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Students Celebrate, Document Key Civil Rights Anniversary

Students Celebrate, 
Document Key Civil Rights Anniversary

by Alisa Giardinelli

sncc anniversary trip
The "Swarthmore Nine" (from left): Whitney White '10, Sylvia Boateng '11, Sable Mensah '11, Ashia Troiano '11, Aiden Tedla '12, Cecilia Marquez '11, Sarah Apt '10, Claire Galpern '10, and Erika Slaymaker '11.

A group of Swarthmore students joined generations of civil rights activists earlier this month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during a conference at Shaw University in North Carolina. Their experiences from the trip - an outgrowth of their work in classes such as Urban Education, The Black Freedom Struggle, and Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement - will ultimately lead to a video and a volume of essays, among other projects, that document the interviews they conducted with former members of the pioneering student movement.

"These students have studied race, civil rights, American history, and educational philosophy and are intellectually engaged in this conversation," says Associate Professor of History and Black Studies Coordinator Allison Dorsey, who facilitated the trip with Assistant Professor of Education Cheryl Jones-Walker. "For them to be able to meet and interview the people they've read about - people who got to see the end of Jim Crow at their own hands - makes history tangible to them in immeasurable ways." 

SNCC grew out of the student-led sit-ins held in dozens of Southern cities to protest "whites only" stools at public lunch counters.  The group is credited with changing the face of the civil rights movement by sending young organizers into some of the most dangerous parts of the Delta to register poor Black voters and help change the political landscape of the South.

Far from a nostalgia trip, Dorsey says the elders at the conference had just as much fire, passion, and commitment to civil rights and social justice as they had years prior. As a result, she says, they served as powerful reminders to the students that "as Americans, we have the right and the power to make our nation live up to its highest values."