Being in SNCC required gumption, and Birmingham, Alabama-native Wilson Brown had plenty of it. After serving in the U.S. Army Brown returned home in 1962 and heard that the University of Alabama football team was playing Georgia over at the city’s Legion Field. Choosing to ignore the stadium’s segregation policies, Brown and a friend bought scalped tickets and made their way to the seats, ready to cheer on the university’s team. White spectators, however, beat up the two and chased them from the stadium. Brown, undeterred nonetheless, tried to buy another ticket to get back in the stadium.
Brown soon began working with SNCC and one day in the lounge of the A.G. Gaston Motel–a movement center of activity in Birmingham–he met another Birmingham-native, Annie Pearl Avery. With other movement activists he convinced her to come with them to a SNCC meeting in Atlanta. Annie Pearl Avery, like Wilson, went on to join SNCC’s staff.
By 1963, Wilson Brown was working on SNCC’s voter registration project in Selma, Alabama, joining SNCC staffers Bernard Lafayette and Colia Liddell. With the assistance of other new SNCC staff, voter registration work soon expanded into the surrounding rural areas. For his part, Brown and a student from Selma University spent time organizing south of Selma and the Alabama River in Sardis.
In 1964, Brown happened to be in Atlanta when ex-Mississippi governor and Alabama’s current governor were in town to speak at a Klan rally. The Freedom Singers were in SNCC’s Atlanta office, so Chuck Neblett, Matt Jones, and others volunteered to go with Brown, along with a white female exchange student from Spelman College. People at the rally were so startled at this interracial group from SNCC that they did not prevent their entrance. But as Brown and the others headed to their seats, Klan members picked up the folding seats and started beating them. When Georgia state troopers tried to protect the group, they were beaten too. The group eventually managed to escape and make their way back to the SNCC office.
Brown began spending more time in the Atlanta SNCC office, and by 1966, he was running the printing press in the SNCC publication department downstairs. The workload was tremendous. The Student Voice, SNCC posters and literature, and all other SNCC publications came off of that press. By 1966, it was one of the best equipped plants in Atlanta. However, “Wilson Brown is not physically able to do all the printing that has to be done,” one report noted.
The people who staffed SNCC’s publication department saw their mission as far more than physically printing materials. Their real purpose was “to educate Black People to the fact of their oppression and to speak of roads to liberation.” By 1967, Brown, William Mahoney, and others in the department planned to develop a series of comic books that could help develop community organizers and reach more people. They also would continue publishing posters and booklets, cards, and leaflets that “tell it like it is.” “Until we address ourselves to the battle for the right to control our image, define our identity and dignify our heritage, we have not yet begun to fight.” The publication department’s vision mirrored that of Wilson Brown.
Annie Pearl Avery, “The Constant Struggle,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith Holsaert, et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 454.
W. Edward Harris, Miracle in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Memoir, 1954-1965 (Indianapolis: Stonework Press, 2004), 207.
Report by Wilson Brown, Selma, Alabama to Worth Long, August 1963, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
Field Report from Selma, Alabama, November 9, 1963, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website.
“Brief Job Descriptions of Personnel in Atlanta Office,” undated, SNCC Administrative Procedures, January 01, 1959 – December 31, 1972, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“Personnel Credentials of the Atlanta Office” undated, SNCC Administrative Procedures, January 01, 1959 – December 31, 1972, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
“Report of the Communications Section of the Atlanta Office,” August 1, 1966, SNCC Staff Meeting Minutes, January 1, 1960 – December 31, 1968, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault
“Student Voice Prospectus 1967,” SNCC Staff Meeting Minutes, January 1, 1960 – December 31, 1968, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.
Worth Long, Being SNCCy Recordings, July 2016, Duke University.