SNCC Digital Gateway goes LIVE

A new documentary website: SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work (https://snccdigital.org) debuted on December 13th. It is the product of collaboration between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and Duke Libraries. SNCC, which grew out of the student sit-in movement in 1960, was brought into being by Ella Baker, one of the 20th century’s most influential activists. The SNCC Digital Gateway went live on her 113th birthday.

Made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the SNCC Digital Gateway tells the story of how young activists in SNCC united with local people in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change that empowered the Black community and transformed the nation.

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Using documentary footage, audio recordings, photographs, and documents, the site portrays how SNCC organizers, alongside thousands of local Black residents, worked so that Black people could take control of their lives. It unveils the inner workings of SNCC as an organization, examining how it coordinated sit-ins and freedom schools, voter registration and economic cooperatives, anti-draft protests and international solidarity struggles.

In this new documentary website, you’ll find:

  • Historic materials including documents, photographs, oral history interviews, and audiovisual material hosted in digital collections at repositories across the country
  • Profiles examining individuals’ contributions to the Movement
  • Events tracing the evolution of SNCC’s organizing
  • Inside SNCC pages unveiling the inner workings of SNCC as an organization
  • Perspectives presenting aspects of SNCC’s history from the eyes of the activists themselves
  • Map connecting users to the people who worked—and the events that happened—in a specific place.

In 2013, the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) and Duke University formed a partnership to chronicle the historic struggles for voting rights and to develop ongoing programs that contribute to a more civil and inclusive democracy in the 21st century.

SNCC veterans shaped the vision and framework of the SNCC Digital Gateway. They worked collaboratively with historians of the Movement, archivists, and students to weave together grassroots stories, digitized primary source materials, and new multi-media productions to bring this history—and its enduring legacy—to life for a new generation.

The SNCC Digital Gateway is a work in progress. We will continue to add more stories and fill out its content in the year to come.

The story of the Movement told on this website is one of unsung heroes: domestic workers and sharecroppers, young organizers and seasoned mentors, World War II veterans and high school students. The SNCC Digital Gateway is here to share their story—and to help continue their legacy of organizing for self-determination and democracy in the generations to come. We feel certain that the site not only provides an unprecedented and valuable window onto past civil rights struggles, but a valuable tool for all those interested in social change today.

Remembering Julian Bond

At the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians this past April, a group of people who knew Julian Bond in different contexts reflected on his life and the man they’d known. Historian Emilye Crosby chaired the “Remembering Julian Bond” panel, and she shares some of the memories from the panel in this blog post, originally published on Process: a blog for American History.

Remembering Julian Bond

By Emilye Crosby

Julian Bond made history for the first time as a young activist in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. He was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, and was the driving force in the organization’s incomparable Communications Department. In the late 1960s he took his activism into the Georgia legislature and after two decades there he returned to communications, using the skill he honed in the Civil Rights Movement to teach, interpret, and help shape our understanding of the movement that he and others propelled forward. Throughout his life, he made and analyzed history, using his public stature, movement work, and intellectual skills to battle for justice. When he passed away prematurely in August 2015, there was a huge outpouring of love and loss.

Emilye Crosby (left) with Julian Bond. Crosby is a Professor of History at the State University of New York . She is the author of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.
Author Emilye Crosby (left) with Julian Bond. Crosby is a Professor of History at the State University of New York and is the author of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.

Jeanne Theoharis, who learned movement history in one of Julian Bond’s classrooms and worked closely with him in recent years to open the Rosa Parks Papers to the public, tried to manage her grief by writing, “What Julian Bond Taught Me,” published in The Nation two days after his death. I strongly related to her description of what she had learned from Mr. Bond, and how her relationship with Julian grew from student to colleague and friend. In fact, Theoharis spoke for many and her essay prompted movement historian John Dittmer to ask the OAH Program Committee to add a panel that would give conference participants an opportunity to pay tribute to Bond, reflecting on the many ways he influenced us personally and contributed to our nation’s history.

With considerable support from the committee and OAH staff, John, Jeanne, and I pulled together a panel, “Remembering Julian Bond,” which I chaired. The panel was composed of people who knew Bond in different eras and contexts, including film producer Judy Richardson, a SNCC colleague who was a series producer for Eyes on the Prize; author Taylor Branch, whose friendship with Julian went back to 1968 Georgia politics; scholar Theoharis, who took Julian’s class on the Civil Rights Movement as a Harvard undergraduate; historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries, who met Bond at Morehouse College, their shared alma mater; and law professor Timothy Lovelace, who worked with Bond while earning undergraduate, law, and history Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. While we were all spilling over with cherished memories and appreciation for Bond as historical actor, teacher, speaker, activist, and friend, we tried to be brief, leaving time for members of the audience to offer their own tributes. More than 50 people attended and many offered comments and examples that paralleled and extended the panelists’ comments.

Judy Richardson met Bond in 1963 when they were both working in SNCC’s Atlanta office, which she described as “a beehive of activity—filled with young people who were changing the world as I knew it.” She highlighted Bond’s Communications work, which included writing press releases about SNCC’s efforts to register Black voters. These were aimed at securing publicity for the project and at helping to protect workers who were being beaten, arrested, and even murdered by white vigilantes and lawmen. (Bond’s last tweet addressed the franchise, observing that “We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act without the Voting Rights Act.”) As a SNCC staffer, Bond also helped craft speeches, like the one delivered by John Lewis at the March on Washington. Richardson emphasized both that the speech was “truly participatory” and that it highlighted economic inequality—an issue Bond spoke out about throughout his life.

Click here to continue reading

A Tribute to Ivanhoe Donaldson

Bob Moses on the convention floor in Atlantic City with his arm around Ivanhoe Donaldson, explaining the MFDP’s position to John Chancellor of NBC, George Ballis, Take Stock

On Friday, May 13th, SNCC activists, family, colleagues from District of Columbia municipal government, and more gathered at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church to say goodbye to Ivanhoe Donaldson. It was, as the program read, a “Celebration of a Consequential Life.” Ivanhoe Donaldson, a SNCC organizer and political strategist, passed away on Sunday, April 3rd.

In this article, Larry Rubin, a colleague from SNCC, pays tribute to Ivanhoe Donaldson’s life and legacy. The article was originally published by People’s World.

Ivanhoe Donaldson, a Civil Rights movement backbone, passes

By Larry Rubin, April 14, 2016

In the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) helped African American Southerners, who faced terror and intimidation, organize to be allowed to exercise their right to vote.

The work was tedious, frustrating, exhausting and dangerous.

Ivanhoe Donaldson taught many of us how to do it.

SNCC organizers, mostly black Southerners themselves – with some black and white folks from the North – worked to support thousands of “everyday” heroes who risked everything for equality and justice. Your name and address was put in the paper if you tried to register to vote. If you were African American, you could be beaten, have your house burned down, your mortgage called in, be fired from you job or be put off your land.

Donaldson, born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, the son of an African-American New York cop, went South and helped black people from Mississippi to Virginia face the dangers and join the Freedom Movement.

Before the Selma march, Donaldson was in Alabama helping to organize the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, whose members adopted as their symbol a Black Panther. Later it was used, with permission, by the group who organized in Oakland, California.

After his work in SNCC, Donaldson helped change the color of American politics by helping black candidates across the nation win offices for the first time.

He was one of the first leaders to recognize the untapped electoral power of the District of Columbia’s majority black population and helped transform the District from a somnolent, subjugated colony into a progressive community able to continue its fight for full home rule.

Donaldson was a brilliant organizer, an astute political tactician and a fearless fighter for equality.

Like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, he was part of the Movement backbone. He helped shape its direction, but felt his role was to help others become visible leaders and spokespersons.

If you haven’t heard of him, you will. His story will be told as the true history of the Civil Rights Movement continues to be written.

Top trainer

I first meant Ivanhoe in 1964. I had been an organizer for SNCC since ’61 and had been sent to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where I worked alone for many months before a group of volunteers and an experienced project director, Ivanhoe Donaldson, arrived.

I was expecting a director who would be, like most SNCC leaders, armed with little more than great faith.

Ivanhoe came armed with a map of the counties surrounding Holly Springs and lists of black residents. “You can organize any community,” he said, “if you have a map.”

Continue reading Larry Rubin’s tribute to Ivanhoe Donaldson on People’s World

Joyce Ladner remembers Vernon Dahmer

On January 10th, 1966, the Klan firebombed the home of Vernon F. Dahmer, a businessman, community leader, and stalwart of the voting rights movement in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Dahmer died the next day. Joyce Ladner, SNCC activist and sociologist, remembers Mr. Dahmer and his legacy in these remarks, prepared for the Clarion Ledger’s January 8, 2016 commemoration of Vernon Dahmer and published by Teaching for Change.

Photograph of Vernon Dahmer on tractor in his cotton field, Nov. 11, 1964, George Ballis, Take Stock

Vernon F. Dahmer: Civil Rights Martyr and American Hero

By Joyce Ladner

I want to thank the Dahmer family, particularly Ellie Dahmer and the Dahmer children who had to find ways to go on after his life was cut short. They kept his life and legacy in the forefront of our minds. They ensured that those who took his life were prosecuted. I also want to thank Jerry Mitchell, Clarion Ledger investigative reporter, who played a key role in the conviction of the Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Sam Bowers who ordered the fatal firebombing of the Dahmer family.

January 10, 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the murder of civil rights martyr and American hero, Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer. He was a civil rights leader, community leader, and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In the early hours of January 10, 1966, members of the Ku Klux Klan shot into and firebombed the home he shared with his wife and children in the Kelly Settlement section of Hattiesburg. It occurred soon after he announced on local radio that he would accept poll taxes at his grocery store and take them to the Forrest County Voting Registrar, Theron Lynd. He offered to pay the poll taxes for those who could not afford them. In doing so, he was going up against the formidable Lynd, who had a reputation for failing most blacks on the literacy test when they tried to register to vote. I was a college senior when I “failed” the literacy test in 1964.

I will never forget the 6 A.M. call to my St. Louis apartment from my mother back in Hattiesburg who told me that the Ku Klux Klan had torched the Dahmer home and store to the ground and that Mr. Dahmer was in critical condition. Her next call later that day was to tell me he had died. His murder caused me to have a loss of innocence because I was reminded that the civil rights struggle could still cause the unleashing of the most virulent racial violence against activists.

Continue reading Joyce Ladner’s remarks at Teaching for Change.

Voting Rights Act at 50

Lowndes County Freedom Party campaign flyers, 1966, www.crmvet.org

Fifty years ago, SNCC fought hand-in-hand with local people in the Deep South to gain full and fair access to the ballot for all Americans. The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a major step toward securing that goal. In Lowndes County, Alabama, African Americans used their newly-protected right to create the independent Lowndes County Freedom Party. “It is going to attempt to go into areas where no one has bothered to go before, and to talk to people who up until now have not been considered worthwhile to deal with or represent,” SNCC field secretary Courtland Cox explained. Its major emphasis was “to bring the poor and excluded, political power on the county level […] We say that those people know their needs and too long have they been ignored.”

Today, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and an outpouring of restrictive state laws are again disenfranchising Americans. Two articles, one by historian and Editorial Board member, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and the other by President Barack Obama, lay what is needed to protect voting rights today.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries’ article, “Voting Rights Require Organization and Legislation,” in the New York Times, Aug. 5, 2015

 

President Obama’s Letter to the Editor in the New York Times Magazine, Aug. 12, 2015

Duke Partners with SNCC Activists on Civil Rights Website

The SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University will extend their partnership for another three years with the help of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Read the press release here.

Duke Partners with SNCC Activists on Civil Rights Website

Duke scholars, staff and students to partner with the SNCC Legacy Project

DURHAM, NC – Students, faculty and librarians at Duke University will partner with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project over the next three years. Together with civil rights scholars, they will build a digital gateway that will reveal the evolving tactics that SNCC and local communities used to develop the philosophical and organizational models that produced universal voting rights.

Made possible by a $604,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Duke University Libraries, the SNCC Digital Gateway will provide a new interpretive framework for SNCC’s history that incorporates essays and analysis, historic documents, timelines, maps, activist profiles, oral histories, short documentary films, audiovisual materials and teaching resources.

The SNCC Digital Gateway will build on the success of One Person, One Vote (onevotesncc.org), a new Web resource launched in March that was developed collaboratively by the SNCC Legacy Project, the Duke University Libraries and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Members of the SNCC Legacy Project — men and women who organized alongside local people in the Deep South for civil rights in the 1960s — will play a central role in the Mellon-funded project. They will come to Duke’s campus as Visiting Activist Scholars and work closely with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, archivists and digital experts to explain what SNCC did, how they did it and who was involved.

Courtland Cox, chairman of the SNCC Legacy Project, served as an organizer in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s. “Our experiences have created a level of ‘informational wealth’ that we need to pass on to young people,” he said. “This unprecedented collaboration with Duke University hopefully will pilot a way for other academic institutions to re-engage history and those who make it.”

Although historians have written about SNCC’s history, the story of how students and local communities worked together to bring about voting rights and other reforms has not yet reached the broader public.

Most histories of the civil rights movement focus on the great leaders, dramatic marches and judicial and legislative changes that dominated the headlines. By contrast, the SNCC Digital Gateway will examine the behind-the-scenes work, circumstances and coalitions that shifted the national agenda toward voting rights.

Specifically, the project will describe how SNCC’s organizers moved from being an organization of protesters to one of organizers in three pivotal locations: Mississippi; Lowndes County and Selma, Alabama; and Southwest Georgia.

Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, has written extensively about SNCC’s work and legacy. According to her, “The way we are working together –activists, archivists, and scholars — is a powerful new model. This project gives us a unique opportunity to understand the work of the local people who broke apart Jim Crow that would otherwise be lost to future generations.”

Led by student veterans of the sit-in movement, SNCC was formed at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1960. Through its full-time student workers or “field secretaries,” SNCC generated unprecedented activism at the local level that proved instrumental to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. SNCC became the cutting edge of the direct-action civil rights movement, focusing on political freedom and equal economic opportunity.

“The victories that SNCC worked so hard to achieve are now being challenged in many states, including North Carolina, Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Wisconsin,” said John Gartrell, director of Duke’s John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. “State legislatures are debating voter ID requirements, guidelines for early voting, same-day registration and restrictions on counting some provisional ballots. Our hope is that the SNCC Digital Gateway will consider which organizing principles and strategies might be useful to today’s generation of activists and foster a broader intergenerational dialogue about the meaning of democracy today.”

Behind the Scenes

Promotional postcard for One Person, One Vote site.
Promotional postcard for One Person, One Vote site.

**Originally published on Bitstreams: The Duke Digital Collection Blog***

On Monday, March 2nd, the new website, One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rightswent live. The launch represented an unprecedented feat of collaboration between activists, scholars, archivists, digital specialists, and students. In a year and a half, this group went from wanting to tell a grassroots story of SNCC’s voting rights activism to bringing that idea to fruition in a documentary website.

So what did it take to get there? The short answer is a dedicated group of people who believed in a common goal, mobilized resources, put in the work, and trusted each other’s knowledge and expertise enough to bring the project to life. Here’s a brief look at the people behind-the-scenes:

Advisory Board: Made up of representatives of the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke Libraries, and the Center for Documentary Studies, the Advisory Board tackled the monumental task of raising funds, making a way, and ensuring the future of the project.

Editorial Board: One Person, One Vote site has content galore. It features 82 profiles, multimedia stories, an interactive timeline, and map that collectively tell a story of SNCC’s voting rights activism. The enormous task of prioritizing content fell to the Editorial Board. Three historians, three SNCC veterans, and three Duke Libraries staff spent long hours debating the details of who and what to include and how to do it.

OPOVlogo_mediumProject Team: Once the Editorial Board prioritized content, it was the Project Team’s job to carry out the work. Made up of six undergrads, two grad students, and one intern, the Project Team researched and wrote profiles and created the first drafts of the site’s content.

Visiting Activist Scholars: SNCC veterans and Editorial Board members, Charlie Cobb and Judy Richardson, came to Duke during the 2014 – 2015 academic year to advise the Project Team and work with the Project Manager in creating content for One Person, One Vote. As the students worked to write history from the perspective of the activists and local people, the Visiting Activist Scholars guided them, serving as the project’s “SNCC eyes.”

OPOV_logo_textDesign Contractors: The One Person, One Vote Project hired The Splinter Group to design and create a WordPress theme for the site with input from the Editorial Board.

Duke Libraries Digital Specialists: The amazing people in Duke Libraries’ Digital Production Center and Digital Projects turned One Person, One Vote into a reality. They digitized archival material, built new features, problem-solved, and did a thousand other essential tasks that made One Person, One Vote the functional, sleek, and beautiful site that it is.

Of course, this is only the short list. Many more people within the SNCC Legacy Project, the Center for Documentary Studies, and Duke Libraries arranged meetings and travel plans, designed postcards and wrote press releases, and gave their thoughts and ideas throughout the process. One Person, One Vote is unquestionably the work of many and represents a new way for activists, scholars, and librarians to partner in telling a people’s history.

The Way We Were: The SNCC Teenagers Who Changed America

Written by SNCC Legacy Project and One Person, One Vote board member Judy Richardson, this article was first published in Women’s Voices for Change on February 26, 2015.

The Way We Were: The SNCC Teenagers Who Changed America

How did they find the courage to do it—challenge the racist order in the South in the 1960s? Who formed the strategy, who dared to take it to some of the most racist Southern communities? In honor of Black History Month we bring you this forthright memoir by Judy Richardson, who, as a teenager, entered the thick of the fray as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “the only national civil rights movement led by young people.” Now a documentary filmmaker, social-justice advocate, and lecturer, Richardson takes us inside the movement that transformed her . . . and the country. —Ed

SNCC sit-in, 1964, at Atlanta’s Toddle House restaurant. That’s Judy Richardson in the middle, facing the camera. The photo was taken just before the group got arrested, photo: Danny Lyon, www.crmvet.org

Last September I found the box. I was in my building’s basement, preparing for my big move to the D.C. area after 23 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had divided what I’d found into stacks—clothing to be donated and archival materials that I was planning to donate. (To Washington University, Eyes on the Prize and other Blackside film materials; to Duke University, personal Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) archives and other work product; to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York, copies of the companion book to Blackside’s PBS documentary, Malcolm X: Make It Plain; and, to the Roxbury public library, much of my Black children’s-book collection.)

Then I opened this one box that I thought contained just old clothing. And there it was: my SNCC staff folder from the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. Worn and green, it even had my contact information. At the top I’d noted: “N.B.: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, ALWAYS CONTACT ONLY MY SISTER: CARITA BERNSOHN.” I’d also written on the folder “History vindicates those who are right! —James Forman (our man on the scene).” Jim Forman was our larger-than-life executive secretary.

That N.B. was important: I’d been with SNCC at that point for only six months, yet still I knew that something might just happen to me that summer, and I wanted to make sure my mother would hear the news first from my older sister, Carita. Chita, as she was known in the family, was then coordinating Harry Belafonte’s SNCC fund-raisers out of our New York City SNCC office, and I assumed she would know how to break the news to my mother.
These days, SNCC is not exactly a household name. The organization was founded in April 1960 by leaders of the sit-ins that began on Black colleges in the South. SNCC was the only national civil rights organization led by young people. Mentored by the legendary Black organizer Ella Baker, SNCC activists became full-time organizers, working with adult leaders to build local grassroots organizations in the Deep South. SNCC focused on voter registration and on mounting a systemic challenge to the white supremacy that governed the country’s entrenched political, economic, and social structures.

That’s the mini-version, but it helps set the context for my story of how SNCC transformed me . . . how it changed my world-view . . . how it changed the entire direction of my life. Along with my mother’s strong and loving guidance, SNCC has been one of the strongest influences on my life.

Transformation: it’s something our 14-hour Eyes on the Prize PBS series on the modern civil rights movement couldn’t adequately convey. [Richardson was the series’ associate producer and, later, education director.] It wasn’t only that our movement changed the country; it also transformed the people who participated in it. Personally, I became stronger, braver, and more skilled than I ever thought possible: I became a new me.

Click here to continue reading at Women’s Voices for Change

Welcome

Welcome to the website,One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights. This is the pilot initiative of an ongoing collaboration between the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University. As we celebrate the launch of One Person, One Vote, let’s take a look back to where this project started in November 2013.

Sixteen months later – after hard work, amazing efforts, and inspiring collaboration by all involved – we’re proud to present to you the new documentary website, One Person, One Vote.

Before the beatings on the bridge in Selma… Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965…Young people in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) united with local communities in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change. SNCC’s organizing and voting rights work, which began in 1961 in Mississippi and Georgia, continued beyond Selma and the Voting Rights Act. One Person, One Vote: the Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights tells the story of how SNCC’s commitment to community organizing forged a movement for voting rights made up of thousands of local people. In the crucible of extreme violence, SNCC organized alongside local Black residents to take control of their lives and communities. The grassroots movement they built together sought to make real the promise of America:  equal opportunity for all… one person, one vote. Sharecroppers and maids, World War II veterans and high school students, young activists and seasoned mentors are the heroes of the struggle for voting rights. One Person, One Vote is here to honor them – and continue their battle.

One Person, One Vote Goes Live

The official press release announcing the launch of the One Person, One Vote site:

Website Tells Story of Voting Rights Struggle Before and After Selma

A new web resource dedicated to telling the story of the grassroots fight for voting rights will launch March 2.

The website, One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights (www.onevotesncc.org) goes live one week before the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, when state troopers attacked the peaceful voting rights march of 600 local demonstrators on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. It tells the side of the story largely invisible to the general public: the key role of local leaders and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in shifting the national political agenda toward voting rights.

Students and faculty at Duke University working with SNCC veterans and civil rights scholars from around the country, are collaborating on the website, which documents how the bottom-up strategies of young people and black community leaders across the Deep South created an expansion of political, social, and economic opportunity for all citizens in the 1960s.

“This site not only begins to tell a story largely ignored by civil rights canon, but also pilots a way to meaningfully bring Movement participants and scholars together for that purpose,” said Courtland Cox, Chair of the SNCC Legacy Project.

The website focuses on SNCC’s organizing campaign in three states: Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. It draws on oral histories, as well as primary documents, photographs, and audiovisual materials at Duke and other repositories across the country. It includes profiles of 75 unheralded activists, movement elders and community leaders–along with primary documents and video.

A timeline walks visitors through significant events in SNCC’s history. An interactive map brings to life the landscape of the many places where the young people of SNCC organized.

SNCC was founded at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1960 by student sit-in leaders, primarily from southern black campuses. Its organizing and voting rights work began in 1961 in Mississippi and Georgia, focusing on political empowerment and equal economic opportunity. Full-time student workers, known as “field secretaries,” worked with communities to train and organize new local leaders – even as they were nurtured and guided by the older activists. SNCC developed philosophical and organizational models still in use today across the world.

The One Person, One Vote website is part of a longer-term collaboration among the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and the Duke University Libraries. This will be the first time SNCC veterans have engaged with the academic community in such a sustained effort, with the goal of getting their crucial insights into the nation’s formal histories and archives and, beyond that, to young activist communities.

“This is an enormous achievement, to find ways to bring these experts who were so central to the voting rights struggle, into the formal historical record through their own words and on their own terms,” said Wesley Hogan, director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. “The project comes at a moment when our nation is both commemorating key victories of the civil rights movement and seeing those victories challenged by new restrictive voting laws in many states.”

A website launch event entitled “The Activists’ Playbook: From SNCC to Selma to the New Civil Rights Movement,” will take place Wednesday, March 4, at 7:00 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Durham County Library at 300 N. Roxboro Street. The event will include a panel discussion with SNCC veterans Judy Richardson and Charlie Cobb, local activist Cynthia Brown, and two young Durham activists. Like the One Person, One Vote site, the panel will focus on grassroots organizing and bottom-up history. A reception will follow.

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 onevotesncc.org, 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.”