Honoring Their Courage
This week a historic moment will be recognized: the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The occasion will be commemorated at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC and is one of those anniversaries that ranks incredibly high in importance but unfortunately can easily fall under the radar for many. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced “Snick”) emerged from the student sit-ins that erupted on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although just four students launched these sit-ins, within two months thousands of students across the south were engaged in similar protests against racial segregation. One of the leaders of this movement was none other than Ella Jo Baker. On April 15, 1960, some 200 of these campus-based activists began meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina on the campus of what is now Shaw University and formed SNCC.
Working at a center that was named after arguably one of the greatest unsung civil right heroes of our time is an honor that is never forgotten here. Civil rights activist Ella Baker was a pivotal and unifying figure for young activists during this time. Earlier this year, the Ella Baker Center was honored to host members from Civil Rights Movement Veterans (CRMVet). During this memorable afternoon, three elders of the freedom movement, Phil Hutchings,Jean Wiley, Jimmy Rogers sat down with Ella Baker Center staff to discuss what happened during those fateful years. CRMVet is made up of former civil rights staff and volunteers for SNCC, CORE, and SCLC active in the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s.
The Elders spoke of tales of riding on horseback with Ella Baker doing voter outreach and organizational recruitment.
"Ella Baker was Mother, and fierce Mother, that would tell you like it is" said Jimmy Rogers, "She gave young people courage and showed respect at the same time."
Watching the elders speak was a profound experience for me. While they were talking, I traveled to another time. A time where resources may have been scarce but things like community and love weren't. I got the sense that these courageous human beings were incredibly optimistic in a time when things looked so negative all around them. I also noticed that these folks had so much more to lose including their lives, but yet truly "kept their eyes on the prize" and believed that what they were fighting for was quite simply, worth it.
As we all continue to in our work of building lasting change in our communities, we must not forget the freedom fighters of our past. These courageous individuals stood tall and strong for what was right and just. Many of them sacrificed their time, money and even their lives for the cause. This week remember them and honor their sacrifice.
Visit the website of the Civil Rights Movements Veterans to learn more and/or make a donation and help sustain the legacy of these great heroes.
Abel Habtegeorgis is the Media Relations Manager at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He is an older brother, traveler, and die-hard Golden State Warrior Fan.
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