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67 former civil rights era activists endorse Black Lives Matter: “y’all take it from here”

Former members of SNCC recognize the intergenerational fight for racial justice.

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sing at a church in 1964.
Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sing at a church in 1964.
Afro Newspaper/Gado

Delegates from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee have a message for their millennial comrades in the movement for black lives: “Y’all take it from here.”

A group of 67 former members of the civil rights organization penned a letter of support, recognizing the ties that bind their kindred fights for racial equity and justice across generations.

“We in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were part of that long struggle in the 1960s,” the SNCC delegates wrote. “We were met with harassment and resistance that included murder and other forms of violence. The voices of white supremacy insisted that Black lives were not human lives and any claim to human rights was subversive and threatening to the country.”

Some of the most prolific black activists and politicians were involved with the organization in the early 1960s: Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael, the philosopher behind “black power”; Julian Bond, who, at 25, was elected to the Georgia state legislature where he served six terms; and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) who continues to fight for social change, including, most recently, gun control reform.

Critics of today’s movement try to glorify the civil rights movement to levy a critique of the black-led millennial racial justice movement — including civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, who derided today’s activists for their approach. But Americans did not share the same respect for the civil rights movement when it was unfolding before their eyes.

A 1964 survey by the American National Election Studies found that 57 percent of Americans said most of black people’s actions during the civil rights movement in the most recent year were violent. Sixty-three percent of Americans believed the civil rights movement was moving "too fast." And a majority of Americans (58 percent) believed that black people’s actions for the movement hurt their own cause.

Just for perspective: In 1963, civil rights activists, including members of SNCC, led the March on Washington that is now best remembered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

And while similar issues around racial disparities in employment, voting rights, poverty, and wealth persist, Americans remain as skeptical of the movement for black lives today as they were of their predecessors.

According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement with stark racial differences. While 40 percent of white Americans support the movement, 41 percent of African Americans showed strong support and 65 percent of African Americans showed support for the movement in general.

Black Americans are most likely to strongly support the Black Lives Matter movement. Pew Research Center

Americans are split on the effectiveness of the movement in achieving racial equality in the long run: While 8 percent say Black Lives Matter will be very effective, 30 percent say it will be somewhat effective, compared with 33 percent who doubt the movement’s effectiveness. The remaining 29 percent either weren’t familiar with the movement or did not provide an opinion.

But being the subjects of American apprehension isn’t the only ways the two movements align.

People involved with the movement for black lives have also continually faced forms of intimidation that are eerily reminiscent of those used against civil rights activists from Martin Luther King Jr. to author James Baldwin.

Last summer, a cybersecurity firm identified Campaign Zero co-founders and activists DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie as "threat actors" during the Baltimore protests. Last August, Vice reported that the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring McKesson's activities on social media.

This June, Jasmine "Abdullah" Richards, a founder of a Black Lives Matter chapter in Pasadena, California, became the first African American convicted of "lynching" in the United States, setting an unsettling precedent where laws created to protect African Americans from vigilante violence are now being used to criminalize activists fighting against police brutality.

Separated by two different historical moments, SNCC and the movement for black lives each bear witness to racism’s resilience in America and the various levels of resistance black activists have had to face to instantiate change.

Nonetheless, despite doubt from the American public, the SNCC delegates hold faith for a new generation of young black people to carry on the fight they fought nearly half a century ago:

With their protests and demands, the Movement for Black lives is continuing to exercise their rights, guaranteed to all Americans under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We, the still-active radicals who were SNCC, salute today’s Movement for Black lives for taking hold of the torch to continue to light this flame of truth for a knowingly forgetful world!

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