Sociology Most of the History


Because of the perceived threat to social order, what McVeigh (2004) calls "structured ignorance," the backlash against SNCC's tactics were sometimes quite severe. Members of the group were arrested on all sorts of grounds including riot (even though the SNCC members remained nonviolent), trespassing, and, based on an old Civil War era law, even "planning insurrection" (Bond, 2000). The efforts of the Whites in power to block SNCC's efforts became especially forceful when the goal was voter registration. No doubt those in power realized that in counties that were, for instance, 60% or more Black, they could well be voted out of office (Carson, 1981). At the peak of these conflicts, numerous civil rights workers, both Black and White, were murdered for their activities.

SNCC followed the principles of Resource Mobilization Theory well. They quickly determined what goals they wanted their collective action to achieve; they considered carefully the likely results of the actions they took; they brought people together to work for common goals; they capitalized on their ability to produce people willing to put in many hours of work, and provided those people with the knowledge they needed to be effective; they capitalized on new opportunities as they arose; and they constituted a social movement intent on changing society in fundamental ways.

Since the first sit-in in 1960, the United States has shifted from a country were racism was often openly expressed and even mandated by law to a country where such expressions are rare and judged unacceptable. Few people actually view Whites as superior to Blacks or entitled to special privileges based on their Caucasian roots (McVeigh, 2004). Those who do are viewed as holding fringe views unacceptable to most. While certainly the SNCC cannot claim all credit for this progress, their ability to use the principles of RMT transformed not only the Civil Rights Movement but had profound effects on other activist movements as well, particularly protests against the Viet Nam War.

No sensible person would say that all racism has been eliminated from the United States, but the country did make rapid gains as a result of the work of the activists and civil rights groups that rose to prominence in the 1960's. Their methods are used to this day by a variety of groups. They were copied by the women's movement, other minorities such as Hispanics, and even those with disabilities. Ironically, while the SNCC rejected building any kind of formal hierarchy, many of their tactics are used to this day by other groups. In less than a generation (Griffin, 2001), groups such as the SNCC, using the principles of RFT have brought about fundamental changes in American society that had been resisted for hundreds of years.


Bond, Julian. 2000. "SNCC: What We Did.(Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee)." Monthly Review, October.

Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960's. Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College, 1981.

Duijvelaar, Christy. 1996. Beyond Borders: East-East cooperation among environmental NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe. Department of Sociology, Wageningen Agricultural University - The Netherlands. May. Accessed via the Internet 8/21/04.

Griffin, Larry J. 2001. "The Promise of a Sociology of the South." Southern Culture, March 22.

McVeigh, Rory. 2004. "Structured ignorance and organized…