Where was Obama on SNCC’s 50th anniversary?

By Lucy Komisar
April 19, 2010

width=252Last week, I was at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, for the 50th anniversary conference of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which led the sit-in movement of the 1960s. I attended SNCC’s founding conference at Shaw in April 1960.

That meeting had been called in response to the February 1, 1960 protest in Greensboro, NC, when four black students sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter that reserved stools for whites,, demanded to be served and were refused.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. addressed the nearly one thousand conference participants Saturday and told them, There is a direct line from that lunch counter to the Oval Office. I wondered if President Obama agreed.


The sit-in movement of the early 60s had spread throughout the South. SNCC turned a protest against Jim Crow public accommodations into a political challenge. Its dozens of organizers and hundreds of volunteers registered many thousands of voters in deep-South redoubts such as Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Activists were routinely jailed and beaten; some were murdered.

They changed the South and American politics. Through the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, SNCC began a campaign that ultimately ended Dixiecrat control of the national Democratic Party. New party rules banned convention delegations that excluded blacks.

SNCC also involved Northern activists and support groups in the movement. I was arrested in Elkton, Md, on a 1961 Route 40 Freedom Ride which attempted to desegregate restaurants along the main highway between New York and Washington. I went on to be editor of the pro-civil rights weekly Mississippi Free Press in Jackson, 1962-63.

But Holder, recognizing the sacrifices of SNCC that he said made it possible for him and President Obama to be where they are today, brought no message from the President. A member of the conference planning committee told me Obama had been invited. So he knew about it. She was perplexed at the lack of any White House communication. The President, who routinely sends greetings to citizens and business groups of all sorts, apparently didn’t find it important to salute the people who laid the groundwork for his election.

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One Response to "Where was Obama on SNCC’s 50th anniversary?"

  1. Mikael   Apr 20, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Vita brevis, ars longa. Well, It seems that Obama was at that time in Hawaii. Here is some documentation to prove it:

    “He was an African, I would learn, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, born on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego. The village was poor, but his father – my other grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama – had been a prominent farmer, an elder of the tribe, a medicine man with healing powers. My father grew up herding his father‘s goats and attending the local school, set up by the British colonial administration, where he showed great promise. He eventually won a scholarship to study in Nairobi; and then, on the eve of Kenyan independence, he was selected by Kenyan leaders and American sponsors to attend a university in the United States, joining the first large wave of Africans to be sent forth to master Western technology and bring it back to forge a new, modern Africa.

    In 1959, at the age of 23, he arrived at the University of Hawaii – the first African student there. He studied econometrics, worked with unsurpassed concentration, and graduated in three years at the top of his class. His friends were legion, and he helped organise the International Students Association, of which he became the first president. In a Russian language course, he met an awkward, shy American girl, only 18, and they fell in love. The girl‘s parents, wary at first, were won over by his charm and intellect; the young couple married, and she bore them a son, to whom he bequeathed his name. He won another scholarship – this time to pursue his Ph.D. at Harvard – but not the money to take his new family with him. A separation occurred, and he returned to Africa to fulfil his promise to the continent. The mother and child stayed behind, but the bond of love survived the distances.”
    (See http://web.archive.org/web/20070927225314/http://www.nationmedia.com/EastAfrican/01112004/Features/PA2-2212.html)

    Greetings from Finland.
    – Mikael

    LK: The issue is not where he was in April 1960. It is where he was in April 2010, the 50th anniversary of the founding of SNCC. And not where he was literally, but why he didn’t send a message to the anniversary event.


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