SNCC Vets

TEApicTheresa El-Amin was recruited from a classroom at Tuskegee Institute in 1966 to join the movement for black political power. She worked in Lowndes County registering people to vote and poll watching in Jackson, MS for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. On her return to Atlanta in summer of 1966, she took a job at the phone company and became active in the Communications Workers of America (CWA). In 1986, she moved to Cleveland to work as a union organizer for SEIU for 12 years. Theresa founded the Southern Anti-Racism Network (SARN) in 1999. SARN has led initiatives for closing the education achievement gap by launching the organization Strong Parental Involvement in Community Education. SARN is credited with leading the coalition that passed an anti-sweatshop ordinance in the City of Durham to prevent the purchase of uniforms and textiles made in sweatshops. SARN is the main sponsoring organization for the Ella Baker Tour and Retreat.

Mukasa Willie Ricks was introduced to the civil rights movement in Chattanooga, TN in 1960. He worked with the NAACP and SCLC before becoming traveling campus organizer for SNCC in 1963. Mukasa has recruited and trained hundreds of students to participate in the civil rights movement. Mukasa has traveled throughout Africa and the US to call for an end to oppression against people of African descent. He currently lives in Atlanta where he mentors young activists and travels to speak to students in classrooms throughout the country.

Constancia “Dinky” Romilly was recruited by James Forman in 1963 to work on an oral history project for SNCC in Atlanta. In 1965, Dinky moved to NY where she and Jim Forman made a marriage commitment. In New York, she worked at the NY SNCC office and later for the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF). Her two sons were born in New York. In 1972, the family moved to Detroit where Dinky went to nursing school. She worked in emergency rooms at Bellevue in NYC and Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. She retired from Bellevue in 2006 and now serves as president of the Friends of Jenin Theatre Company.

Mae Jackson is a native of New Orleans, LA. She moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1960. Mae became active in her early teens with the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) and SNCC. As a member of SNCC, she organized the Third World Women’s Alliance to deal with the rampant sexism found in the leadership of the civil rights movement. Mae is a poet whose first book of poetry was published by her friend and mentor, Nikki Giovanni. Mae works for health care justice with Healthcare Now. She founded Caring for Creators of Change to address issues of housing, health and economic conditions of aging political activists.

Ira Grupper was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s:  New York City rent strikes and school boycott; SNCC in Georgia; COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) and MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) in Mississippi; SCEF (Southern Conference Educational Fund) in Kentucky.  In the 1970’s Ira was among the first group of disabled complainants in the United States to win a handicap employment discrimination complaint under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the predecessor to the ADA, the Americans With Disabilities Act.  He retired from the assembly-line job he won, in June 1999, with 24 years seniority. He was a union delegate to the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, National Co-chair of NJA (New Jewish Agenda), Vice-Chair of the Louisville & Jefferson County (KY) Human Relations Commission.  Ira has been to the Middle East four times, once for 6 months, based in Jerusalem, spending time in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Amman, Jordan.  Currently he writes a monthly newspaper column, and is on the Exec. Board of the KY Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

sandraSandra Adickes was a New York high school English teacher and a volunteer teacher in a freedom school in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1963, when Ivanhoe Donaldson recruited Norma Becker and herself to participate in Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964.  Norma and Adickes recruited 40 other teachers, and came to teach in Mississippi after the school term ended. She taught high school students in Hattiesburg who were active in the Movement and came eagerly to Freedom School.   The students were delighted to receive the new books that publishing company workers had contributed for their use,  and years later, when she asked them what they remembered most about the summer, they all said, “the books.”  Those students became avid readers; most of them remained in Mississippi to “change the place,” and, indeed,  some of them became the community leaders who made the changes.  Adickes became a college teacher and a writer, and  adopted three daughters.

Matthew (Matt) Jones, former SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Field Secretary and former Director of the SNCC Freedom Singers was one of the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement while a student at Tennessee State University in 1960. He wrote his first Freedom Song in 1961 and in 1963 developed the Danville Freedom Voices to go into the tobacco fields of Virginia and sing Freedom Songs. In 1963 Matthew was sent to Atlanta by Jim Forman, SNCC Executive Director, to reorganize the SNCC Freedom Singers. He remained with them until 1967. He was arrested 29 times while in the movement and wrote many of his Freedom Songs while in jail.

Freedom Fighter, Freedom Singer, prolific songwriter, he composed over 500 Freedom songs, including, “The Ballad of Medgar Evers”, which can be heard in Rob Reiner’s film, Ghosts of Mississippi and “Oginga Odinga”, a Freedom Song about a Kenyan diplomat and Freedom Fighter who came to Atlanta in 1963 on a State Department tour in 1963.

On December 20 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X and The SNCC Freedom Singers appeared on a program at the Williams Institutional CME Church in Harlem in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The Freedom Singers performed a number of songs, including “Oginga Odinga”. Malcolm seemed particularly moved by this song and said: I couldn’t help but be very impressed at the outstart when the Freedom Singers were singing the song “Oginga Odinga” because Oginga is one of the foremost freedom fighters on the African continent… The complete speech can be found in Malcolm X Speaks. (Grove Press) After the church service, Malcolm took Ms. Hamer and the Freedom singers to the Audubon Ballroom to appear with him at the Organization of African Unity meeting.

In 1997, Matt composed, “As Above So Below”, a tribute to Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz.

Matt’s songs can also be found in the prize winning documentaries: The Black and the Green (1981), a film by St. Claire Bourne that chronicled the trip that Matt made to the North of Ireland under the direction of the late Rev. F.D. Kirkpatrick; PBS Special, Eyes On The Prize; BBC’s Murder In Mississippi; Satellite Academy’s prize winning video, The Road To Mississippi; Freedom On My Mind, which was nominated for a 1994 academy award.

Bob Zellner: In 1961, as a young college student in his home state of Alabama, Zellner was recruited to the civil rights movement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After meeting King while doing research for a sociology paper on race relations, a 38-foot cross was burned on the lawn of his dormitory. Because he ignored the advice of his professors and met with King and other black civil rights leaders, Zellner and four other students were told to leave Huntingdon College in Montgomery as punishment for breaking the city’s segregation laws. This rebuke pushed him to join the SNCC. He went on to become the first white Southerner field secretary. As a member of the group of predominantly black activists, Zellner was beaten, received death threats and investigated by the Alabama attorney general.  After leaving SNCC when it became an all black organization in the mid-1960s, Zellner moved to New Orleans to form Grass Roots Organizing Work (WORK), a labor organization that spread across the South to bring working class white Southerners into coalition with blacks and convince all sides that this union could work. He left labor organizing in the early 1980s.was personally recruited to the freedom struggle by Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks while a student at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.  After graduating in 1961, Bob became the first white southerner to serve as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During the next six years, a volatile time in the Civil Rights Movement.

Guy and Candie Carawan are best known within the Movement for spreading and documenting the freedom songs.  Guy served as music director at the Highlander Folk School throughout the 1960s.  Trained as a musician and singer and familiar with the singing in the Labor Movement, he was able to teach songs which had served in peoples’ struggles for justice.  He introduced some important songs to the first Sit-In Students to gather at Highlander — “I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table,”  “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On,” and “We Shall Overcome.”  He was invited by Ella Baker to teach these same songs at the founding meeting of SNCC in April of 1960.  Later Guy would record singing in many Southern communities, publishing two books of freedom songs and six documentary
albums.

Candie came to Fisk University in Nashville in the Spring of 1960 where she was able to participate in the Nonviolent training workshops offered by Rev. James Lawson.  She became an active participant in the Sit-Ins and met Guy at Highlander at the first gathering of movement students.  She and Guy married in 1961 and she became his partner in both singing and documenting.  The Carawans also organized many music workshops to encourage the spread of the freedom repertoire.

Guy and Candie have remained at Highlander and continue to meet with groups organizing for racial and economic justice, leading singing, learning new songs, and stressing the importance of cultural expression as part of struggle.

Muriel Tillinghast

  • Youth organizer, Maryland Synod Luther League, junior high school to high school period
  • Non-violent Action Group (“NAG”), Washington, D.C., college period.
    • Served as a NAG president
    • Participated in de-segregation issues in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware
    • Part of the group instrumental in the change of judicial decision making toward tenant concerns; participated in rent strikes, City of Washington, D.C.
  • Worked with Jeanie Bell, operations, March on Washington
  • Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
    • Headed projects in three-river counties: Washington, Issaquena and Sharkey, summer of 1964.
    • Held down state operations during the Mississippi Challenge, Greenwood, MS, late summer-fall, 1964
    • Headed statewide operations statewide operations, Jackson, MS, fall of 1964 – spring 1965
    • Worked with Cleve Sellers, head of SNCC Personnel and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, head of SNCC Operations, 1965-1967
    • Office operations for the up-south program of Mississippians coming to Washington, D.C. to voice their opinion and to raise a public cry against the war in Vietnam, summer 1966
    • Worked in NYC SNCC Office until the debacle with the Black Panther Party, 1968-1969
  • Tenant rights supporter/the movement headed by Jesse Gray, late 1960s
  • Tenant support work, NYC; local community housing company; 7-A Administration work in rehabbing off-roll housing, returning the property to the City’s rent rolls, early 1980s
  • Pro bono advocacy work:  medical intervention – AIDs, immigration challenge, medical experimentation, murder/false accusation, alternative sentencing, intermittent, late 1970s -1990s; housing issues and advocacy for 18 years
  • Prison education:  motivation and information, late 1990s
  • Green Party candidate for Vice President in NYS, 1996
  • Institutional work within the Lutheran Church (ELCA)

The Movement continues in every aspect of life. She has carried her understanding of its principles into the classroom, to work, into prisons and jails and in her daily walk through life. It is a vital to as the air she breathes.

Isaac “Ike” Coleman was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He was a SNCC Field Organizer and Project Director from 1964 until 1969 in Columbus, West Point and Tupelo, Mississippi.

Gwen Patton was president of Tuskegee Student Government Association in 1966 the year Sammy Younge Jr. was murdered. She is now Dr. Gwen Patton and works as an archivist. Gwen’s new book, My Race to Freedom, will be out in a few months. She lives in Montgomery AL.

Efia Nwangaza became involved with SNCC as a student at Spelman College in Atlanta. She worked on Julian Bond’s Special Election Campaign Committee and the Atlanta Project. Efia is an attorney in Greenville, SC.

Annie Pearl Townsend-Avery was born in Birmingham AL. She was a SNCC Field Secretary and remains a ‘foot soldier’ in the struggle. Annie Pearl is credited with so much field work and so many marches, she’s lost count. Annie Pearl steps forward to speak and meet whenever she’s called.  She says, ‘Don’t feel no ways tired!’

Al Pertilla is a veteran of the 60’s Civil Rights struggle and Black Power Movement. He was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, served as the editor of the “Nitty Gritty” newspaper and worked in the SNCC Communications Department. He was an original member of the Atlanta Project and editor of the famed “Black Position Paper, “which caused an uproar when it was surreptitiously published by the New York Times and other mainstream newspapers in July of 1966.

He was a founding member of the New York Black Panther Party in Harlem in 1966, which predated the start up of the Oakland based Black Panther Party for Self Defense. He traveled extensively throughout the south writing and reporting on SNICK projects and activities and the movement generally. In that capacity he wrote and reported on the activities of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and SNICK’s “Black Belt” Project.

He has been involved in many community organizing activities in New York and Harlem, among them was the organizing and implementation of the first “Sweat Equity” housing development in Harlem and other housing activities. Most recently he was involved in the struggle for community control and decentralization of Public schools in Harlem, working with parents and activists on Public Education issues and Parent Organizing in Harlem.

He subsequently worked with Dr. King and SCLC, as a member of the press department and editor of the SCLC newspaper “Soul Force” which was an instrument of SCLC’s Poor People’s campaign. He was working with SCLC when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

He has worked with NCOBRA and other Reparations Groups in New York and was the principle New York organizer of the Congressional lobbying actions around passage of HR 40.

He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and graduated from Goddard College in Vermont.

Al is currently completing a book on the Black Power movement “The Black Belt Project Revisited” which deals with and give proper attribution to the struggle of the Southern political struggle for the right to vote and political empowerment of the Black community. His principle thesis is that the roots of the modern black electoral political establishment lies in the struggle conducted in the south, mainly the MFDP and the Lowndes County struggle.

Since joining SNCC in the 1960s, Nellie Hester-Bailey has worked to build a broad-based movement for social and economic justice. During decades of tenant organizing, she helped win hundreds of rent strikes and today, as Executive Director of the Harlem Tenants Council, she is spearheading the fight to protect Harlem residents from the impact of gentrification. Nellie also co-chairs the multi-racial Citywide Tenants Coalition and is a leader of alliances focused on police brutality and international solidarity.

Sam Anderson is an activist-teacher-writer native of Bed-Stuy and is the son of Lt. Col. (Ret) Samuel Anderson and Ms. Grace Anderson. He is currently the Education Director at Medgar Evers College’s Center for Law & Social Justice. He was one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party as well as an activist within the Student Nonviolent Committee (SNCC) and the Black Arts Movement of the Sixties. He became one of the first Black Studies directors in 1969 when he was hired to chair Sarah Lawrence College’s Black Studies program. He has been an activist since the 1960’s within various organizations and struggles. S. E. Andersonwas also a founding member of the Black Student Congress, African Heritage Studies Association, African Liberation Support Committee, The Black New York Action Committee, Black Liberation Press, The New York Algebra Project. He is currently active with Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, the Independent Commission on Public Education in NYC, The State of Black Education Retreat and The National Reparations Congress, and is a founding Board of Trustees member of The Malcolm X Museum. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Brecht Forum.