Responding to a Need for a “New Black Student Movement?” – GDN Exclusiveby John Caldwell, GDN Guest Editorial July 23, 2021
The question raised by Greater Diversity News (GDN) can only be answered with “hell-yeah,” a new Black student movement is needed. Now more than ever!
Our democracy is under serious attack! Our Nation is threatened from within, and elected state, as well as federal actors are ambivalent at best in providing an appropriate response and defense.
The growing assault being waged will not bode well for any of our communities, Black, White, and in between. As elected extremist ramp up their strategic maneuvering to steal Black people’s power, the ability to influence who represents us is being stolen. We have to have our young folk and elders, and everyone in between get involved. We cannot be silent in this moment of crisis, where our right to vote is blatantly being denied, taken, and suppressed.
So yes, we should applaud GDN with our participation at the level we can. We each should be seeking ways to assist in this effort to raise a force to meet this threat head on.
When a critical mass of the prepared (with a sense of purpose), seize opportunity during a challenge, threat, or crisis, an energetic wave – that is, an organic movement – will occur. We are in need of such energy from among the mass of our people today.
Looking to the past, there is a history of activism being launched by North Carolina students that changed their future and our present. Our lives were significantly impacted because of the sacrifices and courage demonstrated by a committed few, that went viral.
Most people have heard of the bold act by the Greensboro Four from North Carolina A&T on February 1st, 1960, setting our Nation on a new course.
Yet there were a greater number of students involved in the North Carolina event than the four we often hear about. Those young men did demonstrate civil disobedience by courageously sitting at a lunch counter in a downtown Woolworth when such acts could cost limb or life.
Their act was quite similar to the students in Baltimore, Maryland. When Morgan State students performed the very same act of defiance five (5) years earlier in 1955, their effort did not create a movement the magnitude we experienced here. Yet they were successful in their aims.
What we have mostly forgotten was the details of the birth of a student movement from that single bold act of North Carolina students. It was the viral spreading over the course of two months following the Greensboro act that was remarkable. Like the spark that lights a blaze, students were ignited, taking action to be the difference. Other A&T students and students from nearby Bennett, a historically Black College for women, showed up in downtown Greensboro to stand with those four brave young men, the very next day.
Then young people all over North Carolina, taking the initial cue from the four young men, showed up in their respective cities. They duplicated the “good trouble,” as John Lewis would come to refer to it, by conducting similar acts of civil disobedience.
First in neighboring Durham and Winston-Salem seven days later, students held sit-ins in both cities. The day after that, on February 9th young people in Charlotte and Fayetteville followed suit, courageously taking a stand by executing acts of civil disobedience to create change. Then the next three days, as the illuminating fire grew, students across North Carolina in Raleigh on the 10th, Elizabeth City and High Point on the 11th, and Concord on the 12th were energized into similar acts of defiance.
Simultaneously by February 11th, the blaze began to spread across the Nation with students at Hampton, Virginia duplicating what they heard was happening in North Carolina. By the following day young people in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia; Deland, Florida; and Rock Hill, South Carolina were all engaging their respective injustices with the same tactics as the Greensboro Four had demonstrated weeks earlier.
By March 31st, two months after the courageous acts of the four young Black students in North Carolina, thirteen (13) states across America witnessed seventy-one (71) similar acts of civil disobedience. Eight of the first nine events took place right here in North Carolina.
In total, our state led the way with eighteen (18) events ignited by the initial blaze, with Florida and Virginia hosting eleven (11) and ten (10) events respectively.
So, what began in the individual minds of Junior Blair, Frank McCain, Joe McNeil, and David Richmond, the four students who boldly sat down to demonstrate, provided young people with another means besides boycotting for social change in our Nation. Simultaneously, they created a reason to connect with their elders.
During those illuminating two months, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began its embryonic stage, anticipating its birth a month later, in April at Shaw College in Raleigh. Elders like 56-year-old Ella Baker, during the week of March 7-12, “met and talked with hundreds of students and community leaders about the impact of the sit-ins and potential for future actions,” according to her biographer Barbara Ransby. Baker then wrote a ten-page report for Martin L. King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which helped her orchestrate the conference in April.
Other elders like Minister Doug Moore and Reverend Glen Smiley met with a smaller group of the young people in February to lend their years of insight, experience, and knowledge to feed the illuminating fire. A fire started by those four young men and all the students who showed up over the next several days, weeks, and months.
All told, the spark of some courageous young people in North Carolina organically set ablaze a tempered fire of change that shined bright light on the injustices commonly called Jim Crow. That energy of the wave eventually channeled into what we came to know as the Black Student Movement.
The lesson for us today helps us to know there is no question of the great need for a new Black student movement. The question must be what lessons, best and worst practices, and take-aways do we garner from the young people who took a stand (and their supporting elders), when they perceived the threat yesterday, as we do today.
GDN is offering a path to tap the resourcefulness, energy, and know-how of our youth, to align with elders and those in between. GDN also is offering the opportunity to amplify our voices, our pens, and our votes through organized collective efforts. The staff knows we each have a role and stake in changing the future when we remember our past.
The ultimate message embedded in the GDN question, if we need a “New Black Student Movement,” begs you to seek your role in making the difference, because, “hell-yeah” we need this!
To stay informed about The New Black Student Movement, subscribe to Greater Diversity News’ free eNews editions at greaterdiversity.com .
“Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, 2nd Ed,” by Doug McAdam © 1999
“Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision,” by Barbara Ransby © 2003
“We Who Believe in Freedom: The Life and Times of Ella Baker,” by Lea E. Williams © 2017