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Civil rights group reflects on past, looks to future

Posted April 16, 2010

— Fifty years after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born at Shaw University, civil rights activists gathered on the Raleigh campus Friday to recall their past achievements and call for continued activism for civil rights.

SNCC member Junius Williams SNCC members recall civil rights fight

The group – its SNCC initials were usually pronounced "snick" – was established on April 15, 1960, in the aftermath of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins two months earlier. It became a major player in the civil rights movement that decade, organizing sit-ins, voter registration drives and so-called freedom rides across the South.

"I feel that it was probably the most significant turning point in the history of this country," said SNCC member Arkansas Benston, who took part in the famed Selma-to-Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965.

"I was on the bridge. I got my head beat in that day," Benston said.

Civil rights marchers were attacked by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside of Selma on their first attempt, prompting Martin Luther King Jr. to lead another march a few weeks later that successfully made the journey from Selma to Montgomery.

SNCC member Junius Williams said the movement taught him how to fight for change effectively, and he later took the effort to the North.

"I learned how to keep cool in a hot situation," Williams said. "I learned how to walk through the shadow of the valley of death."

SNCC was dissolved in the 1970s, but organizers of the anniversary celebration said the civil rights pioneers can still teach lessons to today's activists.

"They hear firsthand from the people who stood up and said, 'No. My future's ahead of me, but my country needs to recognize me as a full citizen,'" said Cash Michaels, chief reporter of The Carolinian newspaper in Raleigh.

Younger people like Albert Sykes came from Jackson, Miss., to hear how his predecessors made such a difference.

"We have all the tools necessary to us to be able to make the same amount of change, if not more, that members of SNCC and other members of the civil rights movement were able to make," Sykes said.

The four-day celebration has drawn appearances from entertainer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to address the conference on Saturday.


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  • blackdog Apr 16, 2010

    ...The civil rights march on Washington... Those were rallies !

  • DLG Apr 16, 2010

    In the south, African Americans were treated like 2nd class citizens with no rights what so ever. My generation never knew the sacrifices are parents made to make sure I can go to good schools and live in a nice neighborhood without being talked about and threats of hanging and shootings. You say you have not witnessed any race issues in the North, then you should have been in the South, were hate was running the government and fear took over black America. I am an American, but I am also an African American by race. During slavery time, blacks were property and not even Americans. We had to fight to get that right to be called Americans.

  • ranquick Apr 16, 2010

    I have lived all over US and never have I wittnessed race issues as I did when I lived up North. I gave 22 years in the NAvy and not once did I see any race issues and the last thing that really bugs me is people who say they are Africian AMerican, German American etc etc and were born in the US, you are American, you were not born in split countries. So enuff already, Be an American and Be Proud of it!