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The Women of SNCC

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

The Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the largest organizations of the  Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960s. SNCC was a part of many civil rights events through America, such as student sit ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the March on Washington in 1963, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It all began in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1960,  a small group of black students started a sit in at the restaurant of their local Woolworth’s store, because they wouldn’t serve black people. In the following days the students were joined by other black students until all seats in the restaurant were filled. The students were often physically assaulted by whites who were raged by the sit-ins. No retaliations occurred, mainly because of Martin Luther King’s nonviolence approach. Ella Baker who attended Shaw University in North Carolina became involved in this campaign and in October of 1960, helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[1]

With the establishment of SNCC many opportunities were available; it was SNCC that helped bring the next movement of feminism into America. SNCC wanted to change society; it would provide a model for the feminist movement. In 1964, the organization published a paper that described the situation that women faced within SNCC itself, giving examples of the problems which they faced. There are numerous situations listed to where female members were placed in positions below their skill level; while those who were less qualified and were males were placed above women. (to see the published paper As a result of this, women did hold important leadership positions within SNCC, which provided further leadership towards the feminist movement. Many of the leaders within local SNCC projects were women. In the 1965 election, all of the black Freedom Democratic Party Congressional (FDPC) candidates from Mississippi were all women, which was very important at that time.[2]

There are many examples of women who worked for the SNCC and the hardships of which they faced while in it. For examples, In Atlanta, Spelman University students started maximizing the impact of sit-ins by moving from one segregated business place to another, this was done quickly before police could arrive to arrest students. Another example is of a Female SNCC worker, Doris Derby who played key roles in creating the Free Southern Theater (a cultural and educational civil rights movement in the South), the Poor People’s Corporation, as well as many other projects. There were also stories of Carolyn Daniels, who housed SNCC workers in her home in Terrell County, Georgia after the sheriff had beat her 16 year old son for bringing people to the courthouse for voter registration; her son had been going door to door working to gain registration among black voters.[3]

SNCC allowed women of both races to become leaders and become active in American politics. Unfortunately, women would lose their leadership roles and influence within SNCC after Stokely Carmichael took over SNCC, as he focused more on a male dominated view of  “black power”.

*To read more stories of the Women in SNCC read “Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC”




Leaving New Left Politics

September 24, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Political history

Women in today’s society still face discrimination and harrassment around the country far too much, but if it weren’t for the women of yesteryear, it may be far much worse than what they currently face.  If not for the fighting and struggling that these radical feminists offered back then, their position may not be much different than it was before they even had the right to vote.

Radical Feminism, also called the women’s liberation movement, that protested the  Vietnam war and fought desperately for equal civil right among all races and both sexes.   According to Julia Wood, New Left women in the 1950’s and 60’s would be responsible for doing the same work as the men, but then would be treated as subordinates.  Men would request them to make coffee, run errands, do menial tasks “and even be ever available for sex”.  In 1964 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) fought against the sexism that surrounded the women of the New Left, but the men were unresponsive[1].  Finally these women were fed up with the New Left and the unfair treatment of the fairer sex and they branched off to start their very own organizations.

To me it seems that the solution to this problem was more simple than expected.  When the men of the New Left refused to treat the women as equals-although they were being held responsible for achieving the same work output as their male counterparts- they simply had had enough and created their own seperate political group that would further lead to equal rights for women in America.

[1] Julia Woods, “Gendered Lives; Communication, Gender, and Culture,” Wadsworth, Cengage Learning (2005), 74-75.

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