The Black Panther
Written by Charlie Cobb, SNCC Field Secretary 1962-1967
SNCC was understandably embittered by the rejection of the MFDP in Atlantic City. But it was not paralyzed. As was traditional in the organization, new ideas bubbled from the bottom and were pursued. The MFDP set aside its disappointment and campaigned for Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party in the November election. After the November elections, they also mounted a challenge to Mississippi’s congressional delegation. That too, they lost. Others in SNCC began discussing the need for an independent Black political party that would aggressively pursue the interests of Black people. To attempt this in Mississippi would mean fighting the MFDP, which was still led by local community leaders, and SNCC was not willing to do this. “You can’t say that people have a right to make the decisions affecting their lives and then turn around and fight them because they made a decision you disagree with. The MFDP belongs to the Mississippians, not SNCC,” reflected one SNCC organizer.
So, in March 1965, another SNCC group used the Selma-to-Montgomery March to locate interested Black residents and begin organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. SNCC workers had been organizing in nearby Selma since February 1963 but had not expanded into Lowndes County, a county that was 80 percent Black, but with no Black registered voters. A handful had successfully completed the application about two weeks prior to SNCC’s arrival, but they were still waiting to hear if they had been registered.
This group, led by Stokely Carmichael, was determined to organize an independent Black political party. They found a willing partner in John Hulett, who, with a small group of other Black Lowndes County residents, had already organized the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights. Together with SNCC, they now organized the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), with Mr. Hulett as its chair. The party’s symbol was a pouncing black panther. Within a year after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a majority of the voters in Lowndes County were Black. John Hulett, who had been part of the group attempting to register to vote two weeks before SNCC arrived, was elected the county sheriff in 1970.