SNCC’s growing sense of Black Consciousness went hand in-hand with its expanding global consciousness, an understanding that SNCC’s work was part of a larger struggle for liberation. SNCC organizers were reading books by people like Frantz Fanon and Julius Nyerere, following the news in places like Cuba and Ghana, and traveling to the African continent. “My understanding of who we are as people in the world started to open up…that we were a part of a world that was in the process of freeing itself from centuries of oppression,” remembered Gloria House. This way of thinking beyond the purview of civil rights pushed SNCC to issue a statement against the War in Vietnam. In 1967, SNCC formally declared itself as a human rights organization to support “struggles against colonialism, racism and economic exploitation wherever these conditions exist.”
Wedded to that idea of independence was the idea that we had a struggle very similar to our brothers and sisters in Africa and the rest of the Third World. – Gloria House
Many of the ideas and ways of thinking out of the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Latin America came into the Deep South by way of books. SNCC organizers read and engaged in discussions about what it meant to be a colonized people and how they fit within the third world. “Everyone in their hip pocket carried Fanon around,” recalled Karen Spellman.
I remember reading African poetry and all of the sudden what does it mean to be a person of a third world and that’s beyond the confines not just geographical but also in terms of the political imagination of the United States. – Phil Hutchings
The notion of what we now call internationalism came forward in the context of Black Power. – Michael Simmons
Coming out of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, SNCC realized that they couldn’t rely upon the political establishment but had to work to develop independent structures to build power from the bottom up. Black Power and its call for independence only strengthened SNCC’s commitment to international struggles for self-determination.
The organization was in the vanguard of the anti-war movement. – Michael Simmons
In January 1966, SNCC issued a statement against the War in Vietnam after Sammy Younge, a 21-year-old SNCC organizer and military veteran, was shot trying to use the “white” bathroom at a service station in Tuskegee, Alabama. Despite political consequences, SNCC wanted to make clear the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy and racial oppression at home. “Our work, particularly in the South, has taught us that the United States government has never guaranteed the freedom of oppressed citizens, and is not yet truly determined to end the rule of terror and oppression within its own borders,” read the statement. In August 1966, SNCC’s Atlanta Project led a week-long protest and vigil outside of the 12th Army Corps and Induction Center. Signs read, “The Vietcong never called me ‘Nigger,’” and, “I fought in Korea, I’m not free.”
Bertrand Russell, British mathematician and Nobel laureate, asked SNCC organizers to participate in the 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the Vietnam War. In the spring of 1967, the Tribunal sent Charlie Cobb and Julius Lester to North Vietnam to witness the situation on the ground. “It looks like the Mississippi delta — it really does, only wetter… The houses of course were differently styled but still sharecropper shacks,” wrote Cobb. In May, Courtland Cox participated in the Tribunal, which ultimately found the U.S. in violation of the Geneva Convention.
SNCC was being invited to travel other places as well. In January 1968, Jennifer Lawson was a part of the SNCC delegation that attended the Cultural Congress of Havana, which brought together over 400 artists, writers, and intellectuals from around the globe. These trips challenged SNCC organizers’ understandings of what revolution and liberation struggles mean both abroad and at home.
Forget this romantic notion of what revolution means set forth. We’re talking about people at the very bottom of the economic ladder who didn’t have access to medical care et cetera. And that for them revolution meant improved standard of living. – Jennifer Lawson