“Conspiracy to Boycott” Arrests in Camden, AL

June 28, 1965 – Camden

Eighteen (18) SCOPE-SCLC and local civil rights workers are arrested at Antioch Baptist Church and booked into the Camden jail without due process. Local student activist Don Green is beaten in front of us and thrown into the bull pen (solitary confinement) when a knife is discovered in his sock. White summer volunteer 18 yr old Mike Farley is put in a cell with a violent white prisoner who beats him mercilessly throughout the night while we girls scream and bang on the bars. Over the next few days  we are released one at a time. All are released within five days but we never know when they will be either released or attacked. Leaders Albert Gordon and Major Johns were arrested along with six white civil rights workers and the following Black youth: Don Green, Lester Core, John Davis, Roosevelt Washington, Johnny Jackson, Calister Wright, George Shamburger, Elmo Jones, Harris Knight, Ashley Stallworth. White kids included: myself (Maria Gitin/Joyce Brians), Connie Turner, Judy Harmon,  Shari Thurber, Mike Farley and one other white student civil rights worker. 

Old Camden Jail where we were booked in ’65

Source: Author was eyewitness-participant, saved a letter from that date, and field report from John Worcester to SCLC. More detail: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

SCLC’s SCOPE project in Wilcox County Summer 1965

June – August 1965 SCLC’S Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project – Wilcox County

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, "It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation": L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, “It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation”: L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Project) SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Education) project, directed by Rev. Hosea Williams, was part of an already active Alabama Voter Education Project that coordinated (or attempted to coordinate) efforts between multiple civil rights organizations. As many as 600 black and white college (and some high school) students were assigned to six states for ten weeks after a 5.5 day 14 hr a day intensive Orientation in Atlanta, GA June 14-19, 1965.

In Wilcox County, five white northern student volunteers joined SCLC’s Dan and Juanita Harrell, and Major Johns, two

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

(perhaps three) white seminary students from California and some SNCC field workers from Selma to support local leaders in voter education, voter registration and leadership development. In early April, Californian Bob Block, who had walked all five days of the March to Montgomery, 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. Block was recruited by Dan Harrell to stay on as SCLC field staff. Local activist Ethel Brooks was also on SCLC SCOPE staff that summer. Students Robert Powell, Grady and Charles Nettles, Don Green, and Frank Conner; Mary Alice Robinson and Betty Anderson were some of the many Camden Academy activists working with SCOPE on voter education and registration after their own demonstrations all spring. Local adult leaders included: Rev. Thomas L Threadgill, Mr Albert Gordon, Mrs Rosetta Anderson, Mrs. Virginia Boykin Burrell and many others from the rural areas of Wilcox County. About 30 total local and field workers canvassed all summer, resulting in 500 new registered voters before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August. Soon after passage, more than 3,000 Wilcox residents were registered, creating a new African American majority.

Charles “Chuck” A. Bonner of Selma SNCC began to coordinate voting efforts in Wilcox County with SCLC and later, SCOPE. Bob Block and I (Joyce Brians/Maria Gitin) belonged to SNCC and SCLC. SCLC/SCOPE workers were the majority in Wilcox County that summer. Most local residents didn’t know or care who were with except for being “sent by Dr King” and “with the Movement.” Local white segregationists called us as “outside agitators.”

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff

 

For more about SCOPE and Voting Rights in Wilcox County, AL  This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight by Maria Gitin: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

More about VEP: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_voter_education_project/

Wilcox County AL Civil Rights Timeline July 1965

July 1, 1965 – Camden

The New York Times reports a different version of the June 29th incident with the local sheriff (PC Lummie Jenkins) stating that the boys’ injuries were slight and that both boys were released from the hospital immediately.  Source: New York Times

Author’s note: Frank Conner told this author that he was near death and was hospitalized for months. This author witnessed one other young man with a bandaged head many days after the incident.

July 2, 1965 –Camden

Alabama Sheriff Locks Church

Sheriff Jenkins tells the press that the church deacons asked our Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) headquarters be locked after the attack.

Source: Associated Press, New York Times.

Author’s note: The Sheriff moved us out of the office at gunpoint. I was among those present as we were assessing the damage caused the night before, during the Klansmen’s violent attack on our youth. The courageous deacons reopened the church within a week although we tended to stay away after that, to lessen the danger to the locals.

July 2, 1965 – Atlanta

Rev Hosea Williams report included seven local black activists and one SCOPE worker being beaten in Camden at Antioch Baptist Church. Source: Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge.

Author’s note: The correct date was June 29th and there were eight young men, all locals affiliated with SCLC and /or working with the SCOPE program of SCLC that summer. All were African-American. Five escaped before three were beaten, two badly enough to be hospitalized. A July 3, 1965 article in the Chicago Defender supports this claim and quotes Bob Block (author’s boyfriend at the time) as saying we knew who the attackers were, all local white men wearing stocking masks. At the request of several of the survivors of this attack,   their attackers are named in my forthcoming book. There also was an earlier attack on a number of white and black male workers sleeping at the church.

Larry Scott Butler  wrote on Apr 12, 2013

The incident at the church I can be very specific about as I recorded it in my diary.  We were attacked while in the church in Camden, ran for our lives, and spent the night hiding on the floor of an Afro-American Masonic hall. It happened on 6/23/65 and a local young man named Saul helped us escape.  David Hoon (also white) was part of out group and he fell off the board crossing the ravine behind the church while we were running.  He was alright, but dirty and wet.  Saul led us to the Masonic Hall which we barricaded from the inside.

July 4, 1965

Bootleg liquor was planted in local activist Don Green’s car and he was arrested again although he had just been bailed out by SCOPE.

Source: Author was told by SCLC leaders Harrell and Johns.

 July 4, 1965 We integrated the Bessie W. Munden Pool just outside of Camden www.

July 8, 1965 – Camden

Five carloads of SCOPE workers shot at by white men after being stopped by police. They were trying to leave town to avoid wrath of whites after Gov. Wallace whipped the crowd into a frenzy at a rally in Camden that was attended by thousands.

Source: Author wrote of this in letter home . I was not in one of the cars but could hear the cheers from downtown as I hid at the boy’s dormitory at Camden Academy up on the hill.

 July 9, 1965 – Camden dateline, incident out in county

Summer Community Organization and Political Education canvassers forced off highway by white man in a pick up brandishing a rifle.

Source: SCOPE incident report plus author was participant/witness in incident. This story and others are told in detail in my forthcoming book: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, Modern South, University of Alabama Press, 2014.

Advance orders now available at discount: www.amazon.com

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