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The Southern Negro Youth Congress: A Participant Recalls Its Past

In the article below historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall recounts her role as a founder of the New Orleans Youth Congress and the early years of the Southern Negro Youth Congress.  This account is part of her soon to be published memoirs.

Few of us know what we should know about the continuity of the movements for full racial equality in the Deep South.  Amnesia about black history cuts us off from the past and undermines our self-image and our confidence that we can bring about important, constructive change in the world. I write as a historian whose life and work was inspired by the movements for racial equality in the South during the 1940s. The long civil rights movement in the south was powerful during the 1930s and 1940s. It was an interracial struggle with strong ties to the movements of sharecroppers, small farmers and industrial workers, university professors, students, business people, professionals and intellectuals. I share here some of my memories as a founder and participant in the New Orleans Youth Congress which became closely tied to the Southern Negro Youth Congress. One of SNYC’s greatest achievements after World War II was organizing the Southern Youth Legislature held in Columbia, South Carolina in October, 1946. By 1947 SNYC was destroyed by racist and political terror, the cold war and the Red Scare and largely erased from historical and popular memory. Professional historians have begun to study the massive amount of previously unknown documents about these forgotten movements. I present here what I remember about the Southern Negro Youth Congress during its brief time of triumph after World War II and its sudden collapse in 1947 although it was not formally dissolved until 1949.

In the early fall of 1945, shortly after World War II ended, I read an announcement in the New Orleans Times Picayune informing the public that an international youth delegation was returning from the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco and stopping in various cities across the United States