"We have to pass the baton to a new generation to foster change and make America what she is intended to be," Avon told a reporter shortly before his death. The I-40 bridge in Knoxville is named for him.
Read more at https://snccdigital.org/people/avon-rollins/
Read more at http://www.crmvet.org/vet/rollins.htm
June 1938 - April 3, 2018.
Retired history professor. Charles F. McDew led his first demonstration in the eighth grade, to protest violations of the religious freedom of Amish students in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio. McDew’s career as an activist expanded in scope while he was a freshman at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Inevitably involved in the newborn sit-in movement, he was elected as student leader by his fellow demonstrators. McDew attended the founding conference of SNCC at Shaw in April 1960 while a student at South Carolina State and a member of The Orangeburg Movement for Civil Improvement. He served as the second Chairman of SNCC, 1960-1963. McDew has been active in organizations for social and political change, working as a teacher and as a labor organizer, managing anti-poverty programs in Washington, D.C., serving as community organizer and catalyst for change in Boston and San Francisco, as well as other communities. He has appeared on countless radio and television programs as a speaker against racism. McDew recently retired from Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, MN, where his classes in the history of the civil rights movement, African-American history, and in social and cultural awareness were always oversubscribed. He served faithfully on the SNCC Legacy Project Board, never missing a meeting. He is survived by his daughter Eva.
Read McDew's obituary in The New York Times:
Read McDew's obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Listen to an oral history interview with Chuck McDew:
Curtis Hayes Muhammad, Civil Rights Veteran and Grass Roots Organizer, dies, age 79
Submited by his family
Curtis Hayes Muhammad spent his entire life participating in various struggles for human rights and civil rights. His activism began in the fall of 1961. Only 18 years old, he was one of five young people from McComb, Mississippi, brave enough to respond to Diane Nash’s and Bob Moses’s call to begin direct action and community organizing there. He was a key member of SNCC’s dangerous and groundbreaking efforts all over Mississippi throughout the sixties. Jailed many times for civil rights work, Curtis kept the principles of bottom up organizing learned from Moses and Ella Baker as the guiding foundation to subsequent efforts of union and community organizing and struggles for African Liberation. These beliefs in a cooperative society and bottom up organizing led by poor and dark skinned people have been embraced by many contemporary movements for social justice today
Curtis’s early life experiences made him responsive to these movement ideals. He grew up in a family of sharecroppers in Chisolm Mission, Mississippi who had joined with 26 other sharecropping families and purchased a plot of land which they worked together. Raised by his grandmother, a midwife, he was taught principles of black independence and strength. Learning that his father had to flee Mississippi after killing several Ku Klux Klansmen in a gunfight, Curtis was determined to find ways to fight against Mississippi segregationists. He began preaching as a child and was encouraged by his grandmother that he had an important role to play in the liberation of black people.
Curtis’s post civil rights activism included helping to organize the 1963 Chicago School Boycott when 225,000 students walked out demanding an end to racial segregation and the disparate treatment of Black students. He was an organizer for the New Politics Convention that ran Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dick Gregory in the 1968 presidential election as third party candidates. Curtis helped establish a radical black bookstore in Washington, DC and helped create an early version of a Community Supported Agriculture project, bringing produce from Black farmers in the South to northern progressive communities in DC and NYC. He also worked on housing issues for poor people with the Harlem Reclamation Project which urged homeless people to take over abandoned brownstones and rehabilitate them, and thus extract ownership from the City. In Jersey City, NJ, following the same model, he assisted in the handing over of more than 60 brownstones to poor folks.
Later he worked as a union organizer for Unite in Monroe, LA. He successfully organized several dozen locals, mostly of Black women garment workers, using the Ella Baker model of organizing. As a result, the organized workers sometimes made decisions independent of and criticized by national union leaders, such as calling for and enacting wildcat strikes. He went on with the now federated Unite-HERE to New Orleans organizing hotel and restaurant workers there and mentoring young folks in Union Summer. Along with Bob Moses and other local New Orleans community members, he helped form Community Labor United, which worked on improving public education in New Orleans and was the laboratory for a national Quality Education as a Civil Right Campaign. That organization was the united front that was supporting and sponsoring community organizing in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
After hurricane Katrina, Curtis worked with several organizations to aid the devastated black community there. One group founded Survivors Councils, governed through consensus-based decision making and story circle, which took on the work of fashioning their own return and rebuilding of their community. Their work focused on establishing the basic needs for a sustainable community and included seizing control of and rehabilitating school building to provide for their own education, taking over and rehabbing federal housing developments to provide opportunities to people from these communities to come home, developing their own hospitals, clinics, child care and health care institutions, and developing and sharing art and culture to develop their own educational and personal sharing, again, maintaining the Ella Baker method of organizing. He also held classes and helped fund programs to familiarize younger organizers with Ella Baker’s principles and tactics. His message was always to go deep, go to the bottom and have the people lead. He insisted on self discipline and the ethics of love and care and respect for self and others.
Curtis traveled to several Latin American, Central American and West Indian communities researching the history of particular groups of black citizens. He organized projects in Colombia, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Mexico and Jamaica (where he launched the International School for Bottom Up Organizing). Though he spoke only English, he was well received with his message of “Your people are my people, your enemies are my enemies, we are together in fighting oppression.” He also traveled to several African countries and developed a special interest in Liberia after learning one set of his ancestors, the Upkins, moved there in the nineteenth century. He founded an orphanage there and as a supporter of a democratically run Liberia, was arrested and tortured in 1992. He was finally released through the efforts of his family and friends.
Curtis was extremely proud of the 10 children he parented. Abdullah, Ishmael, Sanovia, Olosunde, Saad, Llena, Musa, Jabari, Africa, and Curtis, Jr. During his final days, struggling with a malignant brain tumor, he was surrounded by his children and 13 grandchildren and sister Barbara listening to freedom songs and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock. One of the slogans he held most dear came from those poor and black people affected by the Katrina disaster, “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”
For more information, see:
October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017
Dick Gregory, a pioneering force of comedy in the 1960s who parlayed his career as a stand-up comic into a life of social and political activism, died Saturday of heart failure. He was 84. Although he was never on SNCC staff, he was an early and long-time friend of SNCC and the civil rights movement.
Gregory used his fame to become a civil-rights activist and opponent of the Vietnam War. He made friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X; honored a request from Medgar Evers to speak at a voter-registration rally in Jackson, Miss.; raised money for SNCC; delivered food to NAACP offices in the South; marched in Selma, Ala.; got shot while trying to keep the peace during the 1965 Watts riots; was arrested in Washington for protesting Vietnam; performed benefit shows for the Congress of Racial Equality; and traveled to Tehran, Iran, in 1980 to attempt to negotiate the hostages' release.
Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago in 1967 but lost to Richard Daley, then entered the race for U.S. president a year later. A write-in candidate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, he received some 47,000 votes. Gregory performed in Jackson, Mississippi at the 50th Anniversary Conference of Mississippi Freedom Summer.
In the winter of 1963, white authorities cut off commodities in Leflore and Sunflower countieswhere SNCC was making its biggest effort in Mississippi. The optional federal government program permitted poor counties to receive surplus government food or “commodities” for distribution to the poor. In the sharecropped cotton plantation land of the Delta, this food was vital to making it through the winter.
SNCC put out a national call for food. When Dick Gregory heard about the surplus food cut-off, he chartered a plane and sent 14,000 pounds of food to Greenwood. This was a first step that would lead the renowned comedian into increasingly deeper involvement with the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Both the surplus food cutoff and Gregory’s relief, noted Bob Moses, enabled many for the first time to see clearly “the connection between political participation and food on their table.” SNCC staff handed out food and voter registration forms.
In the spring, SNCC organizers invited Gregory to speak at a mass meeting in Greenwood. The community had never heard a Black man speak publicly in the manner that Gregory did. He made fun of the police, calling them, “a bunch of illiterate whites who couldn’t even pass the test themselves.” Gregory also called out the local preachers reluctant to involve themselves with the Movement and said, “These handkerchief heads don’t realize this area is going to break … If you have to pray in the street, it’s better than worshiping with a man who is less than a man!” The meeting erupted into laughter and applause. A week later, 31 ministers signed a statement in support of the voting rights drive.
Dick Gregory at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, 1964, George Ballis, Take Stock
Gregory did not flinch from putting himself in the path of danger. Once in a mass meeting in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a bomb was tossed through a window, and people started rushing towards the door. Gregory grabbed the microphone, and said, “Where are you going? The man who threw it is outside God’s house. The Man who’s supposed to save you lives here.” Someone picked up the bomb and threw it back outside, and the meeting continued. The Clarksdale police chief denied that his officers were responsible for the bomb, “If one of our men threw that bomb,” he said “you’d better believe it would have gone off.”
Gregory was constantly speaking to white authorities in startling, unexpected ways. During the protests in Greenwood, a police officer dragged Gregory across the street. “Thanks a million,” Gregory told him, “up north police don’t escort me across the street.” On another occasion, he wagged his finger in the faces of white policemen gathered in front of the county courthouse. “Who you calling nigger,” he told them, “You ain’t nothing but niggers yourselves. Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,” he continued while still wagging his finger.
Gregory continued working with SNCC throughout the sixties. He traveled with SNCC’s Freedom Singers and included jokes about the South in his act. In his memoir, Gregory wrote, “I really hadn’t planned to lead the marching [in Greenwood], but looking at those beautiful faces ready to die for freedom, I knew I couldn’t do less.” (With thanks to the SNCC Digital Gateway and The Hollywood Reporter).
“His devotion, eloquence and generosity of spirit has ennobled and adorned the movement in our time. Because of his quiet self-confidence and humility he never sought publicity but thousands, especially poor folk, here and on the Continent have had their lives vastly improved by Ed’s effectiveness and compassion. He is truly one of the great un-sung heroes of our generation. We shall not soon see his like again.”[Ekwueme Michael Thelwell]Read More
Faye Bellamy was born in May, 1938 in Pennsylvania. She joined the US Air Force shortly after graduating from high school, and served at Ft. Dix, NJ.
While working at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, her cousin Lee Jack Morton told her about SNCC. She enlisted and went to work in SNCC’s Selma, Alabama office, arriving in Selma on January 1, 1965.Read More
A native of Greenwood, MS, few in SNCC were tougher than George Greene when faced with police harassment. In one confrontation with a Ruleville, Mississippi town constable, the officer demanded to know what kind of work he did. “I told him I worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and COFO out of Jackson.” The cop accused the group of being “a bunch of people from New York and all across the country who had deliberately come down to stir up trouble between the Negroes and whites and that we must go to jail.” But he did not arrest Greene.
George Greene was certainly not a New Yorker but was well known for his barely tempered backtalk and many arrests while organizing for SNCC. The Greenwood, Mississippi-native once stood his ground when an Alabama police deputy tried to force him off a picket line. “You didn’t invite me here, so I guess you can’t invite me to leave,” Greene told him looking him squarely in the eye. “I haven’t done anything. You don’t even think I’ve done anything, so why are we having this conversation?”
Greene was among the earliest of the local people who drove SNCC’s work through his unfaltering commitment to organizing southern Black communities, beginning with his own in Greenwood, Mississippi. For Greene, son of local NAACP leader Dewey Greene, movement work was in his blood. While he was still in high school, Greene took Medgar Evers’s advice to start a NAACP youth council. Time and time again, he put his life on the line in the name of freedom.
When SNCC came to Greenwood in 1962, they knew they needed local organizers to make real, lasting change and gain the trust of the community. The brothers, Dewey Jr. and George, were among the first local SNCC canvassers in Greenwood, helping the group strengthen their alliance within the community network.
In the spring of 1963, George was on his way home from a community meeting when the windows of his house were shot through twice. The community turned out to show their outrage in the first ever mass community protest march in Greenwood. There had been threats to outside COFO volunteers, but when a local person was threatened, they came out in droves.
In SNCC, Greene became a full-time organizer in some of the most violent places in the South, like Natchez, Mississippi and Lowndes County, Alabama. A reporter wrote that Greene had “more bullet holes in his shroud than any man in Mississippi.” Thankfully, he had also raced cars in high school, and his driving skills were legendary in SNCC. In November 1963, while working on a registration drive near Natchez, he and SNCC worker Bruce Payne saw two men following them. The chase got to 105 miles an hour when Greene was forced off the road. Pistol drawn, one of the men came up to the driver’s door and demanded he get out of the car. When Greene quickly sped off, three shots were fired at the car. One bullet hit a tire, but he managed to get away to a side road.
The Greene family is one of the most-remembered local Greenwood families devoted to the Movement. Relying on family ties and community networks to create lasting change in Greenwood, SNCC learned first-hand the resilience of local people like George Greene. For him, civil rights work was a family affair.
Text from SNCCDigital.org. See more at snccdigital.org/people/george-greene/
Photo shows L-R Stokely Carmichael, Charles Cobb, and George Greene at a protest in Atlanta in December 1963. Photo by Danny Lyon.
George W. Ware Jr., also known as Gro Hungan Yabofé Noványón Idizol, was an educator and co-founder of the Black Music Association.
He died Oct. 5, 2012, of lung cancer. He was 72.Read More
SNCC veteran Jesse Lee Harris died January 28, 2015 in Jackson, Mississippi, age 75.Read More
To read more about Jesse Morris go to
Joseph Charles Jones (August 23, 1937 – December 27, 2019)
Charles Jones was there at the founding of SNCC in 1960, and was a courageous freedom fighter who ignored the very real personal danger that faced those who organized to end Jim Crow – that systemic denial of equal access to public accommodations, housing, jobs, education, banking and agricultural resources…and, always the suppression of the Black vote through beatings, murders, church bombings, and economic intimidation.
In the early 1960s, Charles was one of the brave, young activists who left college to organize full-time with SNCC. He and his fellow activists were subjected to beatings and jailings during the sit-ins, Freedom Rides and other protests. Together with local organizers they refused bail in Rock Hill, South Caroline, serving hard time during that 30-day “jail no bail” protest. Charles was also a SNCC Field Secretary in Albany, Georgia and McComb, Mississippi, helping to organize voter registration campaigns.
In McComb, police were looking everywhere for Charles after a student walk-out at the Black school. When they burst into the local Black grocery store to which he’d fled for sanctuary, he turned his back on them, put on an apron, and began cutting meat. When they demanded to know if anyone had seen Charles Jones, he replied: “I don’t know no Charles Jones, but if I see him, I’ll let you know.“
While attending Howard University Law School, he became executive director of Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs (ACCESS), a group founded to challenge segregated housing in the Washington, DC area. In that position, he conceived the brilliant idea of replicating the Meredith March and, in 1966, ACCESS organized a 60-mile march around Washington’s Capitol Beltway to highlight the “noose of segregation” that ringed Washington. More and more folks joined the march during the 4-day protest as they marched along the highway. ACCESS also organized a campaign against the segregated private housing, funded by the Defense Department that surrounded military bases in the Washington, DC area. In fact, Charlie had a one-on-one meeting with then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and actually convinced him to declare segregated off-base housing off limits to military personnel. It was a major victory.
Charles Jones remained focused on fighting against racism throughout his life. Fellow SNCC veteran, Tim Jenkins, offers this remembrance of Charles Jones:
“I will remember him for his eloquence without the necessity of lengthy preparation. I will remember him for his courage to say ‘no’ to the best of his friends when he considered them in error. And I will remember him for admitting his own errors without hesitation whenever warranted.
All this made him an exceptional human being in my sight, if not yet in the sight of man! His tears were always for others, but never for himself. Greatness comes in small packages without a label calling for ‘fragile’ or ‘special handling’. From all the SNCC veterans who worked with Joseph Charles Jones, we say: ‘ It’s an honor to have served with you in the struggle for human and civil rights.’”
He will be sorely missed
SNCC Digital: https://snccdigital.org/people/charles-jones/
New York Times obituary: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/10/us/j-charles-jones-dead.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share
Lester was born in St. Louis on Jan. 27, 1939. He grew up in Kansas City, Kan., the son of a minister, and later Nashville, Tenn., where in 1960 he received an English degree from the historically black Fisk University.
Lester was a true polymath. He wrote dozens of critically acclaimed books, for children — including a retelling of the Br’er Rabbit tales and an exploration of slavery, “To Be a Slave” — as well as nonfiction and novels for adults. He was also a musician, and his very first book was a guide to the 12-string guitar, co-written with legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.
Click here to hear Julius Lester talk and sing:
In 1961, Lester moved to New York City, where he taught banjo and guitar, performed as a folk singer, hosted a talk radio show on WBAI and hosted a television show on WNET.
It was while he was a folk singer in New York City that Lester, in 1964, decided to travel to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer.
“Going to Mississippi in ’64, you knew you could be arrested, you knew you could be killed, you knew you could be injured. And so it’s not something you did lightly, not something you did because it was going to be fun,” Lester told PBS in a 2014 interview. “But there was this feeling inside of me that it was just something I had to do.”
In addition to using his musical gifts at mass meetings and rallies, Lester also chronicled the civil rights movement as a photographer working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Those photographs were later part of a civil rights exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, and his larger body of work has also been featured in solo shows at many galleries.
Click here to learn more about Julius Lester's work with SNCC:
In 1971, Lester became a professor of Afro-American studies at UMass Amherst, where he remained until his retirement in 2003. During his time at UMass, he won the Distinguished Teacher’s Award, the Faculty Fellowship Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship and the Chancellor’s Medal. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education named Lester the state’s Professor of the Year in 1988.
Journey to Judaism
When he was a child, Lester learned that his great-grandfather Adolph Altschul was Jewish, and this knowledge was one of the factors in his conversion to Judaism in the early 1980s. In 1988, he became a professor of Judaic studies at UMass, and he served as a lay religious leader of Beth El Synagogue in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for around a decade. Lester chronicled his journey to Judaism in his book “Lovesong: Becoming a Jew.”
In his retirement, Lester lived in Belchertown with his wife, Milan Sabatini.
Lester was active on Facebook, where his page has nearly 3,000 followers. It was on Facebook that his daughter Lian Amaris kept the world updated about his condition in his last days, and where she announced that he had died.
Facebook also provided a platform for Lester, a man of many words, to write a public statement to the world on Jan. 3 in what would be his final post.
In it, Lester reflects on his health, as well as his gratitude for the space that his Facebook page provided for him to continue to teach.
“Again, I am so grateful to all of you who shared so much wonderful energy with me, indeed who lavished wonderful energy on me,” were the last words he published, before signing off with a take care of yourselves and much love.
Julius is survived by his wife, five children, and eight grandchildren.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Lawrence Guyot, the scion of the Civil Rights Movement who later turned his efforts to statehood for the District of Columbia died Nov. 23, 2012. He was 73.
Guyot died at home after a long battle with diabetes and heart disease. Friends who had spoken with him in recent weeks said he was elated at having seen the reelection of President Obama, of whom he was an ardent supporter. He told the AFRO he voted early because he wanted to make sure his vote was counted as his health failed.Read More
Marion Barry, SNCC’s first Chairman, died November 23, 2014 in Washington, DC, age 78. In April 1960 he attended SNCC's founding conference in Raleigh, NC , representing the Nashville Student Movement, and was elected chair of the new organization by the delegates. He was a former 4-term Mayor of Washington, DC, and 4-term member of the Washington, DC City Council.
Matthew J. Herron died when his glider plane crashed near San Rafael, California. He was 89 years old.
Born in Rochester, NY, Matt studied photography in Rochester as a private student of Minor White, and then worked as a writer and photographer for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia. A conscientious objector during the Korean War, Herron was organizing peace demonstrations and beginning to shoot assignments for Life and Look at the time the first sit-ins were occurring in Tennessee and North Carolina. He was arrested for attempting to integrate an amusement park in Maryland in the summer of 1963 and shortly afterward he and his wife, Jeannine, moved to Jackson, Mississippi with their two small children.
For the next two years Herron pursued three styles of photography: classical photojournalism for the major picture and newsmagazines, documentary photography as practiced by his mentor, Dorothea Lange, and photography as propaganda in the service of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other civil rights organizations. Often he was able to use news assignments as cover for a more documentary style of work. Many of the iconic photos used to document SNCC's story were taken by Matt.
In the summer of 1964, Herron organized a team of five photographers, The Southern Documentary Project, in an attempt to record the rapid social change taking place in Mississippi and other parts of the South as civil rights organizations brought northern college students to work in voter registration and education. George Ballis and Danny Lyon were among the Southern Documentary photographers and Dorothea Lange served as informal adviser to the project.
In 2012 he curated a 158-print photography exhibition, This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, featuring nine photographers who joined the civil rights movement and shot it from the inside. This Light opened in Salt Lake City and is now touring the US. The University Press of Mississippi has published a companion volume to the show. In 2014 Herron published Mississippi Eyes, the story of the Southern Documentary Project. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service has recently agreed to host a US tour of his 50 print exhibition on the Selma March and Voting Rights.
Herron's photographs are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Memphis National Civil Rights Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the George Eastman House. He is the subject of several profiles, including Witness in Our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers, and a cover story in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, June 2014.
Read more about Matt Herron:
New York Times obituary:
A reflection by Bernice Johnson Reagon:
In the 1960’s, as events in the Civil Rights Movement escalated, so did the repertoire of songs. Not only were there considerably more songs sung but their subject matter, form and cultural origins broadened. Up to the summer of 1963, the music created in the South in the midst of local community based organizing fell into congregational styled singing. These songs were structured so that they could be sung by large numbers of people and could be learned in the process of singing. From the period of the sit-ins there were songs styled in the rhythm and blues, doo wop tradition and they tended to be sung in small harmony groups by strong harmony singers.Read More
SLP December 7, 2011
The SNCC Legacy Project mourns the death today of former SNCC Field Secretary Robert C. Mants, Jr. (1943-2011). Bob suffered a massive heart attack.Read More
Unita Blackwell, the sharecropper who later became the first black woman mayor in the state of Mississippi and advised six U.S. presidents, died May 13, 2019 at age 86.
She served as a project director and field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helping organize voter drives for African Americans across Mississippi.
Her son Jeremiah Blackwell Jr. told Mississippi Today his mother died at a hospital in Biloxi after a long battle with dementia.
Ms. Blackwell was the author of a memoir, “Barefootin’: Life Lessons From the Road to Freedom” (2006), written with JoAnne Prichard Morris. Survivors include her son and four grandchildren.
See more about Unita Blackwell at https://snccdigital.org/people/unita-blackwell/
Ms. Blackwell's obit in the The Washington Post:
Ms. Blackwell's obit in The New York Times:
Ms. Blackwell's obit in The Root:
William (Bill) Hall