Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement

Civil rights leaders
Civil Rights leaders pose in the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963.

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The modern civil rights movement began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. From its inception to its end during the late 1960s, several organizations worked together to create change in the United States' society. 

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Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Alabama.

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was established in April 1960 at Shaw University. Throughout the civil rights movement, SNCC organizers worked throughout the South planning sit-ins, voter registration drives, and protests.

In 1960 civil rights activist Ella Baker (1903–1986) who worked as an official with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began organizing students who were involved in the sit-ins to a meeting at Shaw University. In opposition to Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), who wanted the students to work with the SCLC, Baker encouraged the attendees to create an independent organization. James Lawson (born 1928), a theology student at Vanderbilt University wrote a mission statement "we affirm the philosophical or religious ideals of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence, as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions, seeks a social order of justice permeated by love." That same year, Marion Barry (1926–2014) was elected as SNCC's first chairman.​​

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Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

James Farmer
James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality at the World's Fair in New York.

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The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) also played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement.

CORE was established by James Farmer Jr., George Jouser, James R. Robinson, Bernice Fisher, Homer Jack, and Joe Guinn in 1942. The organization was founded in Chicago and membership was  open to "anyone who believes that 'all people are created equal' and willing to work towards the ultimate goal of true equality throughout the world."

Leaders of the organization applied the principles of nonviolence as a strategy against oppression. The organization developed and participated in national campaigns of the civil rights movement such as the March on Washington and Freedom Rides.

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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Rosa Parks
Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march, late March 1965.

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As the oldest and most recognized civil rights organization in the United States, the NAACP has more than 500,000 members who work locally and nationally "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality for all, and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

When the NAACP was founded more than 100 years ago, its mission was to develop ways to create social equality. In response to the rate of lynching as well as the 1908 race riot in Illinois, several descendants of prominent abolitionists organized a meeting to end social and racial injustice.

During the civil rights movement, the NAACP help to integrate public schools in the South through the Brown v. Board of Education court case.

The following year, a local chapter secretary of the NAACP, Rosa Parks (1913–2005), refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions set the stage for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott became a springboard for the efforts of organizations such as the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Urban League to develop a national civil rights movement.

At the height of the civil rights movement, the NAACP played a pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

Martin Luther King
Dr. Martin Luther King leads march in protest of racial imbalance in Boston Schools and slum housing conditions.

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Closely associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. the SCLC was established in 1957 following the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Unlike the NAACP and SNCC, SCLC did not recruit individual members but worked with local organizations and churches to build its membership.

The SCLC sponsored programs such as citizenship schools as established by Septima Clark, the Albany Movement, Selma Voting Rights March, and the Birmingham Campaign.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Hamilton, Dona C. and Charles V. Hamilton. "The Dual Agenda: Race and Social Welfare Policies of Civil Rights Organizations." New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 
  • Morris, Aldon D. "The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. 
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Lewis, Femi. "Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).