November 3, 1941 – August 24, 2018
Raised in Albany, Georgia
As a young activist attending Albany State College in Albany, Georgia, William Porter inspired his community to harness the power of nonviolent resistance. Always affectionately called “Porter” in SNCC, he believed, “a person who has a real commitment to nonviolence will never leave the movement.” Initially, in late 1961, Porter’s organizing work centered on education. Then he worked on the budding voter registration efforts in Albany organized by SNCC activists Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and Charles Jones.
In citizenship schools he taught Albany residents how to pass the literacy test required to become registered voters. But more than increasing the number of registered voters, victory as William Porter saw it “has been over the minds and hearts of Albany’s Negro masses, who now not only know how to get their rights, but are determined to do so!”
Like so many in SNCC who put Movement work above all else, Porter left Albany State in January 1962 to work full-time with the organization. Many in SNCC felt the need to pause their college education and devote their energy to the Movement. Porter stayed out of school much longer than he had initially planned.
In 1966, Porter became SNCC’s southern fundraiser and campus coordinator. Working with the Fund for Education and Legal Defense, scholarship money was acquired to help returning SNCC students cover room, board, tuition, and books. He reached out to registrar’s offices across southern campuses. His work checking in on students’ registration, fees, and transcripts enabled those activists to pursue the educational opportunities they fought so hard to open for Black communities across the South.
He was also SNCC’s meeting coordinator. SNCC meetings were “interminable,” as Muriel Tillinghast, a Mississippi SNCC organizer, put it, and coordinating them could be tough. Porter honored SNCC’s collaborative process. He crafted conference agendas that tackled the most pressing needs of SNCC through panel discussions and workshops – on top of all the logistics surrounding transportation, food, and housing for staff members.
At staff meetings, SNCC came together to share their experiences, tactics, and gain the inspiration they needed to continue the struggle. Porter used the conferences as educational development and listened to the group about what they wanted to spend the time working on. He also recognized that the intense organizing work in geographically isolated communities could weigh SNCC activists down. Staff meetings had the potential to nourish their souls before they headed back out to their posts. For a 1965 conference that fell on Thanksgiving, he crafted a banquet of “One-Man One-Vote cranberry salad” and “FDP [Freedom Democratic Party] rolls” to lift their movement family spirit.
In the summer of 1968, Porter worked on the Voter Education Project (VEP) in Macon County, Georgia and continued to teach citizenship classes to empower communities to register and organize.
Julian Bond, “Nonviolence: An Interpretation” Freedomways (Spring 1963), 159-162.
“William Porter Personnel File,” , SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.