Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University

By Mary Ann Wynkoop | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Student Rights, Civil Rights:
African Americans and the
Struggle for Racial Justice

African-American students at Indiana University were part of a national civil rights movement that reached its height during the 1960s. This movement, more than any other in modern history, shaped the vision that university students—both black and white—had of themselves, their country, and the world.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was the most important student civil rights group during the early sit-ins and freedom rides in the South, had around three hundred members at its founding in 1960. At the height of the movement, during the Mississippi voter registration drives of the mid-1960s, probably not more than a few thousand students were involved. But numbers do not really tell the story of the civil rights movement and its importance to American students.

The civil rights movement was a moral crusade to make Americans live up to the ideals of their Constitution. Leaders of the movement, such as Ella Baker, the “founding mother” of SNCC and officially executive director of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Bob Moses, James Forman, Diane Nash, and Ruby Doris Robinson, all founding members, spoke of “a beloved community” that included brothers and sisters who worked for and shared a common vision of an America based on principles of peace and justice. This idea spread from campus to campus as students debated, in class and late into the night in dormitory rooms, Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of passive resistance and nonviolence, existentialism’s ideas of the value of an authentic existence, and religious principles concerning humanitarian compassion.

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