Nearly 57 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to more than 200 students at Shaw University in Raleigh.
It was an Easter weekend youth conference to discuss a growing sit-in movement begun in earnest in Greensboro. King asked students to form a permanent nonviolent organization to “take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception,” according to a transcript of his statement published by the Martin Luther King Jr. Encyclopedia at Stanford University.
The next day, King addressed a mass meeting at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. During the three-day conference in Raleigh, youth leaders voted to fulfill King’s directive by forming the Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the precursor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC.
Here is the statement King issued on April 15, 1960, after his meeting at Shaw, the first historically black university in the South:
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“This is an era of offensive on the part of oppressed people. All peoples deprived of dignity and freedom are on the march on every continent throughout the world. The student sit-in movement represents just such an offensive in the history of the Negro peoples’ struggle for freedom. The students have taken the struggle for justice into their own strong hands. In less than two months more Negro freedom fighters have revealed to the nation and the world their determination and courage than has occurred in many years. They have embraced a philosophy of mass direct nonviolent action. They are moving away from tactics which are suitable merely for gradual and long term change.”
“Today the leaders of the sit-in movement are assembled here from ten states and some forty communities to evaluate these recent sit-ins and to chart future goals. They realize that they must now evolve a strategy for victory. Some elements which suggest themselves for discussion are:
(1) The need for some type of continuing organization. Those who oppose justice are well organized. To win out the student movement must be organized.
(2) The students must consider calling for a nation-wide campaign of “selective buying.” Such a program is a moral act. It is a moral necessity to select, to buy from these agencies, these stores, and businesses where one can buy with dignity and self respect. It is immoral to spend one’s money where one cannot be treated with respect.
(3) The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines. This courageous willingness to go to jail may well be the thing to awaken the dozing conscience of many of our white brothers. We are in an era in which a prison term for a freedom struggle is a badge of honor.
(4) The youth must take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception. The struggle must be spread into every nook and cranny. Inevitably this broadening of the struggle and the determination which it represents will arouse vocal and vigorous support and place pressures on the federal government that will compel its intervention.
(5) The students will certainly want to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may indeed become a new kind of violence.”