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SNCC Background and the Freedom Rides: A Story of Nonviolent Resistance Against Jim Crow Segregation

SNCC's history and mission

SNCC Background You are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization founded in 1960 dedicated to using nonviolent tactics to challenge racial segregation in the South. In Brown v.

Board of Education of Topeka, Boynton v. Virginia, and several other court cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Jim Crow segregation unconstitutional. But from movie theaters to swimming pools, parks to restaurants, buses to schools, almost every aspect of public life in the South remains segregated. In 1955, 50,000 African Americans in Montgomery (Alabama’s second-largest city), participated in a boycott to end segregation of the city buses.

This mass upsurge against the racist system in the South was a huge inspiration to you. Watching the protest gave you both new role models, like Martin Luther King Jr., and a strong sense that change was possible. But after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the movement struggled to move forward. Segregationists launched a massive campaign of terror that prevented further gains.

When nine Black students tried to integrate Little Rock Central High School in September 1957, they were driven back by racist mobs. President Eisenhower was forced to send in the National Guard to escort students to school. In addition, desegregation of school districts has slowed down, with the number of districts being desegregated falling from 712 to 17.

While the protests of the 1950s gave you a sense of pride and power, it increasingly became clear that larger, more dramatic actions would be necessary to break the back of Jim Crow. You were prepared to act and you were not alone. Starting in 1961, you participated in the sit-in movement and draw national news to the cause. You sit at segregated lunch counters, often getting beaten and arrested just for sitting at a counter.

THe sit-ins are part of a push towards more forms of direct action- a form of protest that is often volatile, and has drawn the ire of President Kennedy and many political and civil rights leaders who find it too aggressive a tactic.

Ella Baker, a veteran activist who believes in the power of young people, convinces you and your fellow students to create an organization that is entirely student run.Baker believes students should create a separate organization where they can make their own decisions. That organization becomes SNCC.

What does SNCC stand for? What early movement success was SNCC inspired by? 

Who helped convince students to create their own organization? What type of protest did SNCC members first participate in?

SNCC Letter It is now 1961. The supreme court banned segregation in interstate bus facilities- busses and bus stations- but in the south the government is not enforcing the order. In May a group of integrated buses left DC to travel throughout the South to challenge segregation.

This bus trips became known as the 'Freedom Rides.' These Freedom Riders were viciously attacked, their buses firebombed, and local hospitals refused to treat their injuries. They persisted until Birmingham, when a Freedom Rider was beaten so badly he has permanent brain damage.

They decided to abandon their efforts. Upon learning of these attacks SNCC leader Diane Nash helps organize you and your fellow SNCC members to finish the Freedom Riders journey. Many write wills in preparation.

Imagine you are a Nashville student. Write a letter to your parents explaining why you have decided to participate in the freedom rides. Describe for your parents the experiences that led you to risk your life in order to end segregation in the South.

You can choose your gender, your race, your age, your social class, and the region where you grew up. Give yourself a name and a history. Be imaginative. In vivid detail, tell the story of the events that made you who you are now: a Freedom Rider. Dear mom and dad, *

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