SNCC Veterans Visit High School Classrooms
To continue the momentum of Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, Teaching for Change coordinated visits by two Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) veterans to high school classrooms. SNCC was comprised of young activists and organizers who “represented a radical, new, unanticipated force during the civil rights movement and whose work continues to have great relevance today.”
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) veteran Tim Jenkins visited EL Haynes Public Charter School’s first Freedom School on February 22. To prepare for the pilot class, “Introduction to the Civil Rights Movement,” high school teacher Jessica Rucker explored the SNCC Digital Gateway with her students and used a lesson on SNCC from the Zinn Education Project.
Mr. Jenkins began the morning by telling students about the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), a group of youth activists that formed in the early 1930s in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Jenkins then talked about the significance of W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous “Behold the Land” speech at the 1946 SNYC conference. He pointed out that SNYC laid the foundations for groups like SNCC.
Mr. Jenkins, who studied at Howard University, was serving as the student body president when he first got involved in the movement. One of his actions was to “ask President Mordecai Johnson to overrule his Vice President for student affairs so that we would be allowed to use our student activities monies to help underwrite the costs for the first SNCC conference as an off campus expenditure.”
Jenkins spoke about the strategies of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, including sit-ins for the right to public spaces including lunch counters, pools, libraries, etc. Discussing the critical organizing for voter rights, Jenkins reflected on the power of student movements and their importance to the world.
Students asked if he had been exposed to violence and about specific strategies or demands they made.
Jenkins noted that “[SNCC] was a people’s approach” and that one of their methods was to advocate that local people “Not buy where you can’t work.” Jenkins explains, “We used this terminology to depict what we were doing as ‘selective patronage' as a euphemism for legally forbidden ‘boycotts’ when we were seeking to punish stores which refused to hire without discrimination. This was a term we had successfully used in Philadelphia to avoid running afoul of the local law forbidding economic boycotts.”
SNCC veteran Dorie Ladner spoke in the “Freedom Rides to Ferguson” class (taught by Paula Young Shelton) at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. on February 21st. The students introduced themselves and stated why they were taking this particular course. Most of the students said they wanted a more in-depth course on the Civil Rights Movement, instead of just learning about it briefly in U.S. history. Ms. Ladner began by describing how Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of a Beloved Community helped shape her upbringing and involvement in the movement.
When asked what got her involved in the movement, Ms. Ladner responded that it was the death of Emmett Till, who was only a year older than her. Ms. Ladner went on to describe how attending Jackson State University, 90 miles from her home in the community of Palmer’s Crossing, Hattiesburg, Mississippi opened up her world. There she met Medgar Evers and got involved in organizing. She talked about transferring to Tougaloo College and working full time with SNCC registering people to vote in the Delta.
Ms. Ladner discussed how the deaths of Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer, whom she worked closely with, greatly affected her — but it was the work of organizing and the Beloved Community that surrounded her that kept her going.
Urging the importance of student-led movements, Ladner stated:
The groundwork has to come from young people… they’ve got the energy!