For the students at Alabama State, and other schools and in communities across the South, the sit-ins served as a call-to-arms. As segregationists moved to restore order, young activists translated the energy of the demonstrations into an organized movement for social change. This spirit was manifested in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), encouraged by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) activist Ella Baker. As her biographer noted, Baker hoped that a student organization might “create the space for [the sit-in leaders] to coalesce into a new, more militant, yet democratic, political force.” Baker met with hundreds of students who participated in the sit-ins spreading across the South, and the young leaders exchanged ideas and strategies and began planning for a coordinated confrontation with the forces of southern segregation.
Through the 1960s SNCC would play an integral role in organizing and sustaining civil rights activism, sometimes in cooperation with Martin Luther King Jr.’s well-funded and highly publicized SCLC, and sometimes in opposition to the group that many younger protestors saw as unwilling to work for real social and economic change. John Lewis, a native of Pike County, Alabama, became the chairman of SNCC in 1963. He remembered the tension that grew between the two groups: “We dug in early, did the groundwork, laid the foundation, then the SCLC came in again with their headline-grabbing, hit-and-run tactics, doing nothing to nurture leaders among the local community.” As more and more Americans chose to participate in the struggle for equal rights, SNCC came to symbolize the future of rights-based activism, mobilized by the energy and enthusiasm of young men and women like those Alabama State students arrested and expelled in Montgomery.