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U.S. attorney general calls for more to follow N.C. activists

Posted April 17, 2010 6:59 a.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2010 9:38 p.m. EDT

— U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that America will have a better future if more people show the courage of the students who founded a civil rights group at Shaw University 50 years ago.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed at Shaw University on April 15, 1960, in the aftermath of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins two months earlier.

"Because of SNCC, ... what began in Greensboro as a policy of protest became, all across America, a philosophy of progress and a too-long delayed quest for justice and equality," Holder said in the keynote address of SNCC's four-day celebration at First Baptist Church in Raleigh.

Over the next decade, SNCC adopted a policy of nonviolence and organized sit-ins, voter registration drives and so-called freedom rides across the South.

"These young leaders created a legacy of non-violence that has been emulated by every successful social movement in America. And as they met success, our society and our laws moved closer to fulling their promise of equal justice for all," Holder said.

Holder, who is the country's first black U.S. attorney general appointed by the first black president, said his success was made possible by SNCC's early work.

"There is a direct line line from that lunch counter to the Oval Office and to the fifth floor of the United States Department of Justice where the attorney general sits," he said.

Holder also pointed to what he described as lingering racial injustices in American society – higher jobless rates for young black men and women, comparatively longer prison sentences for black men.

But he said he is optimistic that Americans, particularly college students, will continue to advance the work started by SNCC.

"Time after time, the American people – often at the insistence of our nation's young people – have proven that we will not be deterred by out nation's painful past," Holder said.

"Although our progress may still seem slow and halting at times, each of us has the power and the obligation to make sure that our journey continued," he continued. "Together, we can build a more inclusive, more just and more perfect union."