- “Students Armed With a Dream”: The 1960s’ New Left Student Movement
Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, 286pages, $25.00 (softcover)
Wesley C. Hogan
Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007, 463pages, $30.00 (softcover)
Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm, Edited by Paul Buhle
New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2008, 214pages, $16.00 (softcover)
From protest, to resistance, to revolution. This was the trajectory of numerous student activist groups in the 1960s and that trajectory was to have significant implications for politics, social structures, race relations, and national culture in the United States. As Altbach and Peterson (1971) have pointed out, student activism in the United States has a long but sporadic history. The maturation of student activism mirrored the growth and expansion of the nation. The Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS), an early radical organization, was founded in 1905. Numerous other student organizations (e.g., the Student League for Industrial Democracy, the National Student Association, and the Social-Democratic Student League) were founded in the 1920s, 1930, and 1940s. From the 1920s to the 1940s, these student groups confronted the impersonal nature of the rapidly growing higher education system, U.S. participation in both the First and Second World Wars, and advocated for international disarmament (Altbach & Peterson, 1971). These issues would be echoed in the 1960s as college students in the New Left focused their energies on segregation, the war in Southeast Asia, the draft, U.S. imperialism, and authoritarian university structures. At the center of the New Left stood two student groups, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snik”) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In their short histories (the life span of each organization was roughly the decade of the 1960s), these two groups of activist youth would play integral roles in reshaping the United States. This essay will provide a review and analysis of three books focused on these two central student organizations of the New Left.
SNCC AND THE BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLE
In Many Minds, One Heart, Wesley C. Hogan presents a detailed and rigorously researched (Hogan supports the main narrative with 8 appendices and 98 pages of footnotes) telling of the genesis, growth, and ultimate disintegration of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Hogan traces the development of SNCC from meetings of a small group of students in Nashville to build the “beloved community” through its participation in the lunchroom sit-ins of 1960, to its leadership role in continuing the Freedom Rides intended integrate interstate [End Page 335] transportation in the face of government-sanctioned violence. At the heart of SNCC’s efforts was its commitment to secure voting rights for Southern Blacks. Hogan ends her story, and SNCCs, in Waveland, Mississippi following the unsuccessful attempt by SNCC organizers to seat the delegates of the indigenous Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP) at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
With the exception of three chapters that focus on SNCC’s attempts to take their political philosophy of non-violence, grass roots organizing, and participatory democracy to the North, the majority of Hogan’s narrative focuses on the Black freedom movement in the South, especially Mississippi. In its work in both the South and the North, the SNCC way was to listen, reflect, and then act. SNCC members had also rigorously adopted the tactics of non-violence promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a firm commitment to taking direction from, not giving direction to, the poor and oppressed citizens of the South. SNCCs efforts to secure voting rights and confront Jim Crow racism employed clearly established tactics—send SNCC field workers into a community, identify local leaders already doing the hard work of social justice and equity, listen carefully and at great length to their frustrations and dreams, connect them to other like-minded compatriots in the area, and then finally begin the process of implementing change based on local needs. “This reinforced an ironclad rule of organizing: never do for...