Students, faculty and librarians at Duke University will partner with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project over the next three years. Together with civil rights scholars, 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.
Members of the SNCC Legacy Project—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 at Duke, 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.”