For MLK Day: Remembering My Time With SNCC in the Southern Civil Rights Movement

Jan 12, 2023

I spent the summer of 1965 as a volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, more popularly known by its initials SNCC (pronounced “SNICK”) in Forrest City, Arkansas. Those four months were, and remain, the turning point in my life. It was there, in the heat and threat of a Southern summer, in a town founded by and named after Nathan Bedford Forrest — slave trader, Confederate general, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — that I learned who I wanted and perhaps needed to become. Fifty-eight years later, that’s who I am, still who I try every day to be: An organizer for justice.

Twenty-four years after that summer, I walked onto a plane headed for Washington DC. A flight attendant handed me a morning newspaper. I sat down, buckled up, looked down, and stared at a headline about the 25 year anniversary of the murder of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, three SNCC civil rights workers, an African American and two Jews, murdered in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan, buried under an earthen dam.I cried through the whole flight. But by the time we landed, I had written this song: No matter where I am, no matter what I do, in some sense for me it is always 1965, it is always Forrest City, it is always SNCC. This is who I am, this is who I hope always to be.

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