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Annual Meeting Spotlight: Keynote Speaker Charles E. Cobb, Jr.

Remembering and Telling the History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement

The keynote speaker for the Friday lunch at the annual meeting will be Charles E. Cobb, Jr.  Cobb is a prolific author who has worked tirelessly to document and preserve the history of the Black Freedom Movement in America.  From 1962-1967, Cobb served as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), mainly in Mississippi. After SNCC, he and other SNCC veterans established Drum and Spear Bookstore in Washington, DC which became for a time the largest bookstore in the country specializing in books for and about black people. Later he traveled through parts of Africa, including Tanzania, where he lived in 1970 and 1971.

In 1974 Cobb began reporting for WHUR Radio in Washington, DC.  He later worked at National Public Radio as a foreign affairs reporter, working on the network’s coverage of Africa and helping establish NPR’s first coverage of African affairs. After leaving NPR, Cobb worked as a correspondent for the PBS show Frontline from 1983 until 1985. In 1985 he became the first black staff writer for National Geographic Magazine. He was a member of National Geographic’s editorial staff from 1985-1997.

Currently Cobb is a senior analyst at  He has taught about the southern civil rights movement at several universities and authored four books including Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project (with Robert Moses), On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, and, most recently, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.

In 2011, Cobb helped establish the SNCC Legacy Project, which works with SNCC veterans to archive historical documents, and to support their efforts to tell, teach, and reflect on civil rights history and the ongoing impact of the movement in America.  On March 2, 2015 the SNCC Legacy Project in collaboration with Duke University launched a One Person One Vote website: In April Duke received a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to continue and expand this project over the next three years. Cobb has been on Duke’s campus as the “scholar-activist” in this effort.

For more on Charles Cobb, see these excerpts from an oral history interview conducted by OHA executive director Cliff Kuhn for the National Center on Civil and Human Rights:

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