Charles “Chuck” McDew, prominent civil rights activist and past chairman of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, died April 3, according to published reports. He was 79.
McDew, of West Newton, Massachusetts, attended South Carolina State University before becoming chairman of the SNCC from 1960 to 1963. The SNCC was one of the major Civil Rights Movement organizations of the 1960s. It emerged from the first wave of student sit-ins and was formed at an April 1960 meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.
He was retired from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minn., where his classes in the history of the civil rights movement, African-American history and classes in social and cultural awareness were always oversubscribed, according his obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
A service and burial will be held in Massillon, Ohio, on Saturday, April 14. Memorial services will be held in Washington, D.C., at a later date. Memorials may be made to The SNCC Legacy Project c/o Larry Rubin, Treasurer, 7535 Springlake Drive, Apt 2, Bethesda, MD 20187.
Brezniak-Rodman Funeral Directors of Newton, Massachusetts, is in charge of arrangements. brezniakrodman.com
Following are highlights of biographical information on McDew as posted at www.wikipedia.org.
Born in Massillon, Ohio, on June 20, 1938, McDew was considered to be a “race baby” because he was born on June 20, 1938, a day that two years earlier fighter Joe Louis, a black boxer, won a fight that advanced the outlook of black persons' value. McDew's parents helped develop the idea that Charles would do something great for the black race one day.
McDew expected to grow up to work in the steel mills, as many men in that area did. Before he did so, his father requested that McDew go to the South to experience his "own culture" to expand his ideas of what work he could do. He chose then-South Carolina State College.
During his first Thanksgiving on campus, McDew decided to travel with his roommate, Charles Gatson, back to the area where Gatson had family because it would be cheaper than going back to Ohio and the schools closed during these holidays During their vacation, the two of them, and some others, went to a party. McDew responsibly decided to be the designated driver, but on their way home, they were pulled over by a police officer. Not knowing how to address an officer in the South different than in the North, McDew answered the officer's questions with “a bit too much sass.” This is led to the beating and first arrest of McDew.
A couple days later, McDew was on his way to the train station to head home. The general cart for white people and the end cart for the black people were both filled, so McDew was told to go sit in the luggage cart. Refusing led to a second arrest.
The day he finally got back to South Carolina, McDew was walking to his dorm. In pain because of the beating, he decided to walk home though a park. Being unfamiliar with segregation, the park McDew walked through happened to only be open to white people on this particular day, which led to his third arrest in two days
These events were said to be the beginning of McDew's inspiration toward the civil rights movement and McDew's general distaste for the Southern way of life.
In April 1960, McDew received a letter from Martin Luther King Jr. stating there was going to have a Southern Christian Leadership Council meeting at Shaw University to discuss the student sit-ins. As a representative for South Carolina State, McDew attended. The meeting talked about student involvement all over the South, along with King trying to persuade everyone to join the SCLC.
McDew did not want to join because he did not completely agree with the route of nonviolence. Due to this disagreement, McDew and a few other students talked about creating a new group. The group would complement the already established SCLC, along with enforcing a few other beliefs. After much talking, the students thought to call their new group the Student Coordinating Committee, but with a couple students completely focused on nonviolence, they ultimately chose to include "Nonviolent" in the name.
McDew and the SNCC promoted voter registration in the South and other areas with large black populations. McDew became SNCC’s second chairman, serving until 1963. After that he participated in many sit-ins, arrests, protests and more. McDew was arrested 43 times.
He was also active in organizations for social and political change, working as a teacher and as a labor organizer, managing anti-poverty programs in Washington, D.C., "serving as community organizer and catalyst for change in Boston and San Francisco, as well as other communities."