Connecting civil rights and community engagement: Intergenerational dimensions of resonating movements

Matthew Countryman, Timothy K. Eatman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


Introduction One of the often overlooked historical antecedents to community engagement can be found in the student wing of the civil rights movement and in particular in the community organizing strategies developed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In the 1960s, SNCC activists, at first primarily from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the South but eventually including black and white students from the North as well, moved into poor, rural communities across the Deep South and sought to build political organizations of the disenfranchised. In the process, they learned important lessons both about the nation's political and economic systems and about the resilience and leadership potential present in poor communities. The two authors of this chapter first met as graduate student members of an organization that sought to build on SNCC's legacy in the 1990s during the early years of the community service movement. The Black Student Leadership Network (BSLN) was formed in 1992 under the sponsorship of the Children's Defense Fund and its founder, Marion Wright Edelman, herself a veteran of the southern student movement. BSLN's mission was to engage black student activists as servant-leaders for poor children, connecting their involvement in direct service projects to policy advocacy at both the local and national levels. The group's motto, “Don't Do For, Do With,” drew directly on SNCC's legacy. As such, we were particularly thrilled to have had the opportunity, in November 2015, to interview Bob Moses, who led SNCC's voter registration and community organizing projects in Mississippi from 1961 to 1964, about the origins and development of SNCC's philosophy of community organizing. His voice resonates throughout this chapter through stories that illuminate a critically important antecedent to the community engagement movement. Scholars such as Stephanie Evans (2009) and Charles Payne (2007) have observed the dearth of these critical stories from the perspective of people of color as it relates to the dominant discourse about community engagement in higher education. From Protest to Engagement The SNCC was founded in April 1960 at a conference of leaders of the southern student sit-in movement that had begun the previous February in Greensboro, North Carolina, and from there spread all across the South.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Service Learning and Community Engagement
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781316650011
ISBN (Print)9781107153783
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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