original statement of purpose established nonviolence as the driving
philosophy behind the organization. However, things were never
that simple. In the early days, during the period of the sit-in
movement, nonviolent action was strictly enforced, particularly
for public demonstrations, as it was key to the movement's success.
support from whites and blacks outside the movement, the sit-ins
needed to create a distinct impression of moral superiority. One
of the best ways to do this was to meet the harsh violence of
the white man with pacifism. Some members expanded this philosophy
to their daily lives, believing that just carrying a gun for self-defense
of nonviolence hit shakier ground when SNCC began its period of
community organization in the South, having to face continual
threats of perhaps deadly violence from whites. On many occasions
SNCC offices were sprayed with bullets or torched by local white
men. In 1963 Bob Moses and Jimmy Travis, SNCC workers trying to
encourage black voters to register, were shot at while driving
near Greenwood, Mississippi. Travis was hit and nearly died.
majority of SNCC workers were beaten and thrown in prison at least
once during their work with the organization. As a result, once
strict guidelines of nonviolence were relaxed and members were
unofficially permitted to carry guns for self defense. However,
the principle was still adhered to publicly, as it remained an
effective means of protest. Eventually whites began to understand
the tactic, and nonviolence became less powerful. Whites began
to realize SNCC's peaceful responses to violent oppression were
key to gaining support for their cause.
was no more public violence for SNCC to rise above, SNCC's message
would be weakened. Thus, protesters were no longer beaten publicly.
Instead they were attacked and beaten behind closed doors where
newspaper reporters and television cameras could not reach. As
southern whites intended, discrete violent oppression began to
destroy the image of martyr that SNCC had carefully constructed
through nonviolent protest. During this time, SNCC stopped sponsoring
regular seminars on nonviolence and continued them only infrequently
after, the Harlem Riots took place. It was the first urban race
riot, and brought the topic of black-initiated violence into public
debate. Such actions were no longer assumed to be counter productive.
This event, and eventally the rise of black power, led to the
fall of nonviolence in SNCC.