An Article about the work behind the SNCC Digital  Gateway and why it is so imporrtant to future leaders.
Title: Building and Transferring Informational Wealth: The SNCC Digital Gateway
Posted: May 13, 2018
Authors: Courtland Cox (SNCC Legacy Project-SLP), Karlyn Forner (project manager), John Gartrell (Duke University Libraries - DUL), Wesley Hogan (Duke Center for Documentary Studies - CDS), Jennifer Lawson (SLP), Naomi Nelson (DUL)
People’s understanding of what’s important in history is driven more by what is left out than by biased history writing. This is true not only for consumers of history, but also for historians. We only write about what we can find evidence of -- what we can find through archives, oral histories, and big data. 
Sometimes this means a massive loss of information. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (“Snick”), dismantled large parts of legalized segregation in just eight years, between 1960-68.  They were young activists—most Black, some not— who took action in the very places in which segregation was most deeply rooted -- Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. Despite ferocious violence from white supremacists—beatings, whippings, burnings, rapes, tortures, killings—they themselves acted nonviolently.  Routinely, observers were stunned.  Then impressed. And, often, won over. Here were young people who defied all odds, who attempted the seemingly impossible. They not only questioned terrible, yet deeply ingrained, assumptions.  They went out to challenge them. 
Between 1960-1968, SNCC was the only national, southern-based civil rights organization begun and led primarily by young people, with most younger than twenty-five years old. Its full-time student workers, “field secretaries,” worked with local Black activists, sharecroppers, teachers, ministers and day laborers to generate new community organizations and to create a radically inclusive democracy that valued all of its citizens. As SNCC activist and SLP member, Charles Cobb, explained:
At a deeper level than the immediate political concern with voter registration, SNCC’s work was also about cultivating new local leadership and reinforcing existing local leadership. SNCC field secretaries did not see themselves as community leaders but as community organizers, a distinction that empowered local participants by reinforcing the idea at the heart of SNCC’s work in every project that “local people” could and should take control of their own lives.
And yet, fifty years later, at a reunion in 2010, SNCC veterans realized that very few of the nation’s school children, or citizens, knew anything about their work. It was as if the entire team that made possible the first successful moon landing, Apollo 11, was simply dismissed after the mission landing. As if nobody from NASA debriefed them. Nobody asked what they had learned. Nobody asked their advice for future space trips.  Imagine how peculiar -- and dangerous to future missions -- it would be if the hard-won experiential knowledge of these astronauts and their support team had been ignored.
That’s where SNCC veterans found themselves in 2010. Few people knew of their work to further the nation’s democratic promise. They formed a nonprofit organization, the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) to preserve and share this history.
By 2013, SLP joined together with Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies (CDS), and Duke University Libraries (DUL). The aim of the partnership: to build an archive chronicling SNCC’s historic struggles for voting rights and to develop ongoing programs that contributed to a more civil and inclusive democracy in the 21st century.
The partnership seeks to tell the history of SNCC from the perspective of the activists themselves and pass on the essential “how-to’s” of the freedom movement to subsequent generations.  In 2013 the SLP-Duke collaboration began work on its first initiative, a pilot website entitled, One Person, One Vote: The Legacy of SNCC and the Fight for Voting Rights (OPOV). The “documentary website” used documents, photographs, and audiovisual material held at archives across the country to portray SNCC’s fight for voting rights in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in 2015.
The website was the first and primary focus of what partners from SLP and CDS originally envisioned as a four-part collaborative project. The components include:
  1. A digital gateway (documentary website) about SNCC’s history authored by SNCC veterans
  2. A conference connecting SNCC veterans and young(er) activists together around the theme of voting rights (September 2015)
  3. Critical oral history sessions exploring SNCC’s thinking, strategies, actions, and innovations (2016 and 2018)
  4. A kindergarten through 12th grade (K12) project that shares the above knowledge with those who teach Movement history to the vast majority of young people (ongoing workshops since 2017)
The collaboration seeks to change the normative story of the Civil Rights Movement. The goal is to tell the story of SNCC’s organizing from the bottom up and inside out, exploring how affected people organized to change history, while also making SNCC materials more widely accessible to students, teachers, activists, and citizens. While activists and historical participants appear as subjects in more traditional archival activities, they rarely get to shape and interpret the story in a way that accurately reflects their experiences and understandings.  SLP and Duke sought to create a replicable model for partnerships between activists and scholars in which the former would have the primary voice in assembling archival materials and shaping the historical narrative.
The collaborative effort launched One Person, One Vote in March 2015, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday. Throughout the first two years of the project, SNCC veterans came to Duke’s campus as Visiting Activist Scholars, working with students, archivists, and project staff to engage SNCC’s documentary legacy and contextualize its history of organizing for Black empowerment and democracy.
In April 2015 the collaboration received a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, to expand the work of the pilot project into the SNCC Digital Gateway (SDG).  The SDG 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. Most importantly, the SNCC partners themselves continue to shape the vision and framework of the website. They work collaboratively with historians of the Movement, archivists, and students to weave together grassroots stories, using digitized primary source materials to create new multimedia productions that illuminated this history for new generations.
Although we live in a time of unprecedented document production, an era of “democratized documentation” where everyone with access to a smart phone can create and save millions of pieces of information about their lives, it remains challenging to develop institutional practices to guide the gathering, contextualization, and distribution of archival material from people who do not habitually frequent or donate their documents to archival centers. If universities do not develop a rich and vibrant set of such practices in our archives, they will remain very good repositories for people who want to tell stories of the powerful and may remain adequate for telling stories about those on the margins of power and wealth. That is to say, scholars and students will be able to tell stories from the outside-in, using archival sources. But we will continue to deny future generations the stories from people at the margins that are told by the majority of Americans -- that is, stories told from the inside out.
Why is this essential? Because without such perspectives, we have only a very limited and truncated view of our cultural and political history. And in fact, we sometimes put material in the archive that is not only single-sided, but inaccurate in itself. Oral historians have had indisputable proof of this for almost a century. In the 1930s, as black and white interviewers from the Federal Writers Project (FWP) traveled around the South to document the experiences of freed-people who had experienced slavery, two federal employees interviewed Susan Hamlin. In an example that has become iconic in oral history seminars throughout the US, Hamlin was first interviewed by an African American man from the FWP, Augustus Ladson. Subsequently, Hamlin was interviewed by a white woman, Jessie Butler. Butler left some doubt in Hamlin’s mind: was she interviewing Hamlin for history’s sake, or as part of an investigation by the local welfare office? At any rate, though both the white woman (Butler) and the black man (Ladson) worked from a common set of Federal Writers Project questions that included the freed-person’s personal history, work experiences, education, diet, and the slave-to-“owner” relationship, look at how the response of Hamlin differs:
This is a reality of information collection that remains no less powerful if archivists and historians ignore it. Plenty do. It is a reality that not only limits our understanding of slavery and US white supremacy, but one can easily extrapolate and imagine how similar dynamics cut off our ability to document (much less write about, teach about, or understand) the experiences of anyone on the margins: colonized people, women of all backgrounds, religious minorities, children, undocumented immigrants, trauma survivors, military veterans, indigenous people, members of the GLBTQ communities, and people with multiple intersecting marginalized identities.
The American majority who are on the margins of power and wealth need to tell stories on their own terms, and make the key decisions about how those stories are collected, archived, contextualized and disseminated to the public. If the American majority is not at the center of the decision-making, the knowledge base of our lives is dramatically limited.
Yet as many archivists and historians know, this almost never happens. The reasons, more often than not, are quite practical. It is not straightforward to work with people on the margins of power and wealth. These are often people who have been taught that both their lives and their stories are of no value, therefore the concept of documenting and recording their stories seems irrelevant, much like a waste of time and energy. Additionally, the formalities and requirements of the academic and institutional world seem burdensome and unnecessary and the balance of power in the negotiations feels unequal. This results in a conflict between two worlds. The academy may find it difficult to find people willing to tell their stories.  People may participate in a project, and then move, making it difficult for institutions to track them down for permissions and/or further decision-making. They may be impatient about archival processes, or not have the time to catalog and contextualize their materials. Above all, they are often justifiably suspicious of the extractive processes used by institutions who want their papers, interviews, and ephemera and use them for purposes not their own. This reality leads globally to a gross imbalance: that there are many more cubic feet of papers in the world’s archives that document centrist and conservative political activity, compared to the tiny number of archives that document small-d democratic movements.
The SNCC veterans were somewhat unique because they had worked with those who existed on the margins of power and wealth and they understood the need to document the historical narrative of the struggle for civil and human rights waged by these very people. The SNCC veterans knew that if they did not tell the stories from the bottom up, those who made the history would once again be ignored. Therefore, the SLP came to the table in 2013 willing to do all of the work of staying with the project from conceptualization, through fundraising, and carrying out of the work itself as full partners with Duke. SLP put two non-negotiable requests on the table: make sure the site had no paywall, and could be accessed by anyone, at any time; and that the intellectual property – both original papers and new material created over the course of the project – was shared. After negotiating with the Duke legal team, the head of Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library was able to move forward with an agreement to make the material as open as possible via Creative Commons licenses and contract language prohibiting future paywalls or similar requirements. Copyrights for attributed new works created for the SNCC Digital Gateway would belong to the authors, while copyrights for unattributed new content would be owned by the SNCC Legacy Project. The authors and SLP then granted Duke non-exclusive, perpetual licenses to publish and provide access to the content using Creative Commons licenses. This creator-centric approach reflected SNCC values regarding the value of work and respecting the rights of the creators who do the work. It also helped answer an early and ever-present question among the partners: “Can I trust you as we walk into this process?”
The commitment to equitable participation helped build strong relationships among project partners and fostered a respectful way of working together in light of the reality that Duke’s library would be the long-term site for the archive. Scholars, archivists, and project staff were dedicated to carrying out the SNCC partners’ vision. As John Gartrell of Duke Libraries explained to the SNCC partners, “We’re always accountable to you all.” In recent months, as we presented the SNCC Digital Gateway to audiences in the US, Mexico, and Brazil, people reacted to this unusual way we worked together with encouragement and gratitude. In Rio de Janiero, activists and scholars remarked that perhaps we had found a way to apply Paolo Freire’s popular education ideas to the archive.*
In summary, the experiences of SNCC people in coaxing the US to live up to its mission statement of “liberty and justice for all” is too valuable not to find a way to archive permanently for future citizens. Courtland Cox noted recently that “Our youth have to have the benefit of our information, if not experiences, so they have a head start as they continue their struggle in America.” He called this project a “critical transfer of informational wealth.” The term stuck. SNCC activist Joyce Ladner rejoined: “if nothing else will save the most vulnerable of this generation, then informational wealth may be used to do so.” 
This informational transfer is taking place as young(er) activists use the SDG site and seek out SNCC veterans. For Phillip Agnew, co-founder of the Dream Defenders in Florida, the archival legacy of SNCC—its meeting notes, its minutes, its pictures—has helped Dream Defenders “have perspective about where we are, where we’re going.” The SNCC Digital Gateway, he explained, “provides a compass for organizers of today to really guide our work, guide our strategy, and begin to build on the legacy that SNCC has built.” Agnew also praised SNCC’s living legacy: the actual SNCC veterans who shepherded the Dream Defenders through trying times as an organization, “who were there as people to give advice, to provide counsel.” “SNCC never died,” he noted. “SNCC is very, very present in the DNA of what we’re doing.”
More information on how the project worked can be found at
* Alexandre Fortes of the Pró-Reitor de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação UFRRJ,  and John French of Duke University invited us to present our work at the Colégio Brasileiro de Altos Estudos at UFRJ in February 2018. We are deeply indebted to them for this invitation, and for Fortes’ initial insight that perhaps we had found one way to apply popular education ideas to the archive.
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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 ( 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!
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 (, 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.