Charlie Cobb is a journalist, author and board member of the SNCC Legacy Project. (Courtesy photo)
Charlie Cobb is a journalist, author and board member of the SNCC Legacy Project. (Courtesy photo)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) recently celebrated its 60th anniversary with a virtual convention that focused on its history and how activism can help people of color during their present struggles.

“This conference will be intergenerational,” Charlie Cobb, a former SNCC activist in the 1960s, said on WIN-TV’s Oct. 8 edition.

“We want to bring together the SNCC veterans and the activists with the Black Lives Matter movement and push intergenerational action,” he said. “What young people are doing now connects with what we did with SNCC 60 years ago.”

SNCC started at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960 when a group of young civil rights activists organized under the tutelage of Ella Baker to confront segregation and racist practices primarily in the South.

The organization grew rapidly throughout the decades with hundreds of SNCC activists participating in activities including: the Freedom Rides during which they sought to exercise their rights as promised by the ban against segregation on interstate travel in buses (1961); led voter registration drives throughout the South (1961); and the 1964 Freedom Summer when they worked to register Black voters in Mississippi. Later in the decade, conflicts on the role of whites in the organization and the decision to ban white membership led to decreased funding and its subsequent demise in 1973, according to the National Archives’ African American Heritage site.

The D.C. Connection

Former D.C. Mayor and Councilmember Marion S. Barry served as the chairman of the District’s office of SNCC. Former SNCC members who have served on the D.C. Council include: Frank Smith (Ward 1); Nadine Winter (Ward 6); David Clarke (Ward 1, chairman); and John Wilson (Ward 2, chairman).

The late Lawrence Guyot served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton worked for SNCC as an organizer. Courtland Cox, the SNCC Legacy Project’s chairman, attended Howard University and in partnership with Cobb, co-founded and managed the Drum and Spear Bookstore.

Highlights from the Conference

The recent conference occurred from Oct. 14-16. Workshops on a variety of topics ranged from addressing police brutality, confronting voter suppression laws, improving the educational system for young people and the economics of communities of color. Noted elected officials such as Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and civil rights leaders such as NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson participated in the conference, along with scholars from various universities and institutes on Black history and politics. Films dealing with SNCC’s early history and its deceased members received airing in addition to discussions with authors regarding their books.

Some of the Workshops

Ellison participated in the “Criminal Justice: Effect Change at City, County and State Levels” workshop with Yale Law School professor James Forman Jr., and Judy Richardson, a SNCC Legacy Project Board member, who served as the moderator.

Ellison, who received national attention with his effort to successfully prosecute former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, said community engagement can thwart the rising homicide rates in Black neighborhoods throughout the U.S.

“You have to engage in community hotspots,” he said. “Not the ‘stop-and-frisk’ techniques used in many cities or ‘stop-a-Black-kid’ tactics but get the community involved in stopping the violence. Community-led programs have been found to be successful.”

Another workshop, “The Path Forward: A Look at the 21st Century Racial Environment,” led by Cobb, focused on the relationship Blacks have with other Americans.

“There is a diversity in the African American experience,” Johnson said. “In the NAACP, we have Haitians in our Miami branch, Muslims active in our Philadelphia branch and good ole country folks in our branches in Alabama. I see the diversity among Blacks as a beautiful thing.”

Imani Perry Hughes-Rogers, a scholar at Princeton University, said even though Blacks today make more money presently than any time in history, the Black middle classes’ financial status remains “fragile.”

“We have Black people who are earning a lot of money and have large salaries,” she said. “But that’s income, not wealth. We have to figure out ways for Black people to become wealthier.”

In the “Where Do We Go from Here” workshop, Melina Abdullah, a scholar at California State University, Los Angeles, advises young activists to continue their work for equal rights for all Americans.

“Young people need to do two things,” Abdullah said. “They need to join an organization that is working on what they seek to do. And, every morning, they need to wake up and think about what they will do for Black freedom.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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