Fifty Years Later, SNCC Renews Its Youth
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is commemorating its 50th anniversary. The civil rights group known as SNCC dates back to the first lunch counter demonstrations in Greensboro, North Carolina, that quickly spread across the South. For the past few days, SNCC has been celebrating its history at a conference. But veterans say they also want to inspire a new generation of activists.
NPR's Kathy Lohr has more from Raleigh.
KATHY LOHR: One of the founders of SNCC, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, recalled the marches, the violence and the progress.
Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia, Co-Founder, SNCC): Without the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, without the vision and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., I don't know where we would be today.
LOHR: Lewis says the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, was possible because these activists took the first steps back in the 1960s. He said that's not the final victory but a down payment. Lewis told hundreds gathered here that both the young and veterans need to be part of the current battle.
Rep. LEWIS: You've got to get out there and push and organize and agitate and stand up and make some noise.
(Soundbite of applause)
LOHR: The first African-American attorney general, Eric Holder, gave the keynote address. Holder pledged to strengthen civil rights in housing, at the voting booth, in schools and in sentencing laws, but he says young people need to get involved.
Mr. ERIC HOLDER (U.S. Attorney General): We are counting on you to build on SNCC's achievements and to use the opportunities and gifts that you have been provided to help others realize their potential and to ensure that our nation's promise of equal opportunity is finally fulfilled.
LOHR: These are inspirational words for several students about to graduate from North Carolina Central Law School, including Jakira Carthans(ph) and David Strauss(ph).
Mr. DAVID STRAUSS (Student, North Carolina Central Law School): I'd say exuberant, everyone seems, you know...
Ms. JAKIRA CARTHANS (Student, North Carolina Central Law School): Hopeful about the future of the organization and, you know, what we can do.
LOHR: In the 1960s, SNCC focused on desegregation, voting rights and equality in schools. But Strauss says some of those issues remain.
Mr. STRAUSS: A long time, I see, like, education, I'm seeing the major problem, you know, facing our country: the resegregation of schools, you know. And I think it's important that everybody get an equal education and an integrated education.
CHILDREN: (Singing) No more troubles, no more strife, (unintelligible) for all that's right...
LOHR: These third graders from integrated public schools in Oakland, California came to Raleigh because they wanted to learn more about the movement. It's exactly the kind of real-life civil rights lesson SNCC organizers want to provide. There were profound accomplishments because of the movement, but many, including activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte, say there's been enough reminiscing and not enough recent action.
Mr. HARRY BELAFONTE (Activist, Entertainer): We should not leave this gathering, this 50th anniversary of SNCC, without coming out here with some passionate idea of what she would be going out there, going and doing about the predicament in which we find ourselves.
LOHR: The question: Where to begin? In the 1960s, civil rights veterans say it was easier to see and attack racial inequality. Now, with a black president in the White House, many say it's harder to convince young people they need to join the fight.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Raleigh.
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