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SNCC Digital Gateway: 

July 2017

Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work

In-Depth Look at SNCC’s Past Offers Lessons for Activists Today

Man and woman looking over a brochure for a political candidate before election day in Lowndes County, Alabama, November, 1966, Photograph by Jim Peppler, Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

What can the immediate past teach us about voting rights, self-determination, and democracy today? A new website created by the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University explores how the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—the only youth-led national civil rights group—organized a grassroots movement in the 1960s that empowered Black communities and transformed the nation.  Told from the perspectives of the activists themselves, the SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work (snccdigital.org) highlights SNCC’s thinking and work building democracy from the ground up, making those experiences and strategies accessible to activists, educators, and engaged citizens today.

Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the site uses documentary footage, audio recordings, photographs, and documents to chronicle how SNCC organizers, alongside thousands of local Black residents in the Deep South, worked to enable Black people to take control of their lives. The gateway unveils and examines the inner workings of SNCC over the course of its 12-year existence—its structure, how it coordinated sit-ins and other direct action protests, and how it organized voter registration efforts and economic cooperatives to effect social change. SNCC had more field staff than any civil rights organization and was considered the cutting edge of the civil rights movement.

The SNCC Digital Gateway also presents the voices of today’s young activists in the Movement for Black Lives, sharing their views on the impact of SNCC and the southern civil rights movement of the 1960s on their activities today. “Reading through the SNCC Digital Gateway website is like taking a masters class in community organizing,” explains Jennifer Bryant, a community organizer based in Washington, D.C. “The primary source documents provide a deeper understanding of how SNCC was structured, the day-to-day work of field organizers and how campaigns were shaped. The site serves as a reminder that the civil rights movement was fought by everyday people. It provides hope that in these perilous times, we too can fight and win.” Courtland Cox, chairman of the SNCC Legacy Project, who served as an organizer in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s, explains, “Our experiences have created a level of ‘informational wealth’ that we need to pass on to young people. This unprecedented collaboration with Duke University hopefully will pilot a way for other academic institutions to re-engage history and those who make it.”

The website is a product of a groundbreaking partnership among veteran civil rights activists of the SNCC Legacy Project, the Center for Documentary Studies at DukeDuke University Libraries, and civil rights scholars. Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies, who has written extensively about SNCC’s work and legacy explains, “The way we are working together—activists, archivists, and scholars—is a powerful new model. This project gives us a unique opportunity to understand the work of the local people who broke apart Jim Crow that would otherwise be lost to future generations.”

For more information, contact:

Wesley Hogan, Director, Center for Documentary Studies
(919) 660-3610

Courtland Cox, Chairman, SNCC Legacy Project
(220) 550-8455

John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
(919) 660-5922

SNCC Digital Gateway live online now!  https://snccdigital.org/
SNCC Digital Gateway Project Updates - December 2015
The SNCC Digital Gateway Project has successfully wrapped up its first semester of work. In past four months, the student Project Team has created over forty new profiles and events featuring an array of digitized primary sources. Work is underway on four new audiovisual pieces that tell stories about grassroots organizing and women’s work in the Movement. Design contractors are onboard, and site design is scheduled for kickoff in the new year.  As Courtland Cox once said, “Now that we have the vote, what are we going to do with it?” and the SNCC Digital Gateway is working to document that broader story of the Movement.   
SNCC Veterans on Campus
The SNCC Digital Gateway’s first Visiting Activist Scholar and Visiting Documentarian finished up their residencies at Duke in November. Charlie Cobb and Judy Richardson spent hours with the student Project Team, discussing the how, when, and why of SNCC’s organizing. In addition to guiding the Project Team’s writing of content, the two began creating short audiovisual stories about SNCC. While on campus, Cobb and Richardson were interviewed by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal on his series Left of Black (to be aired in February), and used their experiences organizing with SNCC to comment on the issues of today. Cobb also spoke in classes and at multiple events, including a conversation with Black Lives Matter’s DeRay McKesson that was organized with the support of Duke’s Black Student Alliance.  
Designing the SNCC Digital Gateway
Kompleks Creative, a Durham-based web design company, will be designing the SNCC Digital Gateway based on the structure established by SDG's Editorial Board. Kompleks Creative has been developing exceptional site designs for a decade, working largely with artists, non-profits, and small businesses in the Durham community and beyond. Founder Tobias Rose has deep roots in the city; his grandfather worked for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co., the country’s oldest African American insurance company, and Kompleks Creative’s office is just down the street from where NC Mutual Life was first housed on Durham’s “Black Wall Street.” Rose grew up listening to his father’s stories about the young activists who had come together in neighboring Raleigh, NC, to form SNCC and organize communities around the South. Kompleks is excited to work with the SNCC Digital Gateway in creating a digital platform for SNCC’s history and legacy. Site design work is scheduled to kickoff in 2016.
Spring 2016 Visiting Documentarian
We are happy to announce that Maria Varela will be joining the SNCC Digital Gateway Project as the Spring 2016 Visiting Documentarian. Varela has worked for decades as organizer, photographer, and teacher. In SNCC, she worked in Alabama and Mississippi developing a voter literacy program and documenting the movement. She covered the 1966 Meredith March against Fear, recalling, “the media implied that ‘black power’ was imposed on the southern rural movement by urban-raised black militants. Through the lens, I saw differently. Mirrored in the eyes of that youth was a strength and pride that had been freed from within.” She then continued her organizing as a part of the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, land rights movement, and the Chicano Movement. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1990 for her organizing work, and her photos have been exhibited around the country in places like the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, and Smith College. 
Stories from the Project Team: Intern Todd Christensen writes about how he came to know SNCC
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into the first day I walked into Dr. Emilye Crosby’s civil rights history class. I was prepared to learn about the iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement - the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Birmingham Demonstrations. I had never heard of Ella Baker when Dr. Crosby said we were going to spend the first class watching Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker. I was in for a treat to say the least.
That was a life-changing semester for me. Not only did I learn about Ella Baker, but I learned about the grassroots organizing that made the Civil Rights Movement a reality. I learned that social change came more often from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down. And people like Amzie Moore and Aaron Henry in Mississippi, and other local people throughout the Deep South, were the backbone of the Black Freedom Struggle.  
Dr. Crosby also introduced me to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was inspiring to learn about young people, the same age as me, who were dedicated full-time to empowering the most oppressed African Americans in the Deep South. The organization worked hand-in-hand with local activists to create sustainable grassroots movements in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama - some of the most violent states in America at the time. I was inspired and I wanted to share this history of the Civil Rights Movement with others.
That’s how I ended up working on the SNCC Digital Gateway project. It’s an opportunity to both learn more about SNCC and to share the organization’s history with a public audience. And so far, it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned so much listening to the stories of Charlie Cobb and Judy Richardson, who were SNCC activists in the sixties.  It has humanized the history to be able to see the places and events through their firsthand accounts.  And having the chance to work with Duke and the SNCC Legacy Project to be able to tell their stories has taught me a lot about the power of regular people doing extraordinary things.
Durham, North Carolina
Friday, September 18 to Sunday, September 20, 2015
The One Person, One Vote: Learning From the Past, Organizing for the Future Conference was a success. The Conference fostered an inter- and intra-generational dialogue between members of the NAACP, SNCC and CORE veterans of the 1960’S Civil Rights Movement, organizers engaged in the Mississippi Ballot Initiative, the Young People’s Project, The Advancement Project, today’s activists from Black Youth 100, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, United We Dream, and the North Carolina NAACP Youth.
The Conference had over 150 fully-engaged participants. The Voting Rights Conference was keynoted by Bob Moses, discussing voting as a constitutional right.
There were also various plenary sessions and workshops discussing the four major areas of the Conference:
 1) How to Engage Communities of Color and Poor Communities in Making Public Policy That Advances their Political and Economic Interests
 2) How to Make Voting a Constitutional Right
 3) The Importance of Changing the Political Dynamics of the South
 4) Encouraging Today’s Activists to Collaborate on the Very Important Question of, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
The Conference focused on having today’s young activists take the lead in many of the discussions because they are the ones who will undertake the work of voter registration, organizing voter participation, and establishing a forward-looking political agenda. The discussions in the plenary sessions and workshops were also informed by the participation of Movement veterans, scholars, policy makers, elected officials and youth activists from across the United States. The Conference participants used social media to communicate with their constituencies much of the discussion that took place at the Millennium Hotel.
The Conference hashtag that was used was #BettaVote. Information was sent out via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. Some participants even used email and the written word.
The Conference was made possible through a generous donation from Gregg Hymowitz.
Courtland Cox, Co-chair
Chair of the SNCC Legacy Project
Wesley Hogan, Co-Chair
Director for Center for Documentary Studies
SNCC Digital Gateway: August 2015 Update
SNCC Legacy Project & Duke University partnership enters second year
During the 2014 – 2015 academic year, the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) and Duke successfully launched a new documentary website, One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights. We are now beginning the second year of this ongoing partnership to explore SNCC’s historic struggles for equal political, social, and economic opportunity for all Americans. In March, the SLP-Duke collaboration received a 3-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a new, more expansive website highlighting SNCC’s activism beyond voting rights. It will be called SNCC Digital Gateway: Learn from the Past, Organize for the Future, Make Democracy Work. Project partners have been charting the course for the SNCC Digital Gateway over the summer, and work on the website begins in September 2015 and will continue through the Spring of 2018.
Visiting Activist Scholar & Documentarian
SNCC veterans will be back on Duke’s campus in the 2015 – 2016 academic year to take the lead in interpreting SNCC’s documentary legacy. Charlie Cobb will return as the Visiting Activist Scholar from September 28 – November 20, and Judy Richardson will join him for two weeks in November (starting Nov. 9) as our first Visiting Documentarian. Working collaboratively with the student Project Team, archivists, and scholars, the Visiting Activist Scholar and Documentarian will provide the framework for understanding who SNCC was, what they did, and why they did it. Both Charlie and Judy are available for classroom visits and to meet with student and community organizations while they’re in Durham. If interested, please contact Project Coordinator, Kaley Deal.
A New Home for the SNCC Digital Gateway Project
In mid-August, the One Person, One Vote Project will bid farewell to its current home in The Edge and  relocate to the 3rd floor of the newly-renovated Rubenstein Library. Along with the new project headquarters, the Project will officially take up its new identity as the SNCC Digital Gateway Project. Many thanks to The Edge for being supportive hosts and contributing to the success of the One Person, One Vote pilot project.
Project Team Updates
Over the last few weeks, the SNCC Digital Gateway project has been working to bring together a project team for the fall.  We are happy to say that we will have many returning members from One Person, One Vote, who spent all last year exploring SNCC's history and grassroots, community organizing.  We're looking forward to getting back into the groove of content production and developing the dynamic of this team. 
"I had a really positive experience working with OPOV during the first year. This year, I’m excited to explore different aspects of SNCC’s history and figure out new ways to share this information in a digital format. And of course, I’m excited to work with our activists in residence and the rest of the team!" ~ Amina Bility
"I'm returning to the project because I am excited by the direction that things are taking. Exploring the roots of the movement and tying in the developments of Black Power expands the scope and the relevance of this project...However, what really sealed the deal for me was the opportunity to work with movement veterans, like Charlie Cobb and Judy Richardson, as well as the amazing project group that Karlyn and Kaley are assembling." ~ David Romine
"After launching the site, I was most excited by the responses of SNCC veterans themselves, as well as my peers who have been moved by the events of this day and age. The stories of SNCC's legacy live on in today's movements, and I look forward to collecting the narratives of such a pivotal time in history." ~ Alex Miller
Let's hear it for a great semester! #

Two SNCC workers, Selma federal building, 1963, photo by Danny Lyon


The SNCC Legacy Project Partners with Duke on Civil Rights Website

SNCC Veterans and Duke scholars, staff and students to partner on the SNCC Digital Gateway

April 14, 2015


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The SNCC Legacy Project will partner with students, faculty and librarians at Duke University over the next three years. They will build a digital gateway that will reveal the evolving tactics that SNCC and local communities used to develop the philosophical and organizational models that produced universal voting rights.


Made possible by a $604,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Duke University Libraries, the SNCC Digital Gateway will provide a new interpretive framework for SNCC’s history that incorporates essays and analysis, historic documents, timelines, maps, activist profiles, oral histories, short documentary films, audiovisual materials and teaching resources.


The SNCC Digital Gateway will build on the success of One Person, One Vote (onevotesncc.org), a new Web resource launched in March that was developed collaboratively by the SNCC Legacy Project, the Duke University Libraries and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.


SNCC veterans -- men and women who organized alongside local people in the Deep South for civil rights in the 1960s -- will play a central role in the Mellon-funded project. They will come to Duke’s campus as Visiting Activist Scholars and work closely with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, archivists and digital experts to explain what SNCC did, how they did it and who was involved.


Courtland Cox, chairman of the SNCC Legacy Project, served as an organizer in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s. “Our experiences have created a level of ‘informational wealth’ that we need to pass on to young people,” he said. “This unprecedented collaboration with Duke University hopefully will pilot a way for other academic institutions to re-engage history and those who make it.”


Although historians have written about SNCC’s history, the story of how students and local communities worked together to bring about voting rights and other reforms has not yet reached the broader public.


Most histories of the Civil Rights Movement focus on the great leaders, dramatic marches and judicial and legislative changes that dominated the headlines. By contrast, the SNCC Digital Gateway will examine the behind-the-scenes work, circumstances and coalitions that shifted the national agenda toward voting rights.


Specifically, the project will describe how SNCC’s organizers moved from being an organization of protesters to one of organizers in three pivotal locations: Mississippi; Lowndes County and Selma, Alabama; and Southwest Georgia.


Wesley Hogan, director of the Center for Documentary Studies, has written extensively about SNCC’s work and legacy. According to her, “The way we are working together --activists, archivists, and scholars -- is a powerful new model. This project gives us a unique opportunity to understand the work of the local people who broke apart Jim Crow that would otherwise be lost to future generations.”


Led by student veterans of the sit-in movement, SNCC was formed at Shaw University in Raleigh in 1960. Through its full-time student workers or “field secretaries,” SNCC generated unprecedented activism at the local level that proved instrumental to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. SNCC became the cutting edge of the direct-action Civil Rights movement, focusing on political freedom and equal economic opportunity.


“The victories that SNCC worked so hard to achieve are now being challenged in many states, including North Carolina, Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Wisconsin,” said John Gartrell, director of Duke’s John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. “State legislatures are debating voter ID requirements, guidelines for early voting, same-day registration and restrictions on counting some provisional ballots. Our hope is that the SNCC Digital Gateway will consider which organizing principles and strategies might be useful to today’s generation of activists and foster a broader intergenerational dialogue about the meaning of democracy today.”

Website Tells Story of Voting Rights Struggle

A new web resource dedicated to telling the story of the grassroots fight for voting rights was launched on March 2, 2015.


The website, One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights, is now live. It tells the side of the story of the key role of local leaders and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in shifting the national political agenda toward voting rights.


SNCC veterans and civil rights scholars from around the country working with students and faculty and Duke University collaborated on the website, which documents how the bottom-up strategies of young people and black community leaders across the Deep South created an expansion of political, social, and economic opportunity for all citizens in the 1960s.


"This site not only tells the story largely ignored by civil rights canon, but also pilots a way to meaningfully bring Movement participants and scholars together for that purpose," said Courtland Cox, Chair of the SNCC Legacy Project.


The website focuses on SNCC's organizing campaign in three states: Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. It draws on oral histories, as well as primary documents, photographs, and audiovisual materials at Duke and other repositories across the country. It includes profiles of 75 activists, Movement elders and community leaders-along with primary documents and video.


A timeline walks visitors through significant events in SNCC's history. An interactive map brings to life the landscape of the many places where the young people of SNCC organized.


"This is an enormous achievement, to find ways to bring these experts who were so central to the voting rights struggle, into the formal historical record through their own words and on their own terms," said Wesley Hogan, director of Duke's Center for Documentary Studies. "The project comes at a moment when our nation is both commemorating key victories of the Civil Rights Movement and seeing those victories challenged by new restrictive voting laws in many states."


The One Person, One Vote website is part of a longer-term collaboration among the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, and the Duke University Libraries. This will be the first time SNCC veterans have engaged with the academic community in such a sustained effort, with the goal of getting their crucial insights into the nation's formal histories and archives and, beyond that, to young activist communities.