WRITTEN BY: Sarah Asfari
As February 2017 comes to a close, there is one big piece of American history that we must remember. Shaw University, the first black university in the South, and one of the oldest in the nation, is a historical leader in the civil rights movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC – pronounced snick), was founded in 1960 as the fight for, as the Pledge of Allegiance says, liberty and justice for all. While it is disturbing to some that a fight for such basic rights was ever necessary, inspiration can be drawn from the leaders of this movement. Below are some of the many influential people and events from the civil rights movement:
Ella Baker & SNCC:
Ella Baker was a student and ultimately civil rights activist at Shaw University during the movement. In 1960, a group of young activists had the first meeting of what would become SNCC. The committee was formed to give a greater voice to young black people (especially in the South). Some felt that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), run by activists such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were not representative enough of youth in the South. The group was a big part of civil rights actions such as the Freedom Rides, the sit-ins (starting with the Greensboro sit-ins), and rallies lead by MLK, Jr. and other activists.
The Freedom Rides:
May 4, 1961. 7 young black men and women, accompanied by 6 white men and women, board busses to prove a point. The point being, of course, that “separate is not equal”. They purposely began the rides in Washington, D.C. just 13 days before the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Brown v. Board of Education was a pivotal court case that ruled that “separate is not equal”, and ordered the desegregation of schools. Segregation in education was deemed unconstitutional, but this was not the only battle left to fight. The Freedom Riders, helped along by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), aimed for New Orleans. They were not that fortunate. Eight days in, in Rock Hill, SC, John Lewis and two others were attacked while trying to enter a whites-only waiting area. Ten days in, one of the buses stopped in Anniston, Alabama. 200 angry white people surrounded their stop, and followed the bus. The tires of the bus blew out and a bomb was thrown onto the bus. The riders on that bus escaped the bus, only to be attacked by the mob outside. The other bus, carrying the rest of the Riders, arrived in Birmingham, Alabama the same day and faced a similar fate. Local government was of no help, allowing the violence, although expected, to occur. How utterly despicable. Attorney General Kennedy stepped in and sent federal marshals to stop the violence. The next day, Rev. MLK, Jr. was holding a service in the First Baptist Church in Montgomery when a mob of angry white people gathered outside and attempted to pull the same stuff.
Eventually, after many more Freedom Rides, and in response to the Kennedy Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commision set forth new regulations that banned segregation in transportation. Do they expect an award for being decent human beings? Even so, they were dragging their feet and it still took them so long to finally realize the only good thing to do.
Rep. John Lewis:
John Lewis is regarded as one of the most influential and active civil rights activist from the movement to today. He was one of the founders of SNCC and was one of the Freedom Riders. Lewis also organized sit-ins in Nashville, TN. In 1964, Lewis organized events for SNCC and the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, he was one of the leaders of the iconic Selma to Montgomery march. The march was a peaceful protest that unfortunately ended in Bloody Sunday, a horrifically violent response to a completely peaceful protest to ridiculous laws.
Little Rock Nine:
On September 25, 1957, three and a half years after Brown v Board of Education, students were still struggling with the segregation of public schools. Even after the court order, social pressures and the rejection of desegregation laws by many people of power in the South meant that many schools were still segregated. Nine young black students were trying to go to Central High School in Little Rock, Alabama, when they were met by a large horde of angry protesters. They had gathered in front of the future to forcefully express their opinions on the integration of public schools. After a great struggle, the nine young men and women became known as the Little Rock Nine and became a symbol of the rough path to desegregation. They still work as activists, having founded the Little Rock Nine Foundation for underprivileged youth to have access to a good education.
“Biography.” Congressman John Lewis. N.p., 28 June 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <https://johnlewis.house.gov/john-lewis/biography>.
“History.” Little Rock Nine Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <http://www.littlerock9.com/history.html>.
History.com Staff. “SNCC.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sncc>.
“Shaw University Brief History.” Shawu.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <http://www.shawu.edu/About_Shaw/Historical_Perspective/?section=about-sjaw>.