SNCC’s International Bureau
In July 1967, Jim Forman traveled to Kitwe, Zambia with Howard Moore to speak at the International Seminar on Apartheid, Racial Discrimination, and Colonialism in South Africa. For years, SNCC had been struggling against the brutal and oppressive violence of an American form of apartheid, and they recognized the need to stand in solidarity with their African comrades. “SNCC has never visualized the struggle for human rights in America in isolation from the worldwide struggle for human rights…The organization’s participation in this conference is evidence of its desire to render intensified support to the fight against racism, apartheid, and white-settler domination on the continent of Africa.”
Two months prior to Forman’s speech, SNCC had officially declared itself a human rights organization, saying it “encourages and supports the liberation struggles against colonialism, racism and economic exploitation wherever these conditions exist.” SNCC’s decision to defend human rights was built upon a global consciousness that had always been present in the organization, even since its founding conference in 1960.
This consciousness was strengthened as SNCC staff gained greater exposure to foreign thought and experiences. The U.S. agenda abroad was seen as “imperialist,” and in the organization there was a growing need to decry it. SNCC’s Dona Richards, after traveling abroad, wrote, “It is becoming both psychologically and politically impossible for us to raise questions of our own exploitation of this country without also raising the question of American international attitude and policy.” This line of thinking continued to develop in the organization, leading to SNCC’s statement against the war in Vietnam in January 1966.
As SNCC strengthened its ties to the Third World, it concluded that it was necessary to create an international wing. “Working on international affairs, I felt that I could help inject an anti-imperialist position not only into SNCC but into the black movement as a whole,” said Forman, who became the director of SNCC’s newly-formed International Affairs Commission (IAC) in June of 1967. He had studied African affairs in graduate school and was determined to dedicate his energy to the struggle against the “triple-threat hyenas of Racism, Capitalism, and Imperialism across the globe.”
That summer of 1967, when Forman was speaking in Kitwe, Zambia, SNCC staff were spread all across the world. Cleve Sellers went to Japan to attend a meeting with the radical peace organization Gensuikyo; Courtland Cox was in Stockholm for the Bertrand Russell International War Crime Tribunal; Charles Cobb and Julius Lester were in Vietnam as representatives of the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate accounts of brutality by the United States; Stokely Carmichael was speaking at the First Convention of the Organization of Latin American Solidarity in Havana, Cuba, accompanied by Julius Lester and George Ware. “The cry of Black Power had for SNCC become an international one” as SNCC stood in solidarity with those involved in freedom struggles in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
SNCC’s International Affairs Commission, operating out of New York City, had files upon files of country fact sheets and memos. It looked at things such as the history, demographics, police state stability, UN action, and U.S. involvement in different nations and was in communication with multiple sources on the ground. The IAC attempted to bring international dignitaries to the United States to participate in speaking tours, such as Guyana’s Dr. Cheddi Jagan who was subsequently denied a visa by the U.S. Department of State. Forman wanted Black Americans, who he saw as “Overseas Africans,” to be educated about liberation movements everywhere.
The IAC also developed strategies for SNCC to organize to put international pressure on those violating human dignity and the right to self-determination. In November of 1967, Forman spoke to the UN’s decolonization and peacekeeping committee, attacking U.S. arms sales to South Africa. Throughout the sixties, SNCC continued to present position papers to the UN on the role of U.S. imperialism abroad, especially focusing on Guinea Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique, as well as Zimbabwe and South Africa.
James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997).
SNCC Letter to Secretary General Thant of the United Nations General Assembly for Referral to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, September 17, 1963, SNCC Papers, Proquest History Vault.
Memo to SNCC Staff From Dona Richards; Re: A SNCC African Project, Mary E. King Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society,
SNCC Statement on Vietnam, January 6, 1966, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Statement by Julian Bond, Representative-elect, Georgia House of Representatives, January 10, 1966, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Douglas Moore and Yvonne Williams, “We are concerned about America’s role in the Rhodesian Crisis,” February 17, 1966, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Rhodesia Fact Sheet, February 1967, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“The Invisible Struggle Against Racism, Apartheid and Colonialism,” SNCC Position Paper, U.N. Seminar on Apartheid Racial Discrimination and Colonialism in Southern Africa, Lusaka, July 24-August 4, 1967, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
Letter from Rap Brown and James Forman to ANC President, Oliver Tambo, August 27, 1967, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Correspondence with Muslims Brotherhood of Guyana, Oct 18, 1967, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Jim Forman, The High Tide of Black Resistance, 1967, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
Statement of Objectives Adopted by the SNCC, Annual meeting, June 1968, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
SNCC position paper to the Special Committee on the Policies of Apartheid of the Government of the Republic of South Africa, Presented at U.N. on March 18, 1969, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Jim Forman, “Inter-staff Memorandum #1 from the International Affairs Commission on ‘The New SNCC,’” 1968, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
Memo from Jim Forman to the students of Mexico, October 1968, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
Letter from Phil Hutchings to Jim Forman, February 9, 1969, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Press Release, “SNCC Re-Structures,” , Social Action Vertical File, Wisconsin Historical Society.
“SNCC’s International Affairs Program,” , Social Action Vertical File, Wisconsin Historical Society