For Immediate Release – April 14, 2004


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516



GENESEO, N.Y. – Three central figures from the civil rights movement will spend this weekend at SUNY Geneseo delivering talks and participating in panel discussions.

Geneseo’s "Working for Social Justice: SNCC Activists Then and Now" will feature Chuck McDew, Bob Zellner and Unita Blackwell, all of whom were members of the Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The weekend includes a panel presentation Friday, April 16, and an informal discussion on Saturday, April 17, with all three pioneers. On Sunday, April 18, Blackwell and McDew will screen a movie about the civil rights movement. All events are free and open to the public.

Chuck McDew, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organization chair from 1961-64, returns to Geneseo. McDew, who spoke last year to an overflow crowd, remains active in social justice movements and is a history professor at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis.

Bob Zellner, an Alabama native, was SNCC’s first white field secretary. In 1961, as a college senior, Zellner – whose father and grandfather had been Klansmen – met King while doing research for a sociology paper on race relations. Zellner joined the movement shortly thereafter and has worked in social justice movements and as a labor organizer. He is an adjunct history professor at South Hampton College of Long Island University.

Unita Blackwell, a native Mississippian who joined SNCC in the early 1960s, was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation that tried to unseat the "regular" segregationist delegation from the state at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. She went on to work for the National Council of Negro Women, to become the first black woman to be elected mayor of a Mississippi town (in 1976), to be a founder and president of the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association (beginning in 1976), and to win a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award in 1992.

"These are all really important people in our history," said Emilye J. Crosby, an associate professor of history at SUNY Geneseo. "I think it’s very important to be able to engage in dialogue with people who have been immersed in a movement."

Crosby said today’s students are extremely interested in learning about the civil rights movement and that many are opting to select this topic upon which to do advanced research.

"There’s a real strong interest in it…But they also find meaning about it for themselves as they learn to be in the world and how to act," Crosby said.

Jackie Chessen, a junior from Great Neck, N.Y., agreed. Learning how these pioneers organized a peaceful social rights movement has motivated her and other students to become leaders, she said.

To meet these three pioneers is "just as important to me as it would have been to meet King," said Chessen, a sociology major who helped organize the events.

Here is a listing of the events:

6 p.m., Friday, April 16, Wadsworth Auditorium: McDew, Zellner and Blackwell will give a panel presentation on "Working for Social Justice: SNCC Activists Then and Now."

11 a.m., Saturday, April 17, Sturges Auditorium: McDew, Zellner and Blackwell to give an informal discussion on "Working for Social Justice: SNCC Activists Then and Now."

3 p.m., Sunday, April 18, Newton Lecture Hall, Room 204: McDew and Blackwell will screen "Freedom Song," a popular TNT movie based on SNCC’s work in Mississippi in the early 1960s, and a documentary about its making. After the films, McDew and Blackwell will answer questions and discuss the movie and its making.

These programs were made possible with funding from the Vice President’s Grant for Creating Community through Diversity, Contemporary Forum, the sociology club, the dean’s office, the Africana and women’s studies programs, and the sociology, philosophy and psychology departments.

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The media is welcome to cover all of the events, and the speakers will be available to talk to the media. For additional information throughout the weekend, call Jackie Chessen at (585) 703-2135 or e-mail Emilye Crosby at