Module II: Freedomways: The Black Freedom Movement with SNYC (1930s-1940s)

Esther and James Jackson

Esther and James Jackson

SNYC was the Southern Negro Youth Congress, led by Esther and James Jackson, that we will think of as the glue that binds 1920s and 1950s black student activism together.  SNYC was established in 1937 at a conference of over 500 delegates in Richmond, Virginia against the backdrop of two national crises: 1) the Scottsboro Case where nine African American boys on a freight car were accused of raping a white woman who happened to be in the train several cars away; and 2) a white mob attack that took the lives of 70 African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama when a tubercular youth was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly shooting three white women though he was in a hospital bed at the time. In 1935, many black students had attended the meeting that led to the National Negro Congress.  However, the students felt they needed an organization that represented them and so SNYC came to represent students from almost all of the black colleges in the country.

SNYC activism ranged from studying the marked-up prices of items in black communities to helping 5,000 tobacco workers in Richmond secure better working conditions and wages (all led by James Jackson).  Though none of these organizers was older than 22, they went on to: help organize local farmers’ and sharecroppers’ unions, including a union among domestic workers; teach reading and writing; encourage the understanding of voting rights; create educational and recreational programs, libraries, and arts and lecture programs for youth and communities; raise money for civil rights activism, such as the case of a 16-year old African American girl sentenced to years of hard labor for allegedly stealing 6 ears of corn from a field.

Please look at the playlist below for more historical background on what motivated SNYC to be activists:

Esther Cooper Jackson, founding member and leader of SNYC, later became one of the founding editors of Freedomways, the Pan-African magazine that united the South and the North during the 1960s Black Freedom struggles.  Freedomways was also critical to the reading of the activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee (SNCC) and carried the most comprehensive coverage of events in 1964 central to the Black Freedom Struggles.

 In this part of the workshop, we will work with the language and rhetoric of special editions Freedomways as the binding glue between the 1920s and 1950s-1960s.