Charles Bonner was my first SNCC friend and co-worker. He and Eric Jones were in charge of voter registration for SNCC in Wilcox County where I was working with SCLC’s summer voter registration project. He immediately inducted me into SNCC. For the rest of the summer, he and his girlfriend Jan, my boyfriend Bob Block and I spent time together in Selma, as well as doing some canvassing in Wilcox. Freedom Summer 1965 was one of the last truly cooperative projects with SNCC, SCLC, NAACP and dozens of local improvement associations working together on one goal: voter registration. For information on why this work was so essential and my orientation to SCOPE please visit the Civil Rights Veteran’s website http://www.crmvet.org/info/scope1.htm
Excerpt from 1965 This Little Light of Mine, This Bright Light of Ours: stories of the Wilcox County Freedom Fight © 2011
Nonviolence as a Strategy versus a Philosophy
The next day we had breakfast with Chuck and Jan somewhere nearby. Over coffee with a still muddled brain, I tried to explain my understanding of nonviolence is that it boils down to being like a spiritual martial art.
“You take the negative energy, the hate rushing towards you and turn it back on the perpetrator in the form of love. That should melt down his defenses or at least make him stop and think. I believe that if you hate or hit back, you become no better than the oppressor. ”
Then Chuck explained that SNCC uses the word nonviolent in their name, but nonviolence is just a strategy, not a philosophy or belief.
“We use it when it’s convenient, when it will get press, prevent a mass murder and recruit more people to be active. When necessary, we use any weapon: rocks, knives, even guns, especially in isolated situations where you are outnumbered or outrun. There’s no political advantage from taking a beating or getting shot if no one is there to cover it. ”
Bob said he absolutely agreed with that, which made my stomach queasy, not only from last night’s liquor. “But, I don’t mind getting beat or even dying for The Movement, but I sure as hell don’t want to die if these guys don’t even want me here,” Bob added.
“Well I want you here, that’s for damn sure. Ya’ll been damn straight with us. But it is gettin’ time to go. Fact is, me and Jan are thinkin’ of heading out there to San Francisco with you all, in a few weeks.” Chuck went on to explain that getting an education is a form of activism, too.
Jan said that she thought, “Black power will come through independence that comes with achieving affluence and influence in the tradition of the often-maligned Booker T. Washington founder of Tuskegee Institute.” We groaned in self-mockery at our intellectual talk and the giddy guilt that we could, all four of us, drive away from Selma, alive.