Civil rights activist, teacher, and labor organizer Charles "Chuck" Frederick McDew (1938-2018) dedicated his life to dismantling the unjust systems of legalized discrimination in the United States. He was one of the co-founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—the only national civil rights organization led by young people.
Born in Ohio in June 1938, Chuck participated in his first protest as an eighth grader. Though, it wasn't this protest that led Chuck to see activism as a lifepath for himself. A talented athlete, he planned to play football until his college experience would change everything.
Chuck wanted to attend college in Michigan, but his father convinced him to enroll at HBCU South Carolina State University. Though the community in which Chuck had grown up was not without racial divisions, he experienced an even more abrasive system of legalized discrimination in the South.
During one trip home from college, Chuck got into multiple conflicts with law enforcement, resulting in him being physically accosted and arrested three times over two days.
Following this incident, Chuck intended to move back North. This plan halted when he became involved in the Orangeburg Movement for Civic Justice (OMCI), an organization for which he would eventually become the spokesperson.
During his time in college, Chuck joined other young activists to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Steeped in his work with this organization, Chuck dropped out of college and dedicated himself to SNCC organization full-time.
Believing that the only way to make lasting change was to get Black people to vote, Chuck argued that the SNCC should focus on registering Black voters and travel into the deep South to register voters. McDew would remain deeply invested in the SNCC for his entire life, serving on the SNCC Legacy Project Board, a role in which, reportedly, he never missed a meeting.
After stepping down as SNCC chairman in 1963, Chuck returned to college and graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1967. He'd go on to work as a teacher, community activist, and labor organizer.
Eventually, Chuck settled in Minneapolis where he taught African-American history until his retirement.