SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work

Chair: Todd Moye, University of North Texas 
• Emilye Crosby, State University of New York at Geneseo 
• Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University 
• Charles Cobb, Duke University 
• Judy Richardson, SNCC Digital Gateway/ Duke University 
• Laura Boughton, Oxford High School

We propose a panel on the "SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work," a collaboration including the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University, and Civil Rights Movement scholars. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, was founded in 1960 when legendary organizer Ella Baker brought together sit-in leaders from across the South. The only national civil rights organization led by young people, SNCC activists became full-time organizers, working with community leaders to build grassroots organizations in the Deep South. SNCC focused on voter registration and on mounting a systemic challenge to the white supremacy entrenched in the country's political, economic, and social structures.

While scholars have written a number of important books exploring and illustrating the significance of SNCC, the general public tends to know very little about the movement beyond Dr. King and a few high profile demonstrations. Even the attention that has accompanied the series of 50th anniversaries of movement milestones has tended to reinforce a top-down and "Big Events" focus. As the movement's victories are facing serious challenges and as young people across the country have renewed interest in direct action, organizing, and challenging ingrained power, it is essential that a fuller, richer accounting of SNCC's history reach the wider public, especially students, activists, and today's version of the "ordinary people" who were at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.

The SNCC Digital Gateway, which had a soft-launch on December 13, 2016, is designed to meet this need. Using documentary footage, audio recordings, photographs, and documents, the site portrays how SNCC organizers, alongside thousands of local Black residents, worked so that Black people could take control of their lives. It unveils the inner workings of SNCC as an organization, examining how it coordinated sit-ins and freedom schools, voter registration and economic cooperatives, anti-draft protests and international solidarity struggles. The website includes a wide range of historic materials (hosted in digital collections at repositories around the country); over 150 individual profiles; more than 100 events pages; Inside SNCC pages that explore how the organization worked; an Our Voices section, which presents aspects of SNCC's history from the eyes of the activists themselves; and a Map, which connects users to the people who worked--and the events that happened--in specific places. The project team is currently identifying and developing materials that are especially germane today, and exploring relevant and accessible formats for sharing it.

Our panel will include four people from the editorial board--SNCC veterans Judy Richardson and Charles Cobb, Jr., and scholars Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Emilye Crosby--reflecting on the project and resulting website. After a brief introduction to the website, the panelists will discuss how the project and website content was developed; plans for using the site to engage teachers, students, activists, and others (as well as initial experiences); and their hopes for how the website and its content will inform future generations. [If possible, we will also include a Mississippi K-12 teacher who has developed lesson plans and used the site in teaching.]

Recorded in April 2018 at the OAH Annual Meeting held in Sacremento, California as part of the Mellon-funded Amplified Initiative.

Full Session


Loading Video...
SNCC Digital History / System Administrator / February 11, 2019

OAH Members can access all of the recorded panels by logging into the member portal at the OAH website.