Step by Step is not simply one more book about civil rights, designed to underscore the repression of the American Negro and relate episodically what some have done about it, even though the book does serve both those functions to a degree. This book is unique in that its aim is to instruct those who would become involved in the civil rights struggle--instruct them in how to develop and work out a project.
The book arose out of the authors' experiences in a project which was itself unique: The Cornell-Tompkins Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Fayette County, Tennessee. The project entailed six to eight weeks of living in Fayette County by forty-five volunteers, mostly students from Cornell University, in the summer of 1964. The project was financed entirely, to an amount exceeding fifteen thousand dollars, by the contributions of students, faculty, and townspeople in and around Cornell University, and by contributions from more distant places solicited by those involved at Cornell.
Of the many things learned from the Cornell project, one of the most important was how responsive a community can become when confronted with a concrete civil rights program, one with which it can identify, one small enough to be feasible and intelligible, but still compelling in terms of the needs involved.
The authors believe that many thousands of Americans can find no good answer to the questions "What can I do." not because they are unwilling to do much, nor because there is little to be done, but because they lack the knowledge of what is needed where, and how and with whom one can go about responding to such needs. The book therefore undertakes, step by step, to describe and explain the development of the project at Cornell and its workings during the summer in Tennessee, and reasons that similar steps can be taken by others, with appropriate variations. It concludes with a detailed appendix listing civil rights projects and organizations desperately in need of help, whether in terms of money or volunteers or both.