"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
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
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
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.
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
William (Bill) Hall