Bringing the Movement to Life

Former SNCC field secretary and journalist Charlie Cobb has been at Duke University since last September, serving as the One Person, One Vote Project’s very first Visiting Activist Scholar. Over these last six months, Cobb has been guiding the student project team as they’ve developed content for, serving as both an advisor and an editor. Below, the project team members share what it was like working with SNCC veteran Charlie Cobb and learning how to tell the grassroots story of the struggle for voting rights.

Annie: “The One Person, One Vote project is all about telling stories, and no one is a better storyteller than  Charlie Cobb … It really sunk in for me during one of our first days at OPOV, when Charlie took us from the “when Bob met Amzie” story to the lives of SNCC veterans today. Three hours in the basement of the Center for Documentary Studies passed by in the blink of an eye, and once Charlie said goodbye, we were all so excited (and a bit nervous as well) to write a website that honored his storytelling spirit.”

Eliza: Whenever Charlie entered our project workroom, I knew I was about to learn something new. Whether it was a story about a person someone in our team was researching or a a recent experience, his energy and insight were invaluable. Time after time, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to be writing about such a rich and transformative period in history with the presence of “living history.”

Charlie Cobb, Choices Program, Brown University

David: “Charlie Cobb is also possessed of a seemingly inexhaustible array of stories about the people and places where he has traveled. Some of them are funny, some of them are serious, but all of them are fascinating and relevant to our project here at OPOV. And, because Charlie has remained involved with SNCC, he also had the contact information for many of the people who were still living – which he would provide on request! It’s one thing to write a profile of someone based on their autobiography or historical works, it’s another thing entirely to have them on the other end of the phone to answer questions.”

Alexandria: “Working on the OPOV Project has been vital to my identification as an African American woman … This past year has allowed me to better understand and appreciate the efforts of the activists before me. Having Charlie Cobb as a Visiting Activist has not only been a learning experience, but an inspiration. From his funny stories and writing critiques to his overall wisdom on life, it has truly been an honor working with Mr. Cobb and the entire OPOV team.”

Amina: “Through the process, Charlie reminded us that the profiles weren’t mini-dissertations. He pushed us to focus on storytelling. In my research for almost every profile, Charlie Cobb’s name was mentioned. His connection to different parts of the Movement helped round out the profiles. Having his input constantly reminded me of the importance of making this history accessible.”

Aaron: “Charlie’s shown me, without saying it, but by doing it,what it’s like to be truly passionate and dedicated about something … I’m amazed that this man has been working on this civil rights history stuff for a long time. A loooong time … I had that moment, and it was certainly because of Charlie, when realized I was a moving piece in a longer story; I was reading and writing about people whom he knew, fought with, fought beside. So I’ve just been amazed at how he keeps going.”

Kaley:“Working with SNCC activist Charlie Cobb over the last few months has been nothing short of inspiring.  He has such a wealth of stories and recollection of details, sharing with us the life of these memories within the context of the struggle.  I remember distinctly when he told us, smiling profusely, about meeting Lawrence Guyot in Jackson while on his way to a CORE workshop and Guyot persuading him to stay in Mississippi and organize.  Moments like these, crossing generations and experiences through oral tradition, are truly unparalleled.”

Sarah: “Charlie Cobb has unmatchable zeal when it comes to storytelling.  When Charlie Cobb talked about SNCC he brought the Movement to life – the people, places, tensions. He so deeply valued the work of every individual who contributed to SNCC that it made writing the profiles a sincere honor and adventure.”