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The Birth of the Student Protest Movements: CORE, SNCC to Black Lives Matter (BLM)

By Dr. Erma Brooks Williams

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in Chicago in 1942 as the Committee of Racial Equality by African American and white student activists. The main goal of the organization was to abolish racial discrimination. James Farmer and George Houser were the leaders of CORE at the University of Chicago. CORE used nonviolent strategies such as sit-ins, picket lines, freedom rides and other forms of civil disobedience to combat Jim Crow laws. In 1963, Chicago chapter protested against the construction of mobile classrooms for overcrowded black schools. It also fought for the elimination of slum housing and led open housing campaigns. On September 4, 1966, Chicago CORE chairman Robert Lucas led over 250 marchers through Cicero to demand desegregation of housing. In the 50s and 60s, CORE began to channel its energy in the south by participating in the Greensboro sit-ins and Freedom Rides to end segregated interstate buses and terminals. CORE also co-sponsored the March on Washington.

In 1966, James Farmer retired from CORE. He was succeeded by Floyd B. McKissick. Under McKissick’s leadership, the organization tactics shifted from nonviolence and interracialism to Black Power and nationalism. Two years later, in 1968, CORE underwent another shift when McKissick was replaced by Roy Innis. Under Innis’ leadership, the organization became politically conservative on issues ranging from civil rights legislation and foreign policy to gun control and welfare. Under Innis’s leadership, a lot of CORE members, including Farmer, severed all ties with the organization.

SNCC, often pronounced, “snick”, was another important organization of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It emerged from a student meeting organized by Ella Baker held at Shaw University in April 1960.

Nonviolent in its orientation, but seeking to connect the more militant student protest groups across the nation, SNCC later began to shift its focus from desegregation protests to voting rights and voter registration, helping to found and establish Freedom Schools as well as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1963 and 1964, respectively. The most common action of SNCC and other groups included organizing sit-ins at racially segregated lunch counters, all white public libraries, public parks, public swimming pools and movie theaters.

SNCC was not a membership-based organization, but consisted of SNCC staff. Though its headquarters was in Atlanta, Georgia, SNCC members lived in and adopted the concerns of black communities in Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Maryland and in other states across the South. SNCC emerged as a major force in the southern civil rights movement by its involvement in the 1961 Freedom Rides and voter registration efforts. SNCC played a major role in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The group saw itself as catalysts for change. SNCC sought to aid in the development of local black leaders and local black institutions, which would outlive the group’s presence. This lead to a change of strategy of the group from non-violent action to more militant action under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, who replaced John Lewis as its leader in 1966. Other renowned leaders of SNCC included former mayor of Washington D.C. Marion Barry, the late Julian Bond, James Bevel, former U.S. Congressman Gus Savage, Dr. Fannie Rushing, and many others.

BY 1968, SNCC was only a shadow of its former entity as financial issues, diminishing staff, internal rifts and police insurgence weakened the organization’s support and impact. By the end of the decade, FBI surveillance of SNCC’s remaining offices was discontinued due to a lack of activity.

Over a half-century later, the civil rights movement and social activism have reemerged with the emergence of Black Lives Matters (BLM). BLM began in 2013 as a result of the killing of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and many other African American by the police. Over 50 organizations have joined the struggle to stop the killings of our men and women nationwide. These movements began to emerge in 2008 with Occupy Wall Street, Fight for $15 and the Tea Party.

There are key similarities and differences of these movements. According to Professor Emeritus Robert T. Starks, “SNCC was funded with small $10 donations and small fundraisers were also held to support the organization. The organization never received the kind of large donations that BLM has received.” BLM might have been founded by Blacks and gay women, but the movement requires money to operate to produce signs, bullhorns, and transportation of protesters to protest sites, use of IPhones, and the Internet. In order to carry out these functions, wealthy individuals such as billionaire George Soros, Taco Bell heir Rob McKay and Harry Belafonte, who also provided financial support to SNCC, are providing financial resources to support the mission of BLM.

“These student lead organizations are similar in that they have highly spirited and enthusiastic students,” said Starks.

All three were founded based on a fight against social injustices in the Black community. BLM and other movements will continue the struggle as long as people of color are treated unfairly and experience losing grounds in the overall society.


Chicago SNCC (Student Violent Coordinating Committee) History Project Archives. VHS Collection. Woodson Library.

Erwin, Dr. The White Elites who fund Black Lives Matter. Fellowship of the minds.

Jeffe, S. Why more Americans are becoming activists. Time. August 29, 2016. 21.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. www.student-nonviolent-coordinating-committee-sncc. August 10, 2016.

Salter, J. Michael Brown’s life marked, death mourned anew. Chicago Tribune. August 10, 2016. 12, Section 1.

Starks, R. T. Director, The Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies. (Interview – September 1, 2016).

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. www.wikipedia.- org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee. August 10, 2016.




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