SNCC's Stories

The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South

Title Details

Pages: 394

Illustrations: 25 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in

Formats

Paperback

Pub Date: 10/15/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5802-4

List Price: $34.95

Hardcover

Pub Date: 10/15/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5803-1

List Price: $114.95

SNCC's Stories

The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Formed in 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a high-profile civil rights collective led by young people. For Howard Zinn in 1964, SNCC members were "new abolitionists," but SNCC pursued radical initiatives and Black Power politics in addition to reform. It was committed to grassroots organizing in towns and rural communities, facilitating voter registration and direct action through "projects" embedded in Freedom Houses, especially in the South: the setting for most of SNCC's stories. Over time, it changed from a tight cadre into a disparate group of many constellations but stood out among civil rights organizations for its participatory democracy and emphasis on local people deciding the terms of their battle for social change. Organizers debated their role and grappled with SNCC's responsibility to communities, to the "walking wounded" damaged by racial terrorism, and to individuals who died pursuing racial justice.

SNCC's Stories examines the organization's print and publishing culture, uncovering how fundamental self- and group narration is for the undersung heroes of social movements. The organizer may be SNCC's dramatis persona, but its writers have been overlooked. In the 1960s it was assumed established literary figures would write about civil rights, and until now, critical attention has centered on the Black Arts Movement, neglecting what SNCC's writers contributed. Sharon Monteith gathers hard-to-find literature where the freedom movement in the civil rights South is analyzed as subjective history and explored imaginatively. SNCC's print culture consists of field reports, pamphlets, newsletters, fiction, essays, poetry, and plays, which serve as intimate and illuminative sources for understanding political action. SNCC's literary history contributes to the organization's legacy.

This is a significant contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century social movements, the history of race, and African American history . . . an important work in charting how we might think about and use literature as evidence for the 'missing puzzle pieces' in our understanding of social movements. . . . Monteith not only fills gaps in our knowledge but brings back to life texts largely forgotten that speak to enduring elements of the American experience. . . . This is a scholar at the height of her power, able to map the literary output of these activists to a clear picture of the practical challenges they faced in a rapidly evolving political climate. She guides us through what SNCC writers have been trying to share with a wider audience. Her work thus becomes a vital literary history for democratic theory and practice.

—Wesley Hogan, Director, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University

In her highly original, thought-provoking, and endlessly revealing book, Sharon Monteith skillfully blends history, politics, and literary studies to offer an extraordinarily intimate insight into the lived experiences-and the changing personal and public politics-of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By taking seriously the enormous range of creative and imaginative writings produced by SNCC activists, SNCC's Stories brilliantly locates the emotional and psychological heartbeat of an organization at the forefront of the civil rights and Black Power insurgencies of the 1960s. It is a major new contribution to studies of both the modern African American freedom struggle and American literature.

—Brian Ward, professor in American studies, Northumbria University

Sharon Monteith's SNCC's Stories presents an insightful and revealing exploration of an unexpected aspect of the 1960s' freedom movement: that SNCC's field secretaries and leaders - the civil rights organizers who sank roots into the rural and small town South of the 1960s to lead an unheralded African-American struggle for equality - were also dedicated writers who embodied the organization's deep literary culture.

The literary production of the young civil rights workers of SNCC, Monteith reveals, took many forms: documenting the injustices inflicted by Jim Crow police states, providing forums for the voices of previously-silenced local Black people, inducing mainstream reporters, psychologists and historians to listen and transform their writing to engage with the struggle, and - for themselves - expressing the fear, anger, desperation, sense of community, love and hope that movement activists experienced, through field reports, poetry, story-telling, jail writing, newsletters, correspondence, plays and novels.

Addressing the substance of the concerns their works embraced, Monteith brilliantly interleaves the problems that faced SNCC's organizers with sensitive discussions of the literary works through which they processed those issues. Various as SNCC's stories were in character, Monteith lucidly argues, that by declining to observe traditional boundaries of form, that body of work better reflects the uncabined nature of the organization itself. The attempted coherence of traditional historical forms may be ill-suited to an undisciplined organization Iike SNCC. Monteith teaches us that SNCC's stories embody an emotionally more complete vision of the organization.

—Mitchell Zimmerman, author of Mississippi Reckoning, and former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

About the Author/Editor

SHARON MONTEITH is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Cultural History at Nottingham Trent University. She is the author of Advancing Sisterhood? Interracial Friendships in Contemporary Southern Fiction (Georgia), coeditor of South to a New Place: Region, Literature, Culture and Gender and the Civil Rights Movement , and editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the American South.