Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America

Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America

Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America

Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America

Synopsis

How did the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee break open the caste system in the American South between 1960 and 1965? In this innovative study, Wesley Hogan explores what SNCC accomplished and, more important, how it fostered significant social change in such a short time. She offers new insights into the internal dynamics of SNCC as well as the workings of the larger civil rights and Black Power movement of which it was a part.

Excerpt

Sweat beaded on twenty-one-year-old Charles McLaurin’s forehead as he opened the car door and got out. His stomach felt weak, his knees unsure. What he called “the fear” was upon him. A handsome, broad-shouldered man from Jackson, he stood up as three elderly women emerged from the back seat and started toward the courthouse on a hot August day in 1962. He stopped behind them, watching the pride with which they moved, the strong convictions that they held, “as if this was the long walk that led to the Golden Gate of Heaven, their heads held high.” Earlier in the car, the women had told stories of the years gone by while McLaurin drove “with knees shaking, mouth closed tightly so as to not let them hear the fear in my voice.” When they passed through Sunflower, Mississippi, one of the women said, “Won’t be long now.” McLaurin’s heart jumped, “realizing what danger could lie ahead for us, especially me.” The women, whose ages ranged from sixty-five to eighty-five, “knew the white man and his ways, they knew him because they had lived with him, and worked for him.” At the courthouse in Indianola, McLaurin stayed by the car as each woman walked up to the white registrar and said, “I want to vote.”

Charles McLaurin spent the next four years “registrating.” That is to say, in the majority-black Mississippi Delta, he encouraged African Americans to exercise their right to vote. Eventually, those who registered and those who were stopped from registering combined forces to invent something entirely new in American politics—a party structure made up of “legal” and “illegal” voters. At the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964, they captured the nation’s attention with their creation: the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).

Yet nothing in 1964 marked the high point for McLaurin. Nor did any event later in the decade. His peak moment occurred when three elderly ladies had acted in a way that gave him “the spirit to continue.” He recognized the existence of a “slavery mentality” that kept people from registering, and he had learned in the movement that it was not just a black problem, but a human problem. It was a problem of submission—people are helpless when young and . . .

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