Charles McDew

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Charles "Chuck" McDew
Born Charles Frederick McDew
(1938-06-23) June 23, 1938 (age 82)
Massillon, Ohio
Nationality American
Alma mater South Carolina State College
Occupation teacher
Known for Civil Rights Activist and SNCC Chairman

Charles "Chuck" McDew (born June 23, 1938)[1] is a lifelong activist for racial equality and a former activist of the Civil Rights Movement.[2] After attending South Carolina State University, he became the second chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1961 to 1963.[1] His involvement in the movement has earned McDew the title, “black by birth, a Jew by choice and a revolutionary by necessity” stated by fellow SNCC activist Bob Moses.[3]


Born to the small town of Massillon, Ohio, on June 20, 1938, Charles McDew was considered to be a "race baby." Because of the date being a day that two years earlier, fighter Joe Louis, a black boxer, had won a fight that advanced the outlook of black persons' value. This happening is what made him said "race baby" along with McDew's parents developing the idea that Charles would do something great for the black race one day.[4]

McDew grew up in a family who talked little about the advancement of civil rights.[2] Though there was little talk on that topic, McDew displayed his first example of general protesting when he was only in the eighth grade.[1] Protesting the rights of religious freedom, McDew is seen standing up for his peers by representing Amish religion at a very young age.[1]

As he got older, McDew expected to grow up to work in the steal mills, as many men in that area did.[2] 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.[2] Upon arrival at his university of choice, South Carolina State University, Charles thought that his father was "the most brilliant man alive."[2] Never having seen so many "pretty black girls," McDew instantly knew he chose the right college.[2]


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.[2] During their vacation, the two of them, and some others, went to a party.[2] McDew responsibly decided to be the designated driver, but on their way home, they were pulled over by a police officer.[2] This was presumably for the reason of McDew and Gatson being black.[2] 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.(I) This is what led to the beating and first arrest of Charles McDew.[2]

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.[2] Refusing is what led to the second arrest of Charles McDew.[2]

The day he finally got back to South Carolina, McDew was walking to his dorm. In pain because of his previous 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.[2]

These events were said to be the beginning of McDew's inspiration towards the Movement and McDew's general distaste for the Southern way of life.[5]

The Movement

In April 1960, McDew received letter from Martin Luther King Jr. stating that they were going to have a SCLC meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina to discuss the student sit ins, and as a representative for South Carolina State University, Charles attended.[2][4] This meeting talked about student involvement all over the South, along with King trying to persuade everyone to join the SCLC.[2] McDew did not want to join because he did not completely agree with the route of nonviolence.[2] Thinking of Gandhi, McDew's reasoning was that if Gandhi tried the nonviolence method in Africa and was beaten, jailed, and ultimately run out of the country, how would this method work in the "most violent country in the world?"[2]

Due to this disagreement, McDew and a few other students went down the hall and talked about creating a new group. This group would compliment the already established SCLC, along with enforcing a few other beliefs.[2] 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.[2] The students then proceeded to nominate Marion Barry as their first chairman. Performing the last touches to establish their organization, McDew even had a hand in developing the dress code and other rules.[6]

As the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee received more publicity and presence in the media, reporters gave them nicknames. This is how SNCC (pronounced "snick") came to be. One reporter referred to them as this in his article, and from then on, the organization was SNCC.[2]

During this time, SNCC and McDew wanted to focus on black voter registration.[7] Feeling that the real "threat" in the movement would ultimately be the black voters, McDew and the organization went on to promote registration in the "blackest" parts of the country.[2] Thinking that if they could get people in, for example, Baker's County and Mississippi to register, then they could get anyone to register.[2] Knowing that "violence was a part of the game," they could not let these areas of the country intimidate them because once these areas were registered, anywhere could get registered.[2]

As the movement developed and grew, SNCC kept getting into trouble and people kept getting arrested. This is how the "Jail No Bail" tactic began. This was where activists would get arrested, refuse to pay their fines for 39 days, (they only had 40 days to post bail) and then on the 39th day post their bail.[8] This was a way of protesting the illegal arrests they were suffering.[8]

As time went on and the need for a second chairman came around, and Charles McDew was elected because of his obvious drive for the movement.[2] He remained SNCC's second chairman until 1963.[1] Since these years, he has participated in many sit ins, arrests, protests and more to stand up for what he believes is right and fair for everybody.[1]

He, and eleven others, were once arrested for "disrupting racial harmony" and were placed into a cold Mississippi cell described as an "iceberg."[3] Little food, no eating or drinking utensils, and some having to huddle for warmth.[3] This arrest included, McDew has been arrested 43 times.[9]

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."[4]


After moving to the South for college, McDew attempted to attend various churches. All the churches he tried were white churches, so he was rejected from every one. This led him into the arms of a Rabbi, who was the first to welcome him religiously in the South.[10] This, along with the quote "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?" from the Talmud, is what led McDew to Judaism and McDew's moral "obligation" to fight for justice.[10]

Personal life

McDew lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and teaches various classes about the Civil Rights Movement.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Charles McDew, Activist and Educator", African American Register.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 LibraryOfCongress. "Civil Rights History Project: Charles F. McDew".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "LETTER FROM MAGNOLIA | News | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2015-11-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Teacher, Organizer, Activist - Charles 'Chuck' F. Charles McDew", Charles McDew website.
  5. Toth, Reid (2011). "The Orangeburg Massacre: A Case Study Of The Influence Of Social Phenomena On Historical Recollection". Retrieved 4 Nov 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Tanisha C., Ford (2013). "SNCC women, denim, and the politics of dress". Retrieved 4 Nov 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Founder of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Headlines Vanderbilt University Events Honoring Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr". 8 Jan 2009. Retrieved 4 Nov 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1961". Retrieved 2015-11-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. McDew, Charles F. "Charles McDew." Telephone interview. 11 November 2015.[original research?]
  10. 10.0 10.1 Andrew B. Lewis (2010). The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation. Hill and Wang. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-374-53240-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links