Heard this on NPR this morning. It’s not history I hadn’t heard before, but I was just particularly struck by the urgency and stakes of the time. I couldn’t help but ask myself: Would I have had what it took?

Charles McLaurin joined the SNCC in the early ’60s, moving from Jackson, Miss., to work with the group in the Delta. His job was to canvas sharecropper shanty shacks and plantations, looking for recruits. At first, he says, he didn’t have much success because there was so much fear.

“They were frightened to death,” McLaurin says. “Emmett Till was killed just a few miles away over in Money, Miss. On any day, a white man could just shoot a black man down and nothing would be done about it. And there were many lynchings and hangings in and around this Delta.”

SNCC workers were in danger themselves. McLaurin recalls being confronted by a plantation owner with a shotgun. Across the state, civil rights workers were killed while registering voters in Neshoba County.

Despite the intimidation, a few local leaders emerged — most notably, sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, Miss. Hamer went with a SNCC group to register to vote in 1962. Before she returned home, the news had reached the owner of the plantation where she lived.

Listen to the Morning Edition piece on NPR.

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