The Civil Rights Movement

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Source: Recchiuti, J. L. (2018). SNCC and CORE. [Online]. Available at:

[Accessed Aug. 16, 2018].  


Read about the two civil rights groups that organized nonviolent protests during the 1950s and 1960s.

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The Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) was formed in 1942 as an interracial organization committed to achieving integration through nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), formed in 1960, focused on mobilizing local communities in nonviolent protests to expose injustice and demand federal action.

CORE and SNCC—together with other organizations such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—led the Civil Right Movement’s campaigns of the early 1960s, which included sit-ins, Freedom Rides, voter registration drives, and the 1963 March on Washington.

By the late 1960s both CORE and SNCC became disillusioned with the slow rate of progress associated with nonviolence and turned toward the growing Black Power movement.


CORE was founded by a group of white and black students on the campus of the University of Chicago in 1942. Its founders had been active in the interfaith, pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, and drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent civil disobedience.^11start superscript, 1, end superscript CORE sent some of its members to help in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and supported student sit-ins at lunch counters across the South.

James Farmer, co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and president during the Freedom Rides of 1961. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In 1961, CORE's national director James Farmer organized an effort to integrate interstate bus stations and buses in the Deep South with a series of Freedom Rides. Freedom Riders were groups of white and black civil rights activists who rode buses to challenge segregation in interstate transportation in southern states.

[Learn more about the origin of the Freedom Rides]

The first Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C. on two buses that traveled into southern states. Freedom Riders were met with brutal violence by whites opposed to racial integration. An unidentified white person threw a fire bomb through an open bus window outside Anniston, Alabama, and Freedom Riders were beaten by a white mob after exiting the burning bus. One rider suffered permanent brain damage from a beating. In Birmingham, Alabama another rider required more than fifty stitches after being struck by a metal pipe.^22start superscript, 2, end superscript

The first two Freedom Ride buses were terminated after ten days. But during the summer of 1961, the Freedom Rides were carried on by more than a thousand Americans. John Lewis, who would soon become a celebrated civil rights leader, wrote at the time that he would “give up all if necessary for the Freedom Ride, that Justice and Freedom might come to the Deep South.” The Freedom Rides were widely covered in the press, and remain one of the most memorable events in Civil Rights Movement history.^33start superscript, 3, end superscript

CORE activists also contributed to the voter registration drives in the Deep South that became the focus of the civil rights movement in late 1961, and contributed to the voter education and registration drives during 1963 and 1964 in Mississippi and elsewhere. CORE cosponsored the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the gathering of some 250,000 Americans at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

By 1966 CORE increasingly embraced black separatism and black power, and lent its support to the anti-Vietnam War movement.^44start superscript, 4, end superscript


SNCC—pronounced “snick”—grew out of student sit-ins at lunch counters that had begun in February 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

[Read more about the lunch counter sit-ins]

In April, Ella Baker, the executive secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and students from the sit-ins met on the campus of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and founded SNCC.^55start superscript, 5, end superscriptSNCC, as its name suggests, endeavored to coordinate efforts among students—both black and white—in direct action, nonviolent efforts in the movement for civil rights. SNCC conducted lunch-counter sit-ins, contributed participants to the 1961 Freedom Rides, cosponsored the 1963 March on Washington, and contributed to voter education and registration drives across the South. During the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer three young SNCC activists were murdered in their efforts to register black voters.

Ella Baker, civil rights activist and grassroots organizer who helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In 1966 Stokely Carmichael was elected to head SNCC. Carmichael embraced the Black Power Movement, which included black separatism and the use of violence in self-defense. In June 1966, Carmichael declared at a rally that “1966 is the year of the concept of Black Power. The year when black men realized their full worth in society—their dignity and their beauty—and their power—the greatest power on the earth—the power of the right.”^66start superscript, 6, end superscript

With its commitment to nonviolence dropped, Carmichael renamed the organization the Student National Coordinating Committee. In 1967, H. Rap Brown took over as SNCC chairman and moved the organization further toward black separatism.

By the late 1960s, the broader Civil Rights Movement fragmented in the wake of the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and rioting in major American cities. By the early 1970s, SNCC had dissolved.

What do you think?

College-age students were principal founders of both CORE and SNCC. In what ways did student voices advance the movement for civil rights? In what ways might college-aged students’ perspectives have been limited?

What were the successes and challenges of the direct action, nonviolent protest strategy that both CORE and SNCC employed in the early 1960s?

Why did both CORE and SNCC increasingly turn away from nonviolence by the late 1960s? Do you think this turn was a good idea? Why or why not?

[Notes and attributions]







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"Carmichael embraced the Black Power Movement, which included black separatism and the use of violence in self-defense."

How is "the use of violence in self-defense," viewed differently from "non-violence"?

4 votes

• Comment on Jeff Kelman's question• FlagJeff Kelman's comment

3 years ago by View profile for:Jeff Kelman

Non-violence is the idea that one refuses to use force to defend at all, no matter the circumstance. Self defense can be viewed, in the broadest of terms, in that you are willing to use force of some sort to retaliate when violence is committed upon you. Be it simply pushing back when shoved or open warfare.

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• 3 comments • FlagPaul McBride's comment

3 years ago by View profile for:Paul McBride

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What does CORE mean?

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• Comment on maroonfive5's question• Flagmaroonfive5's comment

2 years ago by View profile for:maroonfive5

Congress of Racial Equality

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• Comment on Katelyn Zeser's question• FlagKatelyn Zeser's comment

2 years ago by View profile for:Katelyn Zeser

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can y'all do black history month questions.

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• Comment on rbennett's question• Flagrbennett's comment

2 years ago by View profile for:rbennett

Sure. Who was the first black person to run for president and become a nominee. Hint: it was a woman.

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• 2 comments • FlagColeman M. Vaughn: Hot Topic Studios's comment

2 years ago by View profile for:Coleman M. Vaughn: Hot Topic Studios

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In what ways might college aged students' perspectives have been limited?

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• Comment on mabata2000's question• Flagmabata2000's comment

about a year ago by View profile for:mabata2000

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Black Power

November 13, 2023


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