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Cromwell Day Panel to Examine Role of Student Protest Group


As part of a weeklong series of events celebrating Otelia Cromwell Day, three key figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a national grassroots protest movement that began over civil rights in 1960, will gather at Smith on Tuesday, October 28, to reflect on the role of student activism then and parallels on campus today.


Charles Cobb

Charles Cobb, Judy Richardson and Maria Varela, past participants in SNCC (popularly pronounced “snick”), will comprise a panel in the Leo Weinstein Auditorium in Wright Hall at 7 p.m. They will discuss how their work with SNCC has informed their choices and successes since then. A booksigning will follow the presentation.

Cobb, a senior writer and diplomatic correspondent for allAfrica.com and co-author of Radical Equations, Math Literacy and Civil Rights, left Howard University in 1962 to work as a field secretary for SNCC in the Mississippi Delta. He originated the “Freedom School” idea and proposal that became a crucial part of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.


Judy Richardson during a student sit-in. Atlanta, 1963

Richardson, senior producer at Northern Light Productions in Boston, has been associated with the Academy Award-nominated 14-hour PBS series Eyes on the Prize since 1979. During the 1960s, she served with SNCC on its projects in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and is part of a group of SNCC women editing Hands on the Freedom Plow, an anthology chronicling the civil rights work of more than 50 women in the Southern freedom movement.

Varela, a Macarthur fellowship recipient, is an internationally recognized authority on rural economic development. She joined SNCC in 1962 and became interested in capturing images of black people leading change in their communities. Now a noted photographer, she is the first Latina woman to document the struggle for civil rights in the South. Twenty of her Civil Rights-era photographs will be on display during the week in the Kahn Institute on the third floor of Neilson Library.

Otelia Cromwell Day, an annual event honoring the college's first known African-American graduate, will take place on Thursday, October 30, and will feature a keynote address by legendary activist Grace Lee Boggs (see related story). Organized around the theme, “Living for Change: Reflections on the Civil Rights Movement,” an array of films, concerts, talks, exhibits and presentations during the week will examine the legacy of activists who have devoted their lives to social change.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, formed by student participants of the lunch counter sit-ins who wanted to coordinate nonviolent action, played an instrumental role in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in the1964 Mississippi Summer Project, which sought to register black voters in the Mississippi Delta despite violent opposition from government authorities. The group’s work continues to affect events today.

“SNCC had this profound impact on the way we think about race relations in our world today,” says Kevin Quashie, assistant professor of Afro-American studies, and co-chair of the Otelia Cromwell Day planning committee. Not only because of the work the committee did, he says, but also because “as a group of young people, they were incredibly effective in terms of organizing.” The group, Quashie notes, was multiracial and inter-religious, which counters the popular understanding of the Civil Rights Movement as a strictly African American movement.

“Young people [today] are trying to figure out how they can have an impact,” says Quashie, “and I think SNCC is a good model. We are doing our community a service by remembering and reflecting on what SNCC was and what we can learn from their work.”


 
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