Civil Rights Activist Chuck McDew in Savannah in November 2008
Chuck McDew, founder and first president of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, known as SNICK), was in Savannah for two weeks prior to the November 4th Election day as part of Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy’s Activist in Residence Series. Mr. McDew spent his two weeks in Savannah talking about the struggle for voter rights for African Americans with large and small groups of people.
In 1961, Mr. McDew and his fellow SNNC members knew that they would have to pay a “blood price” to exercise their right to vote and to register voters in the most repressive states in the South – Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi – and to register voters in the most repressive counties in these states. Chuck said, “Our strategy was this…if we could tell people in Chatham County in Savannah, Georgia that we were registering people in Sunflower County in Mississippi, they would know that we meant business.” For Chuck McDew, John Lewis, Julian Bond, Bernard Lafayette, Diane Nash, and many other people, the act of registering voters meant putting your life on the line.
As Savanniahians heard Chuck’s story over lunch tables, over dinner tables, in bars, in Sunday school classes, and at public presentations, the immensity of his contribution began to take shape. We are witnessing history, an election with an African-American candidate running for the highest post in the land. We are witnessing this while talking with one of the men who, 45 years ago, risked his life to allow this day to happen.