verdict because he could not guarantee Moses’s safety. Caston was acquitted.

September 5, 1961: Moses and Travis Britt, another SNCC worker, accompanied four Amite citizens to the Liberty courthouse, and the group was accosted by a group of white men in the hallway. Britt was beaten by several of the men, among them someone named “Bryant,”until he was nearly unconscious.

September 25, 1961: Herbert Lee is murdered by E.H. Hurst.

January 31, 1964: Louis Allen is murdered.

Sources:

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Champaign,
Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Newfield, Jack. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966.

Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the
Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1955.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge Massachusetts: South End Press, 1964.

Lee, Herbert

Herbert Lee, a farmer and the father of nine children, was a charter member of Amite County’s NAACP branch. He remained openly active even after Sheriff E.L. Caston raided the chapter’s membership list and records in 1954. After Robert “Bob” Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arrived in Amite County, Lee volunteered to drive him around the area to contact potential voters. Lee also provided transportation to students in the nearby McComb Movement.

In 1961, Mississippi state legislator E.H. Hurst murdered Lee but was never held accountable. According to witnesses that Bob Moses located and spoke with privately after the incident, on the morning of September 25, 1961, Lee drove to a cotton gin in Liberty with a load of cotton. E.H. Hurst drove up behind Lee in a truck owned by Billy Jack Caston, got out, and went up to Lee’s window. The two men argued, and Hurst pulled out a gun. Lee refused to talk to him unless Hurst put the gun down. Lee got out of the truck on the side away from Hurst, but Hurst ran around the front of the truck, aimed, and fired at Lee, killing him.

The day before the murder, local NAACP leader E.W. Steptoe testified to John Doar of the Justice Department that Hurst had publicly threatened to kill Steptoe, George Reese, and Lee, who had attended voter registration classes and volunteered to attempt to register. Steptoe also told Doar that whites were recording the license plate numbers of cars at meetings.

Around a dozen witnesses, both black and white, were present when Hurst murdered Lee, but Lee’s body remained on the ground for hours. Eventually his body was taken to a McComb funeral home because no one in Liberty would touch it. Louis Allen, who witnessed the murder, was taken from the gin by a white man to the coroner’s jury; on the way there, he was told what to say. None of the African American witnesses were willing to testify against Hurst, and several told Moses that the sheriff instructed them to say that after a dispute over money, Lee attacked Hurst with a tire iron, and Hurst’s gun went off accidentally. Hearing such testimony, the coroner’s jury resolved that Hurst killed Lee in self defense, and Hurst spent no time in jail. When a federal jury began considering an indictment of Hurst in late October, Allen decided to truthfully testify if he was given federal protection. Moses was informed by the Justice Department that they could offer Allen no such protection, so Allen repeated the sheriff’s story to the jury. Louis Allen himself was later murdered, and no one was every prosecuted for the murder.

For some time after Lee’s murder, no African Americans in Amite County were willing to register to vote. Lee is memorialized in Bertha Gober’s song, “We’ll Never Turn Back,”and at least one of his children, Herbert Lee, Jr., was active in the movement in 1965, when he was only 15 years old.

Information on Herbert Lee’s murder is also included in the national registry nomination for the Westbrook Cotton Gin. Click here for the edited nomination form, with photos removed, in the document library for Amite County.

Sources:

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Champaign, Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Newfield, Jack. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966.

Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1955.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge Massachusetts: South End Press, 1964.

Steptoe, E.W.

E.W. Steptoe, born Eldridge Willie Steptoe from Amite County, was owner of a dairy and cotton farm. He founded Amite County’s NAACP chapter in 1953 and recruited nearly 200 members in less than a year. Because of Steptoe and others who assisted him, the chapter was quite active until one night in 1954, after the Brown decision, when Sheriff E. L. Caston interrupted a chapter meeting to confiscate membership lists and records. Steptoe notified the FBI, and Caston returned the papers, but participation drastically decreased. Shortly after the raid, a member was charged with murder. The Amite County NAACP, however, still managed to start its own newsletter, The Informer. Openly continuing his NAACP activities, Steptoe was frequently harassed by local police and his white neighbors, one of whom was E. H. Hurst (a state legislator), and he began heavily arming himself. Steptoe also encountered difficulties selling his milk and obtaining loans. In 1961, after reading an article in Jet magazine about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and its proposed Mississippi project, Steptoe invited SNCC’s Robert “Bob” Moses to initiate a voter registration campaign in Amite County. Moses arrived in August of 1961 and moved in with Steptoe on his farm, which SNCC workers set up as a voter registration school. Steptoe’s arsenal of guns reportedly made some SNCC workers like Moses, who was thoroughly committed to nonviolence, nervous. Steptoe continued to support SNCC and Moses even when the state NAACP wanted the organization to leave Mississippi. He also helped revive the movement in 1964, working with volunteers such as Marshall Ganz on COFO’s summer project, and was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. He bravely testified to the U.S. Justice Department about E.H. Hurst threatening, and then later murdering, local NAACP member Herbert Lee. Mr. Steptoe passed away in 1983.

Sources:

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Champaign,
Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Newfield, Jack. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966.

Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the
Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1955.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge Massachusetts: South End Press, 1964.

Allen, Louis

Louis Allen, an independent logger and father of four children, witnessed Lee’s murder and contacted the Justice Department. Several months after Hurst’s trial, the deputy sheriff informed Allen he knew about his contact with the Justice Department and broke his jaw. Allen was also economically harassed and jailed twice on false charges. After his second arrest, in 1963, he overhead the jailer say that a lynch mob was forming outside of the jail. Allen was able to send word to his sons, who stood guard outside of the jail that night. Due to the numerous direct and indirect death threats he received, Allen planned to move to Milwaukee on February 1, but on January 31, 1964, Allen was shot and murdered at his home. No one was ever charged for the murder.

Sources:

Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Champaign,
Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Newfield, Jack. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966.

Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the
Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1955.

Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge Massachusetts: South End Press, 1964.


McDew, Charles “Chuck”: Oral History

Charles “Chuck” McDew participated in the civil rights movement in many parts of the American South, including Mississippi. He was a pivotal movement activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In this interview, he begins by discussing segregated seating laws in the South versus elsewhere. He then describes the Greensboro sit-ins. He concludes by discussing his hopes for change in Mississippi. His interview is featured in the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Chuck McDew from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.
 

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Chuck McDew

Name of Interviewer: Susan Glisson

Date: April 10, 2004

Place of Interview: Oxford, MS

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Jim Crow
2:00-4:00 Plessy vs. Ferguson; Sumter, SC; arrest
4:00-6:00 Arrest; train travel
6:00-8:00 Segregation; language of segregation
8:00-10:00 Plessy vs. Ferguson
10:00-12:00 Taxes; equal facilities
12:00-14:00 University of Texas Law School; Mr. Sweet
14:00-16:00 Inequality in Southern schools; separate but equal
16:00-18:00 Nonviolent action
18:00-20:00 Brown vs. Board of Education; Montgomery Bus Boycott
20:00-22:00 Montgomery Bus Boycott
22:00-24:00 February 1, 1960 – beginning of sit-ins
24:00-26:00 Sit-ins; desegregating buses; Ohio
26:00-28:00 Segregated bus travel
28:00-30:00 Bus travel; Anniston, AL
30:00-32:00 Freedom Rides; SNCC
32:00-34:00 Freedom Rides; SNCC; violence
34:00-36:00 Mississippi
36:00-38:00 Sit-ins; wade-ins; Mississippi; desegregation
38:00-40:00 History of race relations in Mississippi
40:00-42:00 Mississippi; Ross Barnett; Ole Miss; SNCC in Mississippi
42:00-44:00 Atlanta; Mississippi; Pell City, AL; Jackson, MS; Ku Klux Klan sign in Mississippi
44:00-46:00 Racial conditions in Mississippi; Emmett Till; racial violence
46:00-48:00 “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”
48:00-50:00 Mortality; changes in Mississippi; McComb, MS; Chatawa, MS; Amite County, MS; fear
50:00-52:00 Dante’s Inferno; Amite County, MS; Freedom Rides in context of larger movement
52:00-54:00 Freedom Rides in context of larger movement; significance of Mississippi in movement; Christianity
54:00-56:00 Morality; humanness; change; ability of young people to make change
56:00-58:00 Change in Mississippi; courage
58:00-60:00 “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”