In the mid-1960s, SNCC, one of the most important civil rights groups of its era, began to split at the seams. Since its inception, the group had committed itself to the eradication of white supremacy strictly through the twin pillars of nonviolence and integration. SNCC members, like their fellow activists throughout the South, endured threats, beatings, bombings, and shootings, all of which they greeted with Bible verses and song. The tactic ultimately succeeded by cutting through centuries of hate and accessing a basic sense of human decency.
But nonviolence exacted a price and, in 1966, its success was not assured. That was the year Stokely Carmichael assumed leadership of the organization. Carmichael had spent much of the early 60s subjecting his body to beatings, tear-gassings, and water-hoses. Committed to integration and nonviolence, he had driven down dark and lonely Southern roads accompanied only by the knowledge that people of his ilk were being vanished there with some unsettling regularity. When Carmichael came to power he, and much of SNCC's membership, had changed their politics. They expelled whites from the group and rejected nonviolence. Eventually there was a quasi-merger with the Black Panther Party and a full-throated embrace of revolutionary violence.
Among the SNCC members to reject that path, were Shirley and Charles Sherrod.Mr. Coates may be right in the point he intends to make, which is that Andrew Breitbart treated Shirely Sherrod worse than she deserved. This history, however, passes by another point of greater personal concern to me.
One of those "expelled whites" was a high-school teacher of mine, one of the best teachers I ever had. At the time that the "Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee" became just the 'Student Committee,' he was cast out in spite of having served faithfully those ideals of "a basic sense of human decency" that eventually won out.
It's been a long time since I was in high school, but at the time -- as now, as always -- racial tensions remained somewhat high. This teacher went so far as to offer a course on race and racism, from the perspective you would expect from a former member of SNCC. It was a year-long course, but after a few weeks he was removed from instructing it by the demands of the black students, who were upset at the idea of a white man teaching on the subject of racism. Political correctness, which was at the time a newly named phenomenon, repeated SNCC's injustice, lashing out at a good-hearted man who was only ever on their side. These were teenagers who had inherited the success of the Civil Rights movement as a free gift, paid for by men like the one they scorned on account of his skin.
If we are going to speak of this history, we ought to remember that as well.