In the 1960s, Bettie Mae Fikes, Marilyn Lowen, and Martha P. Noonan were a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was on the front line of the civil rights movement in the South.

On January 21, they’ll be in Ann Arbor to share their experiences for “Fighting for Our Rights: Three Young Women Facing Southern Racism in the 1960s.” This 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium event is presented by the Department of History, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS), and Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, with additional support from the Kalt Fund for African American and African History. The event takes place 1-3 pm in 1014 Tisch Hall.

“The collaborative relationship between History and DAAS goes back to the founding of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies in 1970,” said Matthew Countryman, a professor in DAAS and History and current DAAS chair. “We are excited to be able to co-sponsor this year’s symposium and hope to be able to continue to do so in the years ahead.” Countryman is also leader of the History Department’s Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Bettie Mae Fikes was born in Selma, Alabama, and began singing gospel alongside her mother at age four. At sixteen she became a student leader for SNCC, eventually performing with the SNCC Freedom Singers. She was jailed for several weeks in 1963 for protesting during the voting rights struggle in Selma. Ms. Fikes has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Library of Congress, as well as performing for Democratic National Conventions in 1964 and 2004. She has performed with Joe Turner, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert King, James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Mavis Staples, among others. 

Marilyn Lowen is a poet, writer, teacher and lifelong human rights worker. Born in Detroit in 1944, she began protesting racial injustice at eight years old. In high school she picketed Woolworth’s in downtown Detroit in solidarity with SNCC sit-ins in 1960-1961. At Bennington College she started a civil rights group to support SNCC and the Northern Student Movement. After leaving school to work full time in the movement, in 1965 she joined SNCC’s photo department in Atlanta, and later that year she moved to Tougaloo, Mississippi, to continue working with the organization. After additional civil rights work in the South, she moved to New York City in 1968, finishing her undergraduate degree, earning a master’s degree, and teaching in the city’s public schools.

Martha Prescod Norman Noonan became involved in Students for a Democratic Society and SNCC while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the 1960s. Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Noonan’s family moved to Detroit after she graduated from high school. An undergraduate history major at the University of Michigan, she earned a master’s degree in history from Wayne State University and for over two years pursued a PhD in history at U-M until a series of family emergencies interrupted her studies. Ms. Noonan coedited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (University of Illinois Press, 2012).