The best books on SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee)

3 authors have picked their favorite books about SNCC and why they recommend each book.

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Hands on the Freedom Plow

By Faith S. Holsaert (editor), Martha Prescod Norman Noonan (editor), Judy Richardson (editor), Betty Garman Robinson (editor), Jean Smith Young (editor), Dorothy M. Zellner (editor)

Book cover of Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC

Fifty-five stories of dedication, terror, rage, and faith make up Hands on the Freedom Plow. These narratives by women, black and white, describe their devotion to the activist Civil Rights work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC—“snick.” I found myself powerfully drawn to accounts with which I was familiar—door-to-door organizing, singing meetings in the hot Mississippi summer, police and Klan assaults, jail time, but above all the solidarity of women (and men) fervent about the cause of achieving “freedom now.” Brief historical overviews of legendary 60s campaigns knit these accounts, as do the short bios that trace the enduring work—as singers, lawyers, preachers, organizers—of these women over the past 50 years.   

Who am I?

Over the past 50 years, I've been one of those “tenured radicals” the right-wing loved to bash. But before that, during the 1960s, I worked, often full-time, in the social movements that did change America: civil rights, anti-war, feminism. I was older, so I became a “professor-activist.” As a teacher, I applied what I had learned in the movements to reconstruct ideas about which writers mattered—women as well as men, minorities as well as whites: Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Adrienne Rich as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway. Using that principle, I led a team that created a very successful collection, The Heath Anthology of American Literature.     

I wrote...

Our Sixties: An Activist's History

By Paul Lauter,

Book cover of Our Sixties: An Activist's History

What is my book about?

My memoir, Our Sixties, is a social history of the 1960s activities in which I was lucky enough to participate: for instance, Mississippi Summer in 1964, the Selma-Montgomery March, Students for a Democratic Society, draft counseling, demonstrating, and resistance to oppose the war on Vietnam, the founding of Resist in 1967 and of The Feminist Press in 1970, the GI anti-war movement. While I received my Ph.D. (in literature) in 1958, I got my political education working in the Movement I describe—with all its joys and warts—in Our Sixties. I came to these challenges ill-prepared, often scared and ignorant, but Movement people taught me unstintingly and well. My book is an effort to share their wisdom and hopes. 

Radical Vision

By Soyica Diggs Colbert,

Book cover of Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry

I’ve taught Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun many times in my university courses. That play transformed African American theater in the Civil Rights era and marked a phenomenal debut for its 29-year-old writer. In her too-short life (she died a few years later from pancreatic cancer), Hansberry built an extraordinary life as a writer, intellectual, and political activist. This biography tells that rich, remarkable story.

Who am I?

I am a theater historian whose research focuses on African American theater of 1940s-50s. While other periods and movements—the Harlem Renaissance (1920s), the Federal Theatre Project (1930s), the Black Arts Movement (1960s), and contemporary theater—have been well studied and documented, I saw a gap of scholarship around the 1940s-50s; I wondered why those years had been largely overlooked. As I dived deeper, I saw how African American performance culture (ie. theater, film, television, music) of the later-20th Century had its roots in the history of those somewhat overlooked decades. I’m still investigating that story, and these books have helped me do it.

I wrote...

The American Negro Theatre and the Long Civil Rights Era

By Jonathan Shandell,

Book cover of The American Negro Theatre and the Long Civil Rights Era

What is my book about?

You may know of the American Negro Theatre (ANT), a neighborhood theater company in Harlem that lasted for about ten years. The writers this company produced—Abram Hill, Theodore Brown, Owen Dodson—are not household names. You may not recognize the title Anna Lucasta: a comedy about an African American family that the ANT turned into a runaway Broadway hit in the 1940s. But the legacy of this theater company—and the work of its writers, its actors, and its productions—was key for creating the popular African American culture we all do know.

To fully understand the emergence of Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and The Cosby Show, you need to know about the American Negro Theatre and its transformative artistic legacy.

Freedom Is an Endless Meeting

By Francesca Polletta,

Book cover of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

Internal dynamics, especially decisionmaking, often become more important to protest groups than the impact they are having on the outside world. Through vivid cases in twentieth-century America, Polletta relates the internal and the external, showing that groups decide what to do and who they are -- strategy and identity -- at the same time. She is especially good on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the early 1960s.

Who am I?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

I wrote...

The Emotions of Protest

By James M. Jasper,

Book cover of The Emotions of Protest

What is my book about?

This is a book centered on protest, but James M. Jasper also points toward broader paths of inquiry that have the power to transform the way social scientists picture social life and action. Through emotions, he says, we are embedded in a variety of environmental, bodily, social, moral, and temporal contexts, as we feel our way both consciously and unconsciously toward some things and away from others. Politics and collective action have always been a kind of laboratory for working out models of human action more generally, and emotions are no exception.

Both hearts and minds rely on the same feelings racing through our central nervous systems. Protestors have emotions, like everyone else, but theirs are thinking hearts, not bleeding hearts. Brains can feel, and hearts can think.

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