Teaching Activities (Free)

Teaching SNCC: The Organization at the Heart of the Civil Rights Revolution

Teaching Activity. By Adam Sanchez. 24 pages.
A series of role plays that explore the history and evolution of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Time Periods: 20th Century, People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974, Post-Civil Rights Era: 1975 - 2000
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Democracy & Citizenship, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity, Social Class, Women's History

A meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Atlanta, winter 1963–64. Executive Secretary James Forman leads singing in the SNCC office. From left: Mike Sayer, MacArthur Cotton, James Forman, Marion Barry, Lester MacKinney, Mike Thelwell, Lawrence Guyot, Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Jean Wheeler, and Julian Bond. Source: Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos.

“That’s the problem with Black Lives Matter! We need a strong leader like Martin Luther King!” Tyriq shouted as I wrote King’s name on the board.

I started my unit on the Civil Rights Movement by asking my high school students to list every person or organization they knew was involved. They replied with several familiar names: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Emmett Till. Occasionally a student knew an organization: the NAACP or the Black Panther Party.

“Has anyone ever heard of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee?” I asked while writing the acronym on the board.

“S-N-C-C?” students sounded out as my black Expo marker moved across the whiteboard.

“Have you ever heard of the sit-ins?” I prodded.

“Yeah, weren’t they in Alabama?” Matt answered.

“No, Mississippi! Four students sat down at a lunch counter, right?” Kadiatou proudly declared.

This is usually the extent of my students’ prior knowledge of SNCC, one of the organizations most responsible for pushing the Civil Rights Movement forward. Without the history of SNCC at their disposal, students think of the Civil Rights Movement as one that was dominated by charismatic leaders and not one that involved thousands of young people like themselves. Learning the history of how young students risked their lives to build a multigenerational movement against racism and for political and economic power allows students to draw new conclusions about the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and how to apply them to today.