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NEH Grant Announcement: “Our Futures Matter: SNCC Veterans Back on the Road”

Major Award Will Fund Humanities Collaboration with Six HBCUs and Six Museums

Over the next two years, veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and humanities scholars will engage communities surrounding Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and civil rights and African-American history museums in conversations about SNCC’s grassroots organizing during the Civil Rights Movement and its ongoing relevance for creating a more just, inclusive, and sustainable society.

In the 1960s, young people in SNCC (pronounced “Snick”) worked with local people in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change that empowered Black communities and transformed the nation. Emerging out of the sit-ins and the mass, direct action phase of the modern Civil Rights Movement, SNCC grew into an organization of organizers. First in McComb, Mississippi; then in Southwest Georgia; the Mississippi Delta; Lowndes County, Alabama and beyond, the young people in SNCC became part of the communities they lived in, helping to cultivate and support existing leadership. As the only youth-led civil rights organization, SNCC went door-to-door, person-to-person, building a south-wide movement that demanded the vote and challenged systemic white supremacy.

Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Movement History Initiative*, in collaboration with six HBCUs and six museums, will bring this rich and relevant history into communities with the “SNCC and Grassroots Organizing: Building a More Perfect Union,” discussion series in 2024-2025. The series includes multi-day community gatherings at HBCUs, workshops at museums, and virtual conversations where humanities scholars and movement veterans will engage participants in six humanities themes central to SNCC's grassroots organizing—voter registration, the organizing tradition, Black Power, women and gender, art and culture, and freedom teaching. The series will connect with the extensive networks and communities connected to partner institutions.

The John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University is administering the grant award. Dr. Franklin’s inspiring civic and scholarly example guides our work. The HBCUs partners are Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC), Howard University (Washington, D.C.), Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA), North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC), Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX), and Tougaloo College (Jackson, MS). The museum partners are the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (Greensboro, NC), Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (Jackson, MS), National Center for Civil and Human Rights (Atlanta, GA), National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, TN), and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.).

A key aspect of the organizing tradition and SNCC’s work was a deep commitment to encouraging everyday people and supporting them in being leaders. Rather than waiting for a charismatic leader, SNCC encouraged, inspired, and worked with regular people to persistently demand access to the vote, economic and educational justice, and full citizenship. In this tradition, the project will bring humanities themes into communities and look to local people to engage and share this crucial history.

To facilitate this, the “SNCC and Grassroots Organizing" series will also create an Interpretive Booklet and Learning Toolkit to expand access to this history and generate conversations beyond the in-person and virtual events. These two resources will highlight the practical nuts-and-bolts of SNCC’s work to advance power and expand democracy in the communities they were working in through primary source documents, reflective questions, and engaging activities.

SNCC veteran Judy Richardson, one of the project speakers, noted, “This incredible project allows SNCC veterans to come full circle, back to where we first started: the Black colleges and universities that first birthed our organizers and our mentor, Ms. Ella Baker, back in 1960. It also allows us to expand discussion of our Movement work beyond the walls of academia to the larger communities that always grounded, informed, and energized our work. We can’t wait to begin these conversations!”

Grant PIs are Jennifer Lawson of the SNCC Legacy Project, Emilye Crosby (SUNY-Geneseo), and Wesley Hogan from Duke FHI and History, with Karlyn Forner, and Pamela Montgomery. For more information on the project “SNCC and Grassroots Organizing: Building a More Perfect Union,” discussion series, email wesley.hogan@duke.edu . Click here for more about the SNCC Legacy Project, and  here for more information on the NEH Public Humanities Projects.


* A partnership between the SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University Libraries, Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and movement organizers and scholars. For more on the MHI, see https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/franklin/movement-history-initiative