Black Lives Matter and Nonviolent Social Movements

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Black History
Social Justice
Social/Cultural Issues
Key principles and history of African American nonviolent social-activist movements

Authored by Kayla Allen-Brown 


The killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, sparked riots across the nation that would be the starting point of a national and global movement to end anti-Black racism in societies around the world. The movement, coined #BlackLivesMatter is a significant movement in the lives of African-American Millennials today.  During the Civil Rights Era, a similar movement was formed. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a student-led movement, created to give younger African-Americans a voice. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and The Black Lives Matter Movement represent two crucial social movements to eradicate issues that permeates the African-American Community.   

Historic Roots

On February 1st 1960, four African-American college students sparked one of the largest developments of the Civil Rights Movement. At first, the students were expecting to be escorted out and arrested but they soon realized that the restaurant staff would simply ignore them.  Franklin McCain, a participant in the sit-ins, recalled “Maybe they can’t do anything to us. Maybe we can keep it up”(Carson 1981, 10).  This realization sparked the recruitment of more students. The next morning, over thirty more students showed up and occupied the restaurant. Soon the students caught the attention of the local community and reporters. The sit-in movement quickly gained momentum and spread across various campuses across the south. Ella Baker, a long time Civil Rights activist formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee (SNCC). With SNCC, Baker hoped members could quickly coordinate sit-in activity, raise funds, increase publicity, arrange and execute sit-ins.

Instead of achieving political gains, SNCC focused on awakening the African-American community. The organizations sole purpose was to “awaken the black man’s political conscious and ultimately make him a political force to be reckoned with” (Stroper 1989, 10). However, members within SNCC disagreed on how to awaken the community.  One group within SNCC argued for direct action. They believed that the use of nonviolent confrontation could be integrated into all parts of society. The other group, felt that direct action was insufficient argued that targeting voter registration would positivity effect the community. To end the possibility of further conflicts, Baker opted to divide the organization into two wings: Direct action and voter registration. Through the direct action wing, led by Diane Nash, member from Nashville, SNCC organized multiple “Freedom Rides”. The purpose of the freedom rides was to “desegregate the buses and the terminal facilities along the way” (Stoper 1989, 7). Two buses were burned by white segregationists, and a mob attacked a bus full of civil rights leaders on the same day. It is important to note that these tragedies did not stop the students from participating on freedom rides. The voter registration wing, led by Charles Jones, organized “vote-in” events.  These events encouraged unregistered African Americans to vote. Later in SNCC’s history, the organization focused on expanding beyond the south, and radically shifted towards Black Power ideology.

The #BlackLivesMatter is a relativity new organization. Created in 2012, the movement shares a similar mission to SNCC, a call to action to elevate the continued oppression of African-Americans in today’s society. Founded by three African-American women, the Black Lives Matter Movement argues for an extensive conversation with policy makers around the issue of state violence in the African-American community.

Five key principles are:

  • Diversity:  We are committed to acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating differences(s) and commonalities.

  • Restorative Justices: We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.

  • Black Women: We are committed to building a Black woman affirming space free from sexism, misogyny, and male-centeredness.

  • Loving Engagement: We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.

  • Intergenerational: We are committed to fostering an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, shows up with capacity to lead and learn.

The protests that erupted in the cities of Ferguson and New York City as a result of the senseless killings of African-American men and women by police received attention from news media outlets around the world. The use of social media (Facebook live & Twitter) has allowed human rights violations to be monitored and updated in real time by activists. The President, Vice President, and Attorney General have also met with BLM leaders to discuss how policies can strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and African-American communities.

The Black Lives Matter Movement and SNCC have three important similarities. The first one is both movements were started from the ground-up by grass roots organizers. Secondly, both movements are community oriented. Lastly, the Black Lives Matter Movement and SNCC have both received support from white allies.



The historical journey of SNCC, found in 1960, details an enormous contribution to the lives of African Americans in the USA. It was act of diligence, commitment, nonviolent values, and dedication of a group of young college students that eventually captured an entire nation. Because of their fervor, integration went beyond the schools, to include restaurants, interstate bus rides, voter registrations and political acumen. This was accomplished through the dedicated work of the SNCC organization. Although threaten by whites and attempted silence by civil rights leaders, this group of dedicated leaders stood their ground and today we are reaping the fruit of their hard work. Today we are indeed benefitting from SNCC’s progress. African Americans are still suffering from some of the same issues, 56 years later.

Today BLM is continuing the legacy of justice for Black Americans. Described as the new civil rights movement, this organization is comprised of men, women, and LGBTQ people of color. Their dialogue is about racism, criminal justice, and economic inequalities in the USA and other countries.  The BLM organization calls for police accountability and anti-police brutality; yet they are often described as anti-police, which they denounce such description. They are diverse in their approaches. Some work with local police and residents to mediate disputes, while others participate in large demonstrations. Similar to SNCC and their political uniting, BLM take it all a step further as it relates to today’s needs. For BLM the call is about the political intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, and their focus on immigration law, climate change, voting rights, wages, and reproductive rights.


Ties to the philanthropic Sector

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee has received funding from The Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, Southern Conference Education Fund. SNCC also received funding from philanthropic groups that worked with the Kennedy Administration such as the Taconic Foundation, Field Foundation and the Stern Family fund.

There is little information about the funding given to The Black Lives Matter Movement. However, it is known that the movement has most recently captured the attention and received support from the Soros and Ford Foundation, Resource Generation, and the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy. The movement has also received funding from family foundations such as the Evelyn and Walter Hass Jr. Fund, the Levi Strauss Foundation, and the Barr Foundation.


Key Related Ideas

BLM supports the work of previous movements that challenge oppression on African-Americans over time such as:

  • Social Movements

  • Advocacy

  • Diversity and Philanthropy


Important People Related to the Topic

Ella Baker- Civil Rights Leader and Advocate

John Lewis- Only living “Big Six”- leader from the civil rights movement. Longtime activist who worked with SNCC

Alicia Garza- Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Opal Tometi- Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Patrisse Cullors - Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Stokely Carmichael- Member and former chairman of SNCC. Later associated with the Black Power movement

Johnetta Elzie- Civil Rights Activist. Field organizer for Amnesty International

DeRay Mckesson- Civil rights activist and educator. Known for his activism via social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram.  Has been active in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.  


Related Nonprofit Organizations

Campaign Zero: A website founded by Black Lives Matter Activists that argues for the elimination of police intervention, improvement of community relations and ensuring accountability. (

BYP 100: An activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. (

 Dream Defenders: aim to develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power. (

NAACP -The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. (

URBAN LEAGUE - civil rights organization that advocates on behalf of African Americans. Also advocates against racial discrimination in the United States. (

Reflection Question:  How can you be an ally to the social justice movements in your community?



  • Keeanga-Yamahtta, Taylor. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket Books, Haymarket Books.
  • Clayborne, Carson. "SNCC Political Context ." In In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Boston: Boston: Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • Mullings, Leith. "Interrogating Racism: Toward an Anti-Racist Anthropology." In Annual Review of Anthropology , 667-93. Vol. 34. 2005.
  • Murphree, Vanessa. The Selling of Civil Rights: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Use of Public Relations. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Stoper, Emily. "SNCCs Political Context." In The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: The Growth of Radicalism in a Civil Rights Organization, edited by David Garrow. New York: Carlson Publishing, 1989.

This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.