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.
Sharon Monteith does a wonderful job with SNCC’s Stories
, researching and analyzing the narrative culture of the young people who made up the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, adding another dimension to our understanding of their work and thinking. . . . In Monteith’s hands, even writing we know, like Howard Zinn’s The New Abolitionists
, reveals new insights. . . . Thanks to SNCC writers and SNCC’s Stori
es we now know more of what SNCC did and learned and how they survived to carry on the struggle.
—Emilye Crosby, Journal of American Studies
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 were also dedicated writers who embodied the organization’s deep literary culture. . . . 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. . . . 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)
is thematically structured, but it also traces the chronology of the movement. . . . Monteith examines movement novels, cartoons, field reports, histories, short stories about grassroots activists, and the antecedents to the Black Arts Movement within SNCC. . . . SNCC’s Stories
concludes with a call for students and scholars to revisit the literary activism of the civil rights movement. I admire Monteith for her critical contribution to the resurrection of movement literary works, both famous and obscure. This book successfully marries deep historical research and thoughtful literary criticism in a way that should inspire and inform future works in the field.
—Steve Estes, The Sixties
"Though understandable, considering SNCC’s many militant and courageous activities and programmes, the words and literature of the struggle also deserve careful scrutiny. Such scrutiny is exactly what Sharon Monteith provides in her fascinating and important new book, SNCC’s Stories
. . . .Her appreciation for SNCC’s creative outpouring of words throughout a decade of struggle is surely warranted, and her ability to sift through and interpret an enormous number of texts puts all of us in her debt."
—Raymond Arsenault, Patterns of Prejudice
The book is a vast historical imaginary spread across time, from activists' experiences written during the 1960s and 1970s, into the decades that followed. Sources such as these set in bolder relief SNCC's grassroots character and emphasis on local people. . . The most moving and important contributions in the book recover and recount the ever-present fear felt by activists and the long-term trauma that resulted—emotions incapable of full expression, yet somehow sometimes accessible in acts of literary imagination written years afterward.
—Peter Kurayla, Journal of American History