Statement of Purpose

Image: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, American (1965) Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Race and Civil Rights
The SNCC statement does not explicitly mention rights. What message does the statement convey concerning the relation between justice, or equal rights, and love? Likewise, what message does it convey concerning the relation between individual rights and moral virtues in a good society? Which moral virtues does the statement identify as especially important to a just society? Why these? What does the statement suggest concerning the proper status of biblical (Judeo-Christian) religions in American public life?
In its appeal to love and its proclaimed foundation of “the moral nature of human existence,” how does the SNCC statement compare with the spirit of Bayard Rustin’s protest story from the 1940s? How and why was the moral spirit of SNCC modified in the transition from its founders’ leadership to that of Stokely Carmichael and his successors later in the decade?

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The success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955–56 brought increased energy and attention to the civil rights movement, and the question naturally arose how to build on that success. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and like-minded fellow ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, intending to organize a regional campaign for voting rights. That campaign initially struggled to gain momentum, and younger activists soon undertook a more daring form of direct-action protest.

On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College staged a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They remained at the counter until closing time and returned the next day; within a week more than one thousand students had joined the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest. The students’ sit-in movement spread rapidly across the South. In April that same year, as the sit-ins continued, SCLC director Ella Baker (1903–1986) organized a meeting of student protesters in Raleigh, North Carolina. The result of that meeting was the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

SNCC quickly took its place among the major civil rights organizations of the 1960s, conducting not only sit-ins but also a further round of Freedom Rides and participating in the March on Washington. The present selection is the organization’s founding statement.

—Peter C. Myers

Source: Recommendations Passed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, October 14–16, 1960, Wisconsin Historical Society, Civil Rights Collection, Braden Papers, Box 62, Folder 2, Conference, 1960. The “Recommendations” from October 1960 contains the statement of purpose reproduced here, followed by this note: “This statement of purpose was adopted in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 17, 1960, at the close of the first general conference of student movement participants.”

We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step toward such a society.

Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supercedes systems of gross social immorality.

Love is the central motif of nonviolence. Love is the force by which Go binds man to Himself and man to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while persisting in love.

By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.

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