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Demonstrators demand release of SNCC leaders: 1962 | by Washington Area Spark
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Demonstrators demand release of SNCC leaders: 1962

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) pickets the White House March 17, 1962 demanding federal action to secure the release of civil rights leaders and students in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


More than 250 picketed both the Justice Department and the White House, including a group that marched from Baltimore to the District of Columbia. Two were arrested during the Baltimore to D.C. march in College Park, Md. for disorderly conduct for walking in the roadway.


Six counter-protesters from the American Nazi Party pulled out a Soviet Union flag and stomped on it—apparently charging that the rights protesters were communists.


One of those arrested in Louisiana was Dion Diamond, a former Washington, D.C. activist then serving as SNCC field secretary in Mississippi and Louisiana.


The Washington Post explained the circumstances of the Baton Rouge arrests:


“Diamond was jailed Feb. 1 when he was at Southern University in East Baton Rouge to make a speech. He is being held in lieu of $6,000 bond on several charges, including trespassing, unlawful assembly and vagrancy, the Associated Press reported.”


“[Rev. Elton] Cox was fined $5,700 and sentenced to 21 months in jail after being convicted of impeding justice by demonstrating near a courthouse and failing to move when ordered to do so and obstructing sidewalks, according to the AP.”


“Charles McDew, 22, chairman of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee with headquarters in Atlanta, and Robert Zellner, 22, field secretary of the group were arrested after visiting Diamond in jail and were released Tuesday on $6,000 bond, McDew said.”


“McDew said laws in Louisiana under which they were arrested are “so close to fascism it’s frightening” and that “we are demanding the Justice Department act” on civil rights.


D.C. activist Dion Diamond’s case:


Several Southern University students had joined in local desegregation demonstrations and were expelled from the historically black college by the administration. A student strike was organized and when Diamond arrived on campus to urge the students to continue resistance, he was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.


The charges were changed to “criminal anarchy” – attempting to overthrow the government of Louisiana. Two other SNCC workers, Charles McDew and Bob Zellner, who visited Diamond in jail were also charged with insurrection “with force of arms, in the Parish of East Baton Rouge feloniously did… advocate in public and in private opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means and are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization which is known to the offenders to advocate, teach and practice opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means.”


Diamond’s bail was raised to $12,000 – an enormous sum at the time. Another young activist, 20-year-old Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), led a sit-in at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office in Washington seeking Diamond’s release.


Bail was ultimately secured for Diamond and the criminal anarchy charges were dropped after a long fight, but Diamond did eventually serve 60 days in jail for the original disorderly conduct charge.


Diamond had been previous active in the Washington, D.C. area and was one of a small interracial group whose picket lines led to the desegregation of restaurants, theaters and amusement parks in Maryland and Virginia. He was also in the second group of Freedom Riders arrested in Mississippi.


For a short blog post on Dion Diamond, see


For addition photos of Dion Diamond, see


The photographer is unknown. The image an Associated Press photograph housed in the D.C. Library Washington Star Collection.


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Taken on March 17, 1962