In November 1964, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a retreat at Gulfside to discuss the organization’s role in the movement and sort out future efforts by the group. SNCC was a student-formed and run organization that played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in America. SNCC was known for non-violent resistance to segregation and hands-on work in the most segregated areas of the South with a focus on education.
Workshops at the retreat included strengthening the relationship between SNCC and local people, communication problems for collegiate members with lesser-educated communities, self-criticism of the group’s techniques, and shifts in the organizational structure and programming of the group. The retreat commenced with a speech by SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman.
The 1964 retreat at Gulfside marked a major turning point for SNCC, as their organizational structure shifted from small groups of independently working activists to a larger, centralized organization. However, the focus of SNCC on its structure and programming at the retreat has been later criticized as interfering with plans for new strategies and leading to the eventual dissolution of the organization.
The women of SNCC used the retreat at Gulfside in November 1964 to call attention to their role in the Civil Rights Movement. Mary King and Casey Hayden submitted an anonymous position paper on the problem of sex discrimination within SNCC. They complained of the underutilization of women in the organization by limiting them to clerical work. King and Hayden firmly believed that women were the silent force behind the success of SNCC’s efforts, yet they were not given equal voices when the time came to make decisions for the organization.
Unfortunately, the paper did not affect the men of SNCC, as the issue of race in the organization was a more heated topic of debate at the retreat. The debate over the position of whites in the organization intensified in the time following the retreat at Gulfside, ending in the exclusion of all whites from SNCC two years later.
Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer (University of Illinois Press, 1994).
Excerpt from “Floating Downriver or Swimming Upstream?: An Examination of the 1964 Waveland Conference of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC)”by Kathleen Volk (Delta Epsilon Sigma (Alpha Chapter) Writing Contest Winner, May 2005).