Charles McDew was born in Massillion, Ohio, on 23rd June, 1938. As a student at South Carolina State College he became involved in the civil rights movement. This included a campaign against segregated lunch counters in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1960.
McDew was a founder member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides. McDew served as chairman of the SNCC until being replaced by John Lewis in 1963.
McDew now teaches African American history at the Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.