LISTEN: Morning Edition's Leah Fleming interviews Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee members Freddie Greene Biddle and Judy Richardson to talk about how the Sojourner Motor Fleet was organized right out of SNCC's Atlanta headquarters.

SNCC motor fleet

Hardy Frye and Howard Jeffries standing next to the Holly Springs project’s Plymouth with the SNCC logo painted on the door.

Credit: Frank Cieciorka Collection,

Freddie Greene Biddle

Freddie Greene Biddle is a legacy member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Credit: SNCC Legacy Project

Memo regarding fleet

A Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee memo from Shessie Johnson and Dinky Romilly re: Automobiles, July 31, 1964.

Credit: Samuel J. Shirah Papers, WHS

Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson pictured clapping in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Atlanta office in the 1960s.

Credit: Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson is a legacy member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Credit: SNCC Legacy Project

Ruby Doris Smith

Photograph of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's administrative secretary.


Sixty-three years ago in February 1960, four Black college students in Greensboro, N.C., stayed in their seats at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter after the staff refused to serve them. Some 300 students would soon join that protest and sit-ins at segregated establishments all across the South  and even right here in Georgia, seeking to harness the momentum of the sit-in movements. Students gathered at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., to strategize, and in April 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also known as SNCC, was founded.

To travel throughout the rural South, they organized a car fleet, kind of like an Uber before Uber. It was called the Sojourner Motor Fleet, named after formerly enslaved woman and abolitionist Sojourner Truth. And the fleet was organized right out of SNCC's headquarters in Atlanta. Here to talk to me about that are two SNCC members, Judy Richardson and Freddie Greene Biddle. 

You can learn more about the fleet through the SNCC Legacy project here. And we give a special thanks to Duke University Libraries for their background on the project. 

Leah Fleming: Great, so let’s start at the beginning. You’re all college students at the time with SNCC. How did you afford the cars?

Judy Richardson: It was wonderful because, you know, we had this outreach, you know, with friends of SNCC and — all over the country. Through all of that network SNCC developed in order to support the voter registration work that we were doing, one of those contacts was unions, you know? And so the UAW local — there was a local out of Detroit that was predominantly Black, and they arranged for us to get a fleet of cars — about 23 cars — at low cost.

Leah Fleming: So Freddie, this fleet was organized out of SNCC’s headquarters in Atlanta by administrative secretary Ruby Doris Smith. How did she monitor these cars?

Freddie Greene Biddle: So basically, Ruby, being an organizational person, she was very key in terms of the fact that, one, is cars would be assigned to people. The organization would carry insurance on the cars, which meant that you had to have the proper license, you know? You had to be able to drive and have a license.

Leah Fleming: So Freddie, how were these cars maintained?

Freddie Greene Biddle: We had a garage with mechanics — with like four different mechanics that could really repair the cars. So basically, whenever people were in Atlanta, they had to take the cars back to Sojourner Truth Garage so that they could check them out and make sure that, you know, keeping the oil in so that you wouldn't have a car throwing a rod — you know, unnecessary damage. And Ruby was very straightforward with that — is that, one is that the cars belong to SNCC. But you were assigned the driver and you were responsible for taking care of this car. If you did not do it, the consequences was a car could be taken away from you. You know, definitely, your little $10 check could be stopped. So all of this was really forcing you to be responsible.

Leah Fleming: Do either of you ladies have memories of riding in the fleet?

Judy Richardson: One of the things I remember using the the fleet: I remember being on the highway going up from Greenwood, Miss., to Atlantic City for the Democratic National Convention in 1964. And honey, people were getting out of our way. White people, on the highway, getting out of our way 'cause our cars look like police cars. They look like state troopers. You know, these Plymouths were wonderful.

Leah Fleming: I heard you couldn't even put logos on the cars, though. So these were unmarked cars.

Judy Richardson: We definitely did not want the logos, because what you were trying to do is not show the sheriff and deputy sheriff and all those white vigilantes who want you dead — and that would also include the local FBI people, but — you know, so the officials at every level really don't want you trying to increase Black voter registration, because they don't want you to have a say in your government. So the bottom line was we had to do this and, you know, try and outrun — outdrive the cops who were chasing us. Oftentimes, we would go onto Black-owned land.

Leah Fleming: Freddie Greene Biddle, you actually were pushed into joining SNCC by a bullet that was actually shot into your family's Mississippi living room.

Freddie Greene Biddle: Well, first I grew up in — I was born and raised in Greenwood, Miss. In 1962, SNCC moved into the Delta area. Now SNCC had, at that particular time, been for about a year and a half down in Southwest Mississippi. But then they moved up into the Delta area, into my hometown. So my brother George and I then wanted to go by the SNCC office to see what was going on and see how we could participate. My brother George, one night coming back from a SNCC meeting came home. Unknowing to him, a guy was really following him, then shotgun blasted through our front door and through the first —the front bedroom. So my father said that basically he said that he was shooting at one member of the family, but now he has shot [at] the whole family involved in SNCC.

Leah Fleming: Mmm. So I know for you, Ms. Richardson, you were an early participant with with SNCC in the 1960s. How did you come to be involved in it?

Judy Richardson: I'd, you know, go in there not because of any great, you know, commitment. It's just because I want to see what I can get into. You know, my mother is not there to stop me. So I go to this meeting and it turns out that, you know, I end up going down to — on the bus — the two hours between Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, down to the eastern shore of Maryland to Cambridge. And then I start getting arrested, you know, and I'm not in class on Monday. And so at a certain point, Penny Patch, a white student who had been working in the SNCC project in Southwest Georgia, she comes back and she says, "Look, you know, why don't you just take off the next semester?" That would be the first semester of my sophomore year. And she said, and, you know, "Just go work for SNCC in Cambridge." And she said, "But if you want to do that, you got to go by Ruby Doris." And Ruby Doris was the fierce manager, the administrator of the national office of SNCC in Atlanta.

Freddie Greene Biddle: Since you're in Georgia, we should really point out that Ruby Doris is a product of Georgia. She actually was born and raised in Atlanta, had gone to Spelman, got involved with the Atlanta Student Union.

Judy Richardson: The other part about Ruby is that she had the utmost respect of the field staff. And that's what was amazing. And this was female and male.

Leah Fleming: So what would you want young people today to know about SNCC's legacy, especially with these cars, A lot of people don't even know that there was a fleet, the Sojourner fleet.

Freddie Greene Biddle: We had to have resources. And one of the biggest resources was these cars, and these cars helped our SNCC field secretaries be able to go from one place to another place. And our garage helped keep them in order. So it's basically you are developing your own tools so that you are not dependent upon somebody else.

Leah Fleming: All right. I've been speaking with Judy Richardson and Freddie Greene Biddle. A special thank you to our senior producer, Natalie Mendenhall, and our engineer, Victoria Evans-Cash — also very strong women. And a special thanks also to Duke University Libraries and the SNCC Legacy Project as well. This is GPB.