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Charles "Chuck" McDew (June 23, 1938 – April 3, 2018)[1][2] was an American lifelong activist for racial equality and a former activist of the Civil Rights Movement.[3] After attending South Carolina State University, he became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1960 to 1963.[4] His involvement in the movement earned McDew the title, “black by birth, a Jew by choice and a revolutionary by necessity” stated by fellow SNCC activist Bob Moses.[5]

Charles "Chuck" McDew
2nd Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
In office
Succeeded byJohn Lewis
Personal details
Charles Frederick McDew

(1938-06-23)June 23, 1938
Massillon, Ohio
DiedApril 3, 2018(2018-04-03) (aged 79)
West Newton, Massachusetts
Alma materSouth Carolina State College
Known forCivil Rights Movement



Charles Frederick McDew was born in Massillon, Ohio in 1938, to Eva (née Stephens) and James McDew. He was one of four children.[6] Mcdew's mother worked as a nurse and his father, who had been a chemistry teacher in South Carolina, had become a steel worker after Ohio schools refused to hire him.[7] According to McDew's autobiography, he believed that his birth date was notable because he was born on the day that boxer Joe Louis defeated Max Schmeling for the heavyweight championship of the world. Even though the fight was a rematch, McDew was convinced by his elders that he was destined to do something great or good for the "Negro" race. McDew also referred to himself as a "race baby", an ideal that had never been defined to him by family members, but one that he believed he was expected to define for himself as his future unfolded. "I had a charge to do something for the race. It was never specified what I would do for the race, but it was expected that I would do something to help the colored race to move ahead."[8]

McDew grew up in a family who talked little about the advancement of civil rights.[3] 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 steel mills, as many men in that area did.[3] 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.[3] Upon arrival at his university of choice, South Carolina State University, Charles thought that his father was "the most brilliant man alive."[3] Never having seen so many "pretty black girls," McDew instantly knew he chose the right college.[3]


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.[3] During their vacation, the two of them, and some others, went to a party.[3] McDew responsibly decided to be the designated driver, but on their way home, they were pulled over by a police officer.[3] This was presumably for the reason of McDew and Gatson being black.[3] 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.[3]

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.[3] Refusing is what led to the second arrest of Charles McDew.[3]

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.[3]

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.[9]

The MovementEdit

In April 1960, McDew received a 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.[3][8] This meeting talked about student involvement all over the South, along with King trying to persuade everyone to join the SCLC.[3] McDew did not want to join because he did not completely agree with the route of nonviolence.[3] Thinking of Mahatma 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?"[3]

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.[3] 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.[3] 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.[10]

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.[3]

During this time, SNCC and McDew wanted to focus on black voter registration.[11] 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.[3] Thinking that if they could get people in, for example, Baker's County and Mississippi to register, then they could get anyone to register.[3] 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.[3]

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.[12] This was a way of protesting the illegal arrests they were suffering.[12]

As time went on, and the need for a second chairman came around, McDew was reelected because of his obvious drive for the movement.[3] 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."[5] Little food, no eating or drinking utensils, and some having to huddle for warmth.[5] This arrest included, McDew has been arrested 43 times.[13]

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."[8]


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.[14] 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.[14]

Personal life and deathEdit

McDew had one daughter, Eva (Dion) Goodman. He lived in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was retired from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he had taught classes in the history of the civil rights movement, African-American history and classes in social and cultural awareness. [15][16]

McDew died on April 3, 2018 of a heart attack while visiting his close longtime friend in Massachusetts. He was 79.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Charles McDew, Activist and Educator", African American Register.
  2. ^ "Charles Frederick McDew - Brezniak Rodman Funeral Directors". Brezniak Rodman Funeral Directors. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y LibraryOfCongress. "Civil Rights History Project: Charles F. McDew".
  4. ^ Project, SNCC Legacy, et al. Volume 1 Opening Plenary. Performance by Chuck McDew, et al., California Newsreel, 2011,
  5. ^ a b c "LETTER FROM MAGNOLIA | News | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  6. ^ "Massillon, OH Funeral Home & Cremation | Paquelet and Paquelet & Arnold-Lynch Funeral Homes". Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  7. ^ Roberts, Sam (15 April 2018). "Charles McDew, 79, Tactician for Student Civil Rights Group, Dies". The New York Times. p. A26. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "Teacher, Organizer, Activist - Charles 'Chuck' F. Charles McDew", Charles McDew website.
  9. ^ Toth, Reid (2011). "The Orangeburg Massacre: A Case Study Of The Influence Of Social Phenomena On Historical Recollection". Retrieved 4 Nov 2015.
  10. ^ Tanisha C., Ford (2013). "SNCC women, denim, and the politics of dress". Retrieved 4 Nov 2015.
  11. ^ "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.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b "Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1961". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  13. ^ McDew, Charles F. "Charles McDew." Telephone interview. 11 November 2015.[original research?]
  14. ^ a b 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.
  15. ^ "Massillon, OH Funeral Home & Cremation | Paquelet and Paquelet & Arnold-Lynch Funeral Homes". Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  16. ^ Report, T&D Staff. "Noted civil rights activist Charles McDew dies at age 79". The Times and Democrat. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  17. ^ Roberts, Sam (2018-04-13). "Charles McDew, 79, Tactician for Student Civil Rights Group, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-03.
  18. ^ "Charles Frederick McDew". Brezniak Rodman Funeral Directors. Retrieved 2019-06-03.

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