After the successful outcome of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, its leader, Martin Luther King wrote Stride Toward Freedom (1958). The book described what happened at Montgomery and explained King's views on non-violence and direct action. The book was to have a considerable influence on the civil rights movement.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, a small group of black students read the book and decided to take action themselves. They started a student sit-in at the restaurant of their local Woolworth's store which had a policy of not serving black people. In the days that followed they were joined by other black students until they occupied all the seats in the restaurant. The students were often physically assaulted, but following the teachings of King they did not hit back.
In February, 1960, about forty college students staged a sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter with the intention of integrating eating establishments in Nashville, Tennessee. Their numbers increased daily and although hundreds were arrested, by May, lunch counters in the city began to integrate.
This non-violent strategy was adopted by black students all over the Deep South. Within six months these sit-ins had ended restaurant and lunch-counter segregation in twenty-six southern cities. Student sit-ins were also successful against segregation in public parks, swimming pools, theaters, churches, libraries, museums and beaches.
In October, 1960, students involved in these sit-ins held a conference and established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The organization adopted the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action. This included participation in the Freedom Rides during 1961. Leading figures in the organization included Ella J. Baker, Robert Moses, Marion Barry, James Lawson, Charles McDew, James Forman, John Lewis, James Peck and James Zwerg.
In 1963 John Lewis replaced Charles McDew as chairman of SNCC and was one of the main speakers at the the famous March on Washington. On 28th August, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law.
In 1964 the SNCC joined with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) organised its Freedom Summer campaign. Its main objective was to try an end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South. Volunteers from the three organizations decided to concentrate its efforts in Mississippi. In 1962 only 6.7 per cent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. This involved the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Party (MFDP). Over 80,000 people joined the party and 68 delegates attended the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City and challenged the attendance of the all-white Mississippi representation.
SNCC, CORE and NAACP also established 30 Freedom Schools in towns throughout Mississippi. Volunteers taught in the schools and the curriculum now included black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement. During the summer of 1964 over 3,000 students attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs such as Head Start.
Freedom Schools were often targets of white mobs. So also were the homes of local African Americans involved in the campaign. That summer 30 black homes and 37 black churches were firebombed. Over 80 volunteers were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers.
In 1966 Stokely Carmichael was elected chairman of the SNCC. Carmichael was associated with the more militant black power and his leadership resulted in many people leaving the organization. H. Rap Brown replaced Carmichael in 1967 and this marked a further move towards extremism. SNCC ceased functioning in 1970.