June – August 1965 SCLC’S Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project – Wilcox County, Alabama and 50+ other states
Planned ever since the events in Mississippi in 1964, The 1965 SCOPE [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCOPE_Project] project augmented an already active “Alabama Voting Rights Campaign” led by local leaders, many of whom participated in the Selma demonstrations as well as their own. During this summer there was a high level of cooperation between all groups in Wilcox County, Alabama http://www.wilcoxareachamber.com. As many as 600 black and white college students were assigned to six states for ten weeks after a 5.5 day 14 hr a day intensive Orientation in Atlanta, GA. Several Wilcox County youth, including sixteen year old Charles Nettles of Camden, attended the massive SCOPE orientation in Atlanta. Earlier, Ethel Brooks and other Wilcox County adult leaders had been trained by SCLC to work to integrate we new recruits from the “North” (I was a west coast gal myself) into local voter registration and anti-segregation boycotts that were already underway.
I was one of six white northern student volunteers who joined SCLC’s Dan and Juanita Harrell and Major Johns, two white ministerial students from California and some SNCC field workers from Selma in voter education, voter registration and leadership development. Native Californian Bob Block, who had come to Selma for the March to Montgomery and been trained by SNCC came over from Selma with Strider Benston, Bruce Hartford and Charles Bonner to join a Camden Academy student demonstration led by Ralph Eggleston, Sim Pettway and other students in early April 1965. Block was recruited to stay on as SCLC field staff and spent the rest of the Spring and summer there.
Charles “Chuck” A. Bonner of Selma SNCC [www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpcZ00Qw6pM] began to coordinate voting efforts in Wilcox County with SCLC and later, SCOPE. Bob and I became SNCC members as well as SCLC workers who made up the majority of field workers (Black and white) in Wilcox County that summer. Most local folks didn’t know or care who were with except for being “sent by Dr King” and “with the Movement.” And resident segregationists just knew us by the name “outside agitators.”
Before the Voting Rights Act passed August 6, 1965, our combined efforts resulted in Black residents increasing their voting power from fewer than 50 registered voters to more than 500. After the federal law was signed, the number increased to 3500 by October 1966, and Black voters became the majority.
However, the Voting Rights Act is under attack from many quarters. The Supreme Court is poised to overturn several pieces of the historic civil right law, despite clear evidence of ongoing prejudice and disadvantages for Black citizens in the South. An article in the New York Times cites a study that indicates that 75% of non-Blacks in the Deep South (including Alabama) are more prejudiced toward Blacks than the US average. Will it ever be possible to achieve our dream of racial equity? To have an electorate that truly reflects our diversity?
Read more in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/23/us/voting-rights-act-map.html
View the Map of the Most Prejudiced States. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/23/us/voting-rights-act-map.html