August 30, 1936 – March 6, 2019
Raised in Arlington, Georgia
A few days after the Greensboro sit-ins, Lonnie King was sitting with fellow Morehouse students Joseph Pierce and Julian Bond, reading Atlanta, Georgia’s daily Black newspaper, the Daily World, at Yates and Milton Drugstore. A headline read, “Greensboro Students Sit-in for Third Day!” He asked Julian Bond if he had seen and what he thought. I think it’s great, Bond replied. “We should do this here,” said King, and they approached Attorney J. C. Daughtery, who pointed to Reverend Samuel Williams, who pointed them to Attorney Donald L. Hollowell, none of whom were truly willing to commit themselves to support this endeavor. Frustrated, King said, “Well, let’s go sit down and plan this thing because we aren’t going to get anywhere talking to these old people.” So they set about talking to students from all six campuses of the Atlanta University Center: Morehouse, Spelman, Clark, Morris Brown, the Interdenominational Theological Center, and Atlanta University.
This caught the attention of the college presidents, who asked the question, “What are you guys trying to do?” and ultimately urged the group to articulate their position in writing. Roslyn Pope, Julian Bond, and Lonnie King then drafted “An Appeal for Human Rights,” in which they laid out their position on the injustices and discriminatory practices they had witnessed in Atlanta around education, jobs, housing, voting, healthcare, entertainment, and policing. “Today’s youth will not sit by submissively, while being denied all of the rights, privileges, and joys of life,” the statement said in part. “We must say in all candor that we plan to use every legal and non-violent means at our disposal to secure full citizenship rights as members of this great Democracy of ours.”
On March 9, 1960, the appeal hit newspapers in Atlanta with bold print, and on March 15th hundreds of young people led a highly coordinated effort to sit-in at establishments all across the city. Over the next few months, through a publication they called The Student Movement and You, they developed the foundation to implement a selective buying campaign, which cost local retailers tens of millions in lost revenue.
Atlanta students Lonnie King, Julian Bond, and Ruby Doris Smith played an important role in SNCC’s founding, bringing strong ideas and experience to the table, and even helping fund the organization for the first few months of its existence. King recognized the importance of building a network of organizers across the South, and he acted as a member of the SNCC Executive Committee for two years before stepping away from the organization.
“I think that the young people who went out, many of whose names we don’t even remember—maybe we never will remember the thousands of people who sacrificed education, etc.—are probably the only people that have been truly revolutionary since we fought and threw that tea in the Boston Harbor up there,” said King.
Charles E. Cobb, Jr., This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 157-166.
Lonnie King interviewed by Emilye Crosby, May 29, 2013, Civil Rights History Project, Library of Congress.
Lonnie King interviewed by John H. Britton, August 29, 1967, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
“An Appeal for Human Rights,” March 9, 1960, Paid Advertisement in the Atlanta Constitution, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
“Nonviolence and the Achievement of Desegregation,” October 14-16, 1960, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.