north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     On Easter weekend of 1960, about 150 student leaders from ten states met at Shaw University in Raleigh for the “Southwide Leadership Conference on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation.” The meeting took place just two months after the Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro had launched the protest effort. The session, convened by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference whose executive director Ella Baker was a Shaw graduate, aimed to consolidate isolated sit-in efforts and map strategy. The conference created the “Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee” headquartered in Atlanta.

     At a meeting in May, Marion Barry, later District of Columbia mayor, was elected its first president. Serving as SNCC leader from 1963 to 1966 was John Lewis, later a Georgia Congressman. Succeeding Lewis and directing the group toward a more militant stance until it disbanded in 1970 was Stokely Carmichael. SNCC members were the “shock troops” and frontline leaders in the civil rights movement, especially in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. John Hope Franklin called them “probably the most courageous and the most selfless” of the civil rights workers.

     Historian Howard Zinn entitled his chapter on the origins of SNCC “Out of the Sit-ins.” Through her efforts behind the scenes, Ella Baker, a native of Norfolk who grew up in Littleton, North Carolina, persuaded the SCLC to support the Shaw conference with $800. She successfully advocated that the nascent organization be student-directed and not under the umbrella of the SCLC. The weekend’s keynote speaker, the Reverend James Lawson of Nashville, in his remarks criticized established older groups such as the NAACP as too slow and conservative. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to 1,600 people present in Memorial Auditorium on Saturday night, urging students to adopt the nonviolent philosophy of Ghandi and face jail time for peaceful protest if necessary. King was not the dominant force at the conference and indeed left Raleigh before it had concluded.


References:
Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964)
Ellen Cantarow, Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change (1980)—chapter on Ella Baker
Mary King, Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the Civil Rights Movement (1987)
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (1988)
David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, April 15-18, 1960, and April 16, 1990




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