[Howard Zinn raw #28]

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Cleveland Sellers discusses Howard Zinn and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

0:03 Cleveland Sellers says that the historical impact of the civil rights movement was not something that really registered in the moment for those involved. He praises the work done by organizers from Mississippi.

2:37 Filmmaker Denis Mueller asks Sellers about the Orangeburg massacre, the shooting of racial segregation protesters by South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in 1968 that resulted in three deaths. Sellers connects the events in Orangeburg to a shift in tactics against protesters that bring about the tragedies at Kent State and Jackson State. He gives details about the events leading up to the shooting, the shooting itself, and the legal action and jail time Sellers unjustly faced following the shooting.

12:05 Cleveland Sellers talks about going to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer project. He tells about his first project, searching for the bodies of three murdered activists in Philadelphia, Mississippi (the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner). “For African-Americans in particular, Mississippi was considered to be the most hostile community toward the civil rights of African-Americans or other minorities of any state in the nation.” He talks about the dangers of doing civil rights work in Mississippi, the militarization of Mississippi state forces, and the lack of support for civil rights demonstrated by the FBI.

17:56 Sellers speaks on the resilience and compassion of the people of Mississippi. He says they organizers who came into Mississippi were inspired by the people they encountered. He talks about the constant risk of violence and death for those who defied or spoke out against segregation. He speaks specifically on Fannie Lou Hamer and her ability to persevere in the face of violence.

23:36 Sellers says he first met Howard Zinn at the SNCC conference at Howard University while Zinn was teaching at Spelman. He speaks on the importance of Zinn’s chronicling of SNCC inĀ SNCC: The New Abolitionists. “Certainly, you have the Ella Bakers, but also have the Howard Zinns. And that’s what they give us, they give us the struggle to understand how to analyze what is going on around you, the phenomena; understanding how this fits into the historical context of black protest tradition; and the relationship between what we were doing and what other people were doing across the South, in terms of other organizations and other movements that had taken place prior to, the connection between us in Mississippi and Rosa Parks and E. D. Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson in Montgomery.” He talks about the intellectual atmosphere of SNCC and the reading and discussion that went on in the organization.

28:11 Cleveland Sellers discusses the need for humor and levity among civil rights organizers. He tells an anecdote about Martin Luther King Jr.

32:48 Sellers talks about the political and practical benefits of really listening to what the people of Mississippi had to say. He says listening to people also helped them as organizers work through the trauma of what they had witnessed and experienced. “Because a lot of times, if you listened to the Mississippians, they were telling you things that you needed to know, things about who you were. They would be concerned about your parents back home. And they would be concerned about ‘are you eating right?’ They would be concerned about ‘How you feeling? We’re still here, are you still here? Do you still have the same level of enthusiasm? What’s going on in your life?’ And you need to listen to hear those things when they come through, and understand what you’re listening to.”

36:52 Cleveland Sellers traces the development of SNCC’s opposition to the Vietnam War. He says that it was mothers in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who started looking at the contradiction of young disenfranchised black Mississippians “fighting for democracy” in Vietnam while there was a battle for democracy going on at home in Mississippi. Sellers talks about the murder of Navy veteran, SNCC member, and civil rights activist Sammy Younge Jr. as a tipping point within SNCC in their decision to assess the contradictions of the United States’ actions at home and abroad and take a stand against intervention in Vietnam and propose working with SNCC as an alternative to the draft for young black people who wanted to fight for democracy.

46:10 Sellers speaks on the political and personal strengths of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), who was active in SNCC during the 1960s. Sellers describes Kwame as a charismatic, engaging orator who emulated Malcolm X. He speaks on the traditions of discussion and debate that guided the goals and positions of SNCC as an organization.

53:20 Cleveland Sellers talks about how throughout the organization’s existence, SNCC was never actually that large, when it came to numbers of paid organizers. He discusses the impact of the civil rights movement on music and popular culture.

57:25 Sellers discusses the impact that SNCC, Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement, students, and young people had on American society and subsequent social movements. He talks about the ability for social movements to succeed when you have a small group of people who come together to commit to their principles and commit to transforming society.

 

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