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Student movements

Nash, Diane Judith

Through her involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Diane Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King. In 1962 King nominated Nash for a civil rights award sponsored by the New York branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to acknowledge her exemplary role in the student sit-ins. King described Nash as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters” (King, 9 April 1962).

Moses, Robert Parris

Although he avoided publicity and was reluctant to assert himself as a leader, Robert Parris Moses became one of the most influential black leaders of the southern civil rights struggle. His vision of grassroots, community-based leadership differed from Martin Luther King’s charismatic leadership style. Nonetheless, King appreciated Moses’ fresh ideas, calling his “contribution to the freedom struggle in America” an “inspiration” (King, 21 December 1963).


The sit-in campaigns of 1960 and the ensuing creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) demonstrated the potential strength of grassroots militancy and enabled a new generation of young people to gain confidence in their own leadership. Martin Luther King, Jr., described the student sit-ins as an “electrifying movement of Negro students [that] shattered the placid surface of campuses and communities across the South,” and he expressed pride in the new activism for being “initiated, fed and sustained by students” (Papers 5:447; 368).

McKissick, Floyd Bixler

As national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) from 1966 to 1968, Floyd McKissick’s tenure with the organization was dominated by controversy over Black Power. Although the media was quick to focus on areas of disagreement between McKissick and Martin Luther King, the two leaders sought to downplay their differences, stressing their “brotherhood” and areas of mutual respect and agreement (Wehrwein, “Dr. King and CORE Chief”).

Lee, Bernard Scott

Bernard Lee, student leader of the Alabama sit-in movement, was Martin Luther King’s personal assistant and traveling companion throughout the 1960s. A member of King’s inner circle, Lee defended King from pushy reporters, shepherded him to engagements, provided a sounding board for new ideas, and readily joined in during spare moments of levity. King publicly commended Lee’s “devotion to civil rights” and made funding Lee’s travel expenses a prerequisite for accepting invitations (King, 63).

Lawson, James M.

As a minister who trained many activists in nonviolent resistance, James Lawson made a critical contribution to the civil rights movement. In his 1968 speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Martin Luther King spoke of Lawson as one of the “noble men” who had influenced the black freedom struggle: “He’s been going to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people” (King, “I’ve Been,” 214).


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