Anti-Draft Protests by SNCC’s Atlanta Project
“The Vietcong never called me ‘Nigger.’” It was day two–August 17, 1966–of SNCC’s Atlanta Project’s protests against the war in Vietnam. Eleven Black people had gathered at the headquarters of the 12th Army Corps and Induction Center in Atlanta the day before for what would become a week-long protest and vigil. “Oh yes, we know how good you are about removing people who get in your way. You removed a whole race of people from the continent of North America, the American Indian, now you are systematically removing a people known as the Vietnamese,” the demonstrators said to an officer demanding that they leave.
The anti-war protesters were met with jeers from a crowd of white racists that had gathered and lit cigarettes that hailed from the windows above. Until the “so-called greatest army in the world,” said SNCC’s Larry Fox, “can get its personnel to stop spitting and throwing lighted cigarettes on women and civilians, we will remain seated.” Black Korean War veteran and SNCC staffer Wilson Brown’s sign loudly proclaimed, “I fought in Korea, I’m not free.”
SNCC’s Atlanta Project had developed in early 1966 as part of the response to the Georgia State Legislature’s refusal to seat Julian Bond because of SNCC’s statement opposing the war in Vietnam. Members of the project working to build voter support for Bond in his district of Vine City was one of SNCC’s first attempts at urban organizing. They hoped their work there would serve as a model for other cities. Led by Bill Ware and Gwen Robinson, SNCC’s Atlanta Project organized rent and labor strikes and demonstrations against the war and police brutality. They issued a call for raising Black consciousness, building Black institutions, and forming Third World coalitions.
In early August, Michael Simmons and Larry Fox had presented a proposal to SNCC’s Central Committee for the development of a National Black Anti-Draft Movement. Their plans were suspended, however, whe Simmons was not allowed into the building to report for an induction notice because of SNCC-organized protests outside. Eleven people along with Simmons wound up going to jail. One of the protesters was charged with insurrection, which at the time, carried a death sentence in the state of Georgia. Judge T. C. Little, who had a son in Vietnam, spoke of the importance of protecting “the land of the free and the home of the brave” during the court proceedings. He refused to drop the charge of insurrection, even though the law had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1963 when brought against SNCC workers Ralph Allen, Don Harris, and John Perdew in Americus, Georgia.
Despite the jailings, the Atlanta Project continued to circulate the Atlanta Black Paper, distribute anti-draft leaflets and press releases, and sought to organize a collective resistance to the war.
Two months into their 90-day sentences and after filing an appeal for their release, the 12 prisoners filed suit against the City of Atlanta and charged them with “using Federal funds to maintain segregated facilities along with subjecting blacks to cruel and unjust punishments.” In an attempt by Atlanta to to save face, the twelve were released. Simmons and Larry Fox then traveled to Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston, Detroit, and Chicago, meeting with students, researchers, ministers, and anti-war groups.
Simmons remained out of jail for about two years while appealing the charge of violating the Universal Military Training and Service Act. Finally, however, he lost all of his appeals and wound up serving more than two years in prison.
SNCC’s anti-draft organizing continued into the late 1960s. In February 1968, Wilson, Gwen Patton, and Jim Harvey formed the National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union (NBAWADU), and held their first national conference April 12-14, 1968.
Winston Grady-Willis, Challenging U.S. Apartheid: Atlanta and Black Struggles for Human Rights, 1960-1977 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 79-144.
Jason Micah Perkins, “The Atlanta Vine City Project, SNCC, and Black Power, 1965-1967,” unpublished thesis, 2008, Ohio State University.
Memo from Michael Simmons and Larry Fox to SNCC Staff regarding National Anti-Draft Program, November 28, 1966, Folder: 252253-051-0487, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“Seven SNCC Workers Indicted,” March 7, 1967, Folder: 252253-051-0487, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“Johnny Wilson Statement,” , Folder: 252253-051-0487, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
National Conference on the Draft, , Folder: 252253-051-0487, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“Report on Draft Program,” Atlanta’s Black Paper, August 25, 1966, Social Action Vertical File, Wisconsin Historical Society.
“Report of Court Proceedings,” August 18, 1966, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.