The Chicago SNCC

history project


After many years of discussing the need to document the history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Chicago, former members of the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC (CAFSNCC) formed the Chicago SNCC History Project, 1960 - 1965.

CAFSNCC was created in the 1960s when James Forman, the late executive director of SNCC, contacted his friend and former colleague, Sylvia Fischer, and her husband, the late Charles Fischer, to organize people to raise money and food for the Black farmers evicted from their lands for trying to vote in Fayette County, Tennessee.  Sylvia Fischer and the late Lawrence Landry became the co-chairs of CAFSNCC. 

Forman’s untimely death in 2004, as well as Kwame Ture’s (Stokely Carmichael), and the growing awareness of how many people involved in the movements of the 1960s were dying, became the catalysts for initiating the Chicago SNCC History Project.

CAFSNCC’s original purpose was to support the efforts of the courageous young people in SNCC who were fighting against racism, discrimination, segregation and disenfranchisement of millions of African-Americans in the southern part of the United States. In Chicago, tons of food was collected for sharecroppers in the South evicted from their homes and denied federal aid for attempting to register

Our Purpose

Photo captions (clockwise): Julian Bond, co-founder of SNCC;  Sylvia Fischer, former co-chair of the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC and current co-chair of the Chicago SNCC History Project; the SNCC Freedom Singers; Sylvia Fischer, Jim Foreman, Lilian Gregory, and Larry Landry march in the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC School Boycott of 1963.

to vote; money was raised to support the fight for voting rights and demonstrations were held to support the student sit-in movement. However, issues in Chicago soon transformed CAFSNCC into an activist organization – discrimination in employment and school and housing segregation maintained through a virtually all-White Chicago Public Schools board and former CPS Superintendent Benjamin Willis, an avowed racist, and the disenfranchisement of Black voters by an exclusionary, political machine. It supported independent Black candidates for office and orchestrated the school boycott campaigns to get rid of Willis and end inferior, segregated schools and a school board unresponsive to the educational needs of Black children. As a result of its programs, organizing and alliances with community groups, CAFSNCC was capitulated into the leadership of the Black movement in Chicago from 1960 -1965.

CAFSNCC led the organizing for the 1963 March on Washington, was a member of and guiding force within the citywide Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), a racial justice coalition, and orchestrated the Stop! Don’t Shop Downtown campaign that urged African-Americans not to spend their money at stores whose owners did not support the interest of the African-American community. The group also pressured African-American Congressman William H. Dawson and the Black aldermen on the Chicago City Council known as the “Silent Six” to put the needs of the Black community before those of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine. In addition, CAFSNCC called for and organized Freedom Day I &II, the citywide boycotts of the Chicago Public Schools involving more than 250,000 students who protested against overcrowded, inferior, segregated public schools.

The goals of the Chicago SNCC History Project

The unique story of this organization, which combined the southern and northern struggles, has not been fully told. The purpose of the Chicago SNCC History Project is to “Tell the Stories” of CAFSNCC, its relationship to SNCC, CAFSNCC’s pivotal role in shaping the fight for freedom in Chicago between 1960 -1965 and to preserve that history as a legacy for the young people who are continuing the fight for freedom, justice and peace.

In 2004, the Chicago SNCC History Project formed to create a three-part program inspired by SNCC’s commitment to grass-roots organizing and participatory democracy based on the belief in the self-worth of people and their ability to empower themselves to change their lives. It began by hosting a national conference, “Tell the Story: The Chicago SNCC History Project, 1960 – 1965”, on October 21-22, 2005 at Roosevelt University in Chicago. The second part of the project was collecting the oral histories of those involved with SNCC/CAFSNCC, not just leaders but ordinary people who stamped envelopes, made and carried picket signs, demonstrated and gave of their time to create a mass movement that changed Chicago’s history. The third and final part was creating an archive of the stories and memorabilia of the period. The archive is housed in the Vivian C. Harsh Collection of African American History at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in Chicago.

To date, the Chicago SNCC History Project has held and recorded two very successful conferences that included stirring performances by the internationally known SNCC Freedom Singers, presentations and workshops by the Freedom Singers, talks and workshops conducted by Charlie Cobb Jr. and members of the Chicago SNCC History Project. We have conducted videotaped, oral history interviews with many former SNCC members,  including Curtis Hayes Muhammed, Loren Cress Love, Amina Rachman, Dorie Ladner, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Charlie Cobb Jr., SNCC Freedom Singers, Willie Peacock, Willie Blue, Sue Thrasher and Bob Zellner, in addition to  key activists in CAFSNCC, including Sylvia Fischer, Quentin Young, Don Rose, Rosie Simpson, Ron Dorfman, Richard Morrisroe, Bennett Johnson, Mavis Staples, Timuel Black, Marcia Rothenberg, Mel Rothenberg and Brenetta Howell Barrett.  The interviews are all catalogued and part of the archive at Woodson.

The organization also spent two years doing an oral history project in DuSable, Phillips and Hyde Park high schools in Chicago.  The interviews, which were conducted by students working with the History Project, are now part of the collection. 

In April 2010, the Chicago SNCC History Project attended the SNCC 50th Anniversary gathering in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, along with three people from the Chicago Freedom School, the History Project interviewed and filmed people who were involved with CAFSNCC and the work of the organization during the period of 1960-1965. The group also videotaped the 50th Anniversary events for the archive.

An opening event for the archive was held at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago on October 22, 2011, the anniversary of the first Chicago School boycott. The event, “An Afternoon with Dick Gregory: Recording and Preserving the Civil Rights Movement, 1960 -1965,” consisted of a live, onstage interview with the comedian, author and civil rights activist, an interactive oral history video presentation that allowed people to view the oral history tapes we collected and an opportunity for people to videotape their own stories of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

The Chicago SNCC History Project continues to search for people involved with CAFSNCC in the early ’60s to record their stories and collect memorabilia for the archive.

Through its ongoing work, the Chicago SNCC History Project rejects the predominate narrative that the Black struggle for freedom ended with the close of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, it believes that the fight for freedom is a continuing one and that in the words of Ms. Ella Baker, co-founder of SNCC, “We, who believe in freedom, cannot rest.”