Message to the Parkland Students: Charles McDew is dead

Charles McDew died this week. He was seventy nine, and most of you kids have not heard of him. Chuck McDew was a giant, when he was very young. He was also once a very close personal friend. There is a lesson for you children, in Charles McDew’s life, and here it is.
Charles was driving from school in South Carolina back home to Ohio when he was stopped by a state trooper. When the cop addressed him as “boy” and Chuck refused to say “yes sir”, he was asked again, and when Charles, who was perhaps the funniest person in the Movement, laughed, the officer broke his jaw. He had already been arrested three times in two days for violating racial laws. When the sit-ins exploded across the south “a group of us decided to drop out of school and devote the next five years of our life to this”. A few would die, others would fall apart, one became the mayor of Washington, and some are in Congress today, but they and their organization succeeded. They broke the back of Jim Crow, they were admired across the globe and the world as we know it, has never been the same. In 1960 McDew became a founding member of an organization of students, led by students, with no adult control. It was called The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC. When we were buddies he was Chairman. From 1960 to 1964 SNCC was the point of the spear of the Southern Civil Rights Movement.
This is McDew’s message to you children. Organize now, and do not let adults lead you. Do not think a Leader will appear. No Martin Luther King Jr will come to lead you, because he didn’t lead the civil rights movement. This is a picture promoted by the establishment and the media. Dozens stood beside, behind and in front of Dr King; dozens of brave, young men and women. Chuck McDew was one of these. A great American hero.

Don’t worry about education or the future. Your education will be in the streets, and your diploma will be the revolutions this sad country, this planet so desperately longs for.

McDew and James Forman at the far right, the room is full of Movement leaders

Nov 1962, McDew speaks
at the SNCC gathering of movement students

2 Responses to “Message to the Parkland Students: Charles McDew is dead”
  1. Caroline Buza says:

    We are losing this generation of activists too quickly. We should know their stories just as we know Dr. King’s.

  2. David Ball says:

    When I read the beginning of your post, I thought of Eugene V. Debbs (close to 1,000,000 votes for the Socialist Party in 1920): “I will not promise to lead you into the promised land, because if I could lead you in, somebody else could lead you out.”

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