Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Essay

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”) was an organization of students and former students active in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. The group conducted voter registration drives and encouraged civil disobedience protests throughout the southeastern United States. The original members of the organization were Black college students, although later, White students from northern and southern states would become members. Many of the students continued their work with the organization after they left school.

SNCC maintained an uneasy relationship with other civil rights organizations, particularly the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, because SNCC members viewed these other organizations as not going far enough in their efforts to eliminate discrimination. This tension is exemplified in other organizations’ pressuring SNCC Chair John Lewis to tone down the speech he delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which Lewis spoke against President Kennedy’s civil rights bill. Additionally, when most of these other organizations agreed not to allow communists within their ranks, SNCC stood firm in allowing anyone who supported their goals to participate in their efforts.

The formation of SNCC came following a student conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960. There, James Lawson, who had been involved in student sit-ins and other protests in Nashville, Tennessee, argued that the philosophy of nonviolence must be at the forefront of their movement, and this idea remained throughout the existence of the organization; however, later members tended to view nonviolence as more of a tactic than a philosophy. SNCC members participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961 to test how willing the federal government was to enforce a federal ruling that forbade discrimination in interstate bus terminals.

At a 1967 march in Memphis, Tennessee, SNCC Chair Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) advocated the need for Black Power, making SNCC the target of criticism that it supported Black separatism rather than integration and equality. The organization itself was hampered by internal disagreements over where it should focus its efforts: on voter registration, on training local residents to become political activists, or on providing food and other support for Black people in need throughout the southeastern states. Additionally, some members felt that including White staff members hampered the organization’s effectiveness and created unnecessary internal strife.

At the end of the 1960s, SNCC was becoming associated by the media and political leaders with violent urban protests, such as those in Atlanta, and with socialist and separatist ideology. Its final staff meeting took place in New York in June 1969, although the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation continued to monitor SNCC activities until 1973.


  1. Carson, C. (1981). In struggle: SNCC and the Black awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Greenberg, C. L. (Ed.). (1998). A circle of trust: Remembering the SNCC. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

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