Salynn McCollum Papers

Identifier: MSS.0699

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content Note

The Salynn McCollum Papers consist of 2.085 linear feet of materials. The collection includes correspondence and writings by McCollum, as well as newspaper clippings, journal and magazine articles, and photographs. The majority of the material represents McCollum’s participation with the Civil Rights Movement during the first half of the 1960s. Many items were generated while she was a field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The collection is organized into two series: Personal Material, which includes Salynn’s correspondence, poetry, and journal entries; and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Material, which includes many of that organization’s publications, as well as field notes, committee meeting minutes, committee promotional materials, and many newspaper articles involving SNCC activities Salynn was involved in.


  • bulk 1960s

Language of Materials


Biographical Sketch

Mary Salynn McCollum was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her parents were Walter C. and Hilda McCollum. Both of her parents were from Tennessee, with her father coming from the Waverly area and her mother coming from Memphis. She spent time in New York before attending college in Tennessee. In 1958, she began her first year of college at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee. Her course of study focused on instruction for intellectually and developmentally disabled children.

During her junior year in college, Ms. McCollum became involved in the Nashville Non-Violent Movement, the Nashville branch of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In February 1961, she attended a Nashville Student Movement meeting as a guest of Central Committee member Lester Carr. No committee members knew who she was, but they assumed she was a reporter because she took notes throughout the meeting. Ultimately, she became the first secretary of the Central Committee. She was also one of the ten college students who participated in the first Freedom Ride from Nashville to Birmingham, Alabama on May 17, 1961.

Salynn McCollum was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement between 1961 and 1965. Despite pressure from her family and Peabody College to cease her involvement, she continued to work with SNCC following the Freedom Ride. She wrote the “I am a Freedom Rider” series depicting her experiences on the Freedom Ride and her subsequent jailing at the Birmingham Jail. She worked as a SNCC field secretary in different locations in the South. She was particularly active in Nashville, Tennessee; Cairo, Illinois; Charleston, Missouri; and Des Moines, Iowa.

As both a northerner in the South and a white woman in the Civil Rights Movement, family, friends, and acquaintances struggled to understand why she chose to participate in the Nashville Non-Violent Movement. For Ms. McCollum, her desire to live her life according to her convictions and religious beliefs pushed her to work tirelessly for equality.

Following her time with SNCC, Salynn McCollum returned to her interest in instructing children. She worked as a Head Start teacher and later a director. When possible, she still speaks to groups about her experiences as a Freedom Rider.


3.35 Linear Feet

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives
Finding Aid for the The Salynn McCollum Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States


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