SNCC first made contact in Lowndes County, Alabama in March 1965 during the march from Selma to Montgomery. There was already movement activity happening on the ground. The Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights (LCCMHR) had launched a countywide campaign to register Black voters. Although the county was 80 percent Black, there was only one registered Black voter on the polls, local leader and chairman of the LCCMHR John Hulett.
SNCC’s approach to organizing had always been centered around the needs of the community. “We spent time saying, what should our response be? What should we do? What is this circumstance?” remembered Jennifer Lawson, who became one of of SNCC’s earliest organizers in Lowndes. It meant talking to people about the change they wanted to see in their community and figuring out how that change could be achieved. In Lowndes County, this led SNCC and local people began exploring how, in a Black-majority county, they could take control of their lives politically.
The best way to deal with brutality of the sheriff was to be the sheriff and end brutality, as opposed to protesting, asking them to stop begin brutal. So we were interested in regime change. – Courtland Cox
Why Lowndes County
An essential aspect of SNCC’s organizing was the willingness to live in the community, to experience local people’s reality, and to demonstrate that SNCC organizers were committed to staying and struggling with them. “We were prepared to be there for the long haul. And we were not going to be beaten back by the use of force,” Courtland Cox, another of SNCC’s early organizer in Lowndes, recalled.
Prepared to Be There for the Long Haul
And local people took SNCC organizers in. Mr. Mathew Jackson, a farmer and landowner, gave the SNCC workers a small building next to his house to use as the Lowndes County Freedom House. Hosting civil rights workers was a huge risk for the Jackson family, but this kind of local support for the Movement was key for SNCC’s ability to organize. There, SNCC workers slept in sleeping bags, having long discussions about how to change the political reality of Lowndes County and doing their best to stay dry under a leaky roof.
The Freedom House
I would say when I think of Mr. Jackson, I just think of strength. – Courtland Cox
Although people didn’t always have a lot, they were willing to share. Be it food, housing, or gas for SNCC vehicles, local people put themselves and their families at risk to support the Movement.
There Was a Lot of Chicken
SNCC organizer, Bob Mants, was so dedicated to the needs of the local community that he ended up staying in Lowndes County for the rest of his life.