December 30, 1938 –
Raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia-born Timothy Lionel Jenkins played a key role in shaping SNCC’s movement into organizing for voting rights. When the sit-ins began in 1960, he was the student body president at Howard University.
During the summer of 1960, Jenkins, who was also the vice president of the National Student Association (NSA), was able to secure funding from the New World Foundation to hold a three-week student leadership seminar in Nashville beginning on July 30, 1961. “We made a calculated attempt to pull the best people out of the movement,” Jenkins commented, “and give them a solid academic approach to understanding the movement.”
Tim Jenkins also initiated, via a series of meetings, discussions in SNCC about taking on voter registration as its primary mission. This was heatedly debated with those favoring direct action accusing those favoring voter registration of caving to pressure from the Kennedy administration to abandon radical direct action protest. Although she typically stayed clear of SNCC arguments, Ella Baker intervened to “reconcile the opposing viewpoints.” A direct action wing headed by Diane Nash, and a voter registration wing, headed by Charles Jones, were established.
Jenkins met with Harry Belafonte in 1961 to discuss fundraising plans for voter registration. Belafonte mobilized his personal friendship with the Kennedys, pushing them intervene in Justice Department discussions about the Movement and voter registration. Jenkins came out in favor of accepting Robert Kennedy’s assurances of support. However, he became increasingly frustrated when the collect calls that Bob Moses and others were making from jail in McComb were being “refused on technical grounds that the federal government can’t receive a collect call. You tell me that’s not a recanting of [their] original commitment.”
Tim Jenkins was the person, who in investigating Mississippi legal codes, discovered the statute that allowed residents to cast protest votes. This was the genesis of the Freedom Vote and led to SNCC and COFO’s efforts to run Aaron Henry as candidate for Mississippi governor. Jenkins later played an important role in lobbying for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But it was the Freedom Schools that Jenkins considered SNCC’s crowning achievement. They taught young Blacks that they could have a future. The impact that those schools had on their local communities was the important legacy of SNCC.
Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (New York: Scribner, 2003).
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Harvard University Press, 1981).
Wesley Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
Interview with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell by Emilye Crosby, August 23, 2013, Civil Rights History Project, Library of Congress.