Charles McDew has devoted his life to issues of social and political change, to the empowerment and development of local black leadership, to civil and human rights, and to the fight against racism. An activist as well as a theoretician, he led his first demonstration in the eighth grade, to protest violations of the religious freedom of Amish students in his hometown of Massillon, Ohio.
Mr. McDew’s career as an activist expanded in scope while he was a freshman at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Inevitably involved in the newborn sit-in movement, he was elected as student leader by his fellow demonstrators. Influenced by Rabbi Hillel’s dictum, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?,” Mr. McDew participated in the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. Described by fellow SNCC activist Bob Moses as a “black by birth, a Jew by choice and a revolutionary by necessity,” Mr. McDew was elected as Chairman of SNCC in 1961 and served in that capacity until 1964.
Since that time, Mr. McDew has been 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. He has appeared on countless radio and television programs as a speaker against racism. He continues to be involved in programs for social and political change designed to develop local leadership and break down racial and cultural barriers.
Mr. McDew recently retired from Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, MN, where his classes in the history of the civil rights movement, African-American history, and classes in social and cultural awareness are always oversubscribed.