“Get out the Vote” Spotlight – Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better-known as SNCC, was a student-led civil rights group active during the 1960s. They are best known for organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the South. SNCC focused mainly on direct action, and with help from early mentor Ella Baker, their activist vision prioritized grassroots organizing and equal participation for women. 

Registration and mobilization of black voters in the South were two of their biggest projects. In early 1962, the Kennedy Administration created the Voter Education Project (VEP) to fund voter drives in the South. Many members of SNCC believed that obtaining the right to vote was an important step toward political power for black Americans, and were excited by the new opportunities to register voters. Other members saw the VEP as the government’s attempt to co-opt the movement. Nevertheless, SNCC helped register many southern voters, despite facing extreme violence and opposition in doing so.

On display in the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America is SNCC Literacy Project Proposal, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1963. You can view a digitized version online. The document discusses the link importance of literacy and preparing people to register to vote. At the time, particularly in the South, literacy tests were given to potential voters in order to assess whether they were able to read and write, and therefore cast their ballot. In practice, literacy tests were given to predominantly black voters, designed to be difficult to complete, and and judged inconsistently by biased officials. They were a disruptive disenfranchising tool utilized to discourage and intimate voters against exercising their right to vote.

At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates and grassroots organizations who have fought for expanding the right to vote. Their individual and collective voices have driven major changes to American voting rights, moving the nation closer to the ideal of “one person, one vote.”

Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.

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