Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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Explain and compare the strategies of the NAACP, SNCC, and SCLC.

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First, we should recognize that the NAACP was much older than the other two organizations. It was founded in the first decade of the twentieth century, whereas the SCLC and SNCC were founded in the midst of the post–World War II struggle for civil rights. Early on, the NAACP adopted a strategy it would pursue throughout the twentieth century. The NAACP lobbied for civil rights legislation, beginning with its crusade for anti-lynching laws in the early twentieth century. It maintained a legal fund and financed lawyers who challenged discriminatory laws in court (for example, NAACP attorneys argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court in 1954). 

The SCLC, or Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was born in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which ended successfully with the full integration of buses in the Alabama capital. The SCLC, centered in African-American churches and headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., was an attempt to expand the struggle that had emerged in Montgomery to the rest of the South. Its focus changed throughout the movement, but its methods and core philosophy never changed. The SCLC remained committed to direct nonviolent action to resist racial injustice. It used its resources and the popularity of King to lead voter registration drives, desegregation campaigns, and, later in the 1960s, to advocate for economic justice, as in the Memphis, Tennessee strike of sanitation workers. It was while visiting in support of these strikes that King was assassinated in April of 1968. 

SNCC (pronounced "snick"), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had its origins in the sit-in movements of 1960. It formed in 1960 at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. SNCC was dominated by young activists, and these men and women focused from the early days of the movement on local organization rather than the centralized leadership model of the other two organizations. SNCC "field workers" established local units that sought to build an organic, grass-roots movement. They also tended, from the early 1960s, to be more radical in their demands and less willing to wait on political action at the federal level, a major goal of King and the NAACP. Along with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), SNCC workers were instrumental in the Mississippi Freedom Summer movement in 1964. (It was CORE, not SNCC, which had organized the Freedom Riders in 1961). By the mid-sixties many in SNCC had become impatient with the pace of change and began to turn away from the message of racial reconciliation so crucial to King's appeal. The figure usually associated with this turn was Stokley Carmichael, whose appeal to "black power" pushed the movement in a new, more radical direction. SNCC expelled its white members and even, despite its name, abandoned nonviolence as an imperative. So SNCC differed from the NAACP and SCLC in many fundamental ways.

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 and is the oldest Civil Rights organization in the United States. When the organization was originally founded many blacks were discriminated against.  The NAACP continues to fight for social justice today.  

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in 1960.  Members of this group staged sitins around the United States.  Most sitins took place in diners and restaurants.  The goal of the SNCC was to peacefully disrupted the normal activities at the chosen location of the sitins.  In 1961, the SNCC organized the Freedom Riders in response to a Supreme Court ruling.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded in 1957.  Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher and had become involved in the Civil Rights movement shortly after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, AL bus in 1955.  The SCLC played an instrumental role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The NAACP, SNCC, and SCLC each had separate missions and goals.  However, each group believed in accomplishing their goals peacefully.  After the several rulings by the Supreme Court to end segregation, these groups fought for equal rights for blacks.  Each group played a vital role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  

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