Political Race, Faith and the Democratic Process


I came of age as a white Jewish organizer in (to use Professors Guinier and Torres’s phrase) “a progressive democratic movement led by people of color but joined by others.” The movement was the Southern Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. I was a volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“SNCC”), the militant student wing of that movement, working in the Mississippi River Delta on the Arkansas side in the summer of 1965.

As a newly arrived and relatively inexperienced volunteer organizer that summer, I had no doubt that all the leaders of SNCC and of the Southern Civil Rights Movement were African Americans. The local leaders of the movement in Forrest City, Arkansas (named after General Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan) were all Black. The local SNCC project leader was Black, as were the great majority of the SNCC staff and volunteers. The community in which we lived, the community that sheltered, nurtured and protected the SNCC workers, was exclusively Black; beyond the boundaries of the Black community lay white communities, which offered only threat and danger. The visible leaders of SNCC, who occasionally arrived from national headquarters in Atlanta, who spoke with us and framed the movement in broader political terms, were Black: I remember picking up James Foreman and Julian Bond at the Memphis airport and driving them to an Arkansas statewide strategy retreat. The leaders of the major national civil rights organizations were all African Americans: John Lewis at SNCC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at SCLC, James Farmer at CORE, Roy Wilkins at the NAACP, Whitney Young at the Urban League.

Suggested Reading