Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project Orientation Part I

Excerpted from my letter of June 20, 1965 about the 5.5 day SCOPE/SCLC Project orientation that I and 400+ students attended prior to being assigned to our counties. I would be assigned to Wilcox County, AL. But did not know that at the time. Coming from northern California, I was filled with missionary zeal and idealism which is reflected in my letter. At age 19, I had high hopes for our country and great respect for the leaders of our project. SCOPE was directed by Hosea L Williams with the intention to use (mostly) white college students to support local communities in their efforts to secure the African American vote. At that time “Negro” was the preferred term of respect by African American leaders.

 L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette, Richard Boone w/ Hosea Williams at SCOPE House in Atlanta 1965

L to R- SCOPE Staff Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette, Richard Boone w/ Hosea Williams at SCOPE House in Atlanta 1965

 Dear Family and Friends:

This is another world. It’s a world where I, a 19-year-old white northern woman, am not free. I am not free to go into the white section of Camden, Alabama with a Negro. I am not free to work in civil rights and still relate to the Southern whites. I can’t go out after dark or go on a date or swim in a public pool all summer. You people think you are free. When I was in San Francisco I thought I was free. But, we’re not free. I’m not down here fighting so any Negro can vote; I’m fighting for my rights—my human right to choose my friends as I please, to work with whoever I want, to worship with all peoples.

There is a Movement going on. God is acting in history. It’s God, not Martin Luther King, or James Bevel or Hosea Williams that is leading this movement. It’s faith that enables people to endure with one meal a day, four hours sleep, and one change of clothes. And they can still sing and shout praises.

Early Sunday morning we arrived at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. We were assigned to our dormitories and given meal tickets. About 400 people attended the orientation. The very first evening we sat for 2-1/2 hours in the gym in 100-degree weather where we met and listened to the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Rev. Hosea Williams, SCOPE project director, was the main speaker. He gave us a pep talk and introduced us to the people we would be working with, including a large number of professors from top colleges and universities. We closed the evening by joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” followed by a closing prayer.

Monday, June 14, really began the intensive week-long session. Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, VP at large and treasurer of SCLC, told us the history of SCLC beginning with the famous day when Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus any longer. For those who would like more background history for this organization, I suggest reading The Negro Revolt by Louis Lomax, which also gives the history of the other civil rights groups.

Hosea Williams then gave us a long and fine talk on “Why We are Here.” He made us see our responsibility and our obligation. As has been said so many times, “none of us are free until all of us are free.”

In the afternoon we heard the history of the whole civil rights movement from SCLC staff member, Bayard Rustin. Following that we broke up into small workshops to discuss the speech. The faculty members lead these sessions and two or three staff members sat in on them. Many of our more practical concerns were dealt with here. [ Check back for more or – read the book]

-Excerpt from “This Bright Light of Ours” @University of Alabama Press 2014. For more about the Orientation and the book: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

49 Years Ago – Getting Ready for Wilcox County

Forty nine yrs ago, I didn’t know that my decision to respond to Dr. King’s call for students to work on the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project directed by Hosea L Williams would send me to rural Wilcox County.  As 19 year old freshman at San Francisco State College, I remember the excitement of getting a ride from Rev Cecil Williams – who had just returned from being beaten in Selma – as he drove us to the last Berkeley briefing before we drove to an intensive weeklong Orientation in Atlanta where we were trained to be civil rights workers. Williams was encouraging and welcoming of young white students who wanted to join the Freedom Fight. He was also an inspiring and informed trainer who let us know exactly how much danger we might face, as well as the imperative for white youth to join hands with black youth in this nonviolent fight for the right to vote. Rev Cecil Williams is a civil rights hero and community leader who continues to inspire. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him at such a formative stage in my life. 

Rev Cecil Williams (standing)

Rev Cecil Williams (standing)

For more about Maria Gitin’s experience read her memoir: 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/

Reconsidering President Johnson on Memorial Day

When we arrived in Wilcox County, Alabama in June 1965 to join a team of local leaders, SCLC and SNCC workers in a massive voter registration drive, I had a very low opinion of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Our SCOPE project, planned by Hosea Williams of SCLC, had counted on the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect us and the community while we walked together to the courthouse to register the 79% disenfranchised voters of the county. All over the South, similar teams of civil rights workers and local leaders were facing the same challenge. My opinion was that President Johnson and Congress were dragging their feet, athough my new boyfriend Bob told me that he saw Johnson on television pushing for the proposed Act in May.  He and Major Johns, one of our project directors, watched the speech together at Rev & Mrs Frank Smith’s home in Lower Peachtree. Bob told me, “I can’t believe that cracker actually said We shall overcome!” So I had to reconsider. Neither of us were aware that Johnson had been pushing for civil rights legislation for two years before we noticed him. This article from the Sunday NY Times is well worth reading in its entirety. [See link below]

L.B.J.’s Gettysburg Address

Excerpted from an article By DAVID M. SHRIBMAN

New York Times – Analysis News

MAY 24, 2013

Fifty years ago, on Memorial Day in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech in Gettysburg, Pa., that foreshadowed profound changes that would be achieved in only 13 months and that mark us still.

“One hundred years ago, the slave was freed,” Johnson said at the cemetery in a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. “One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.”

With those two sentences, Johnson accomplished two things. He answered King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And he signaled where the later Johnson administration might lead, which was to the legislation now known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Six months later, after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson became president and vowed to press ahead on civil rights, saying that was what the presidency was for — even though he was a Southern Democrat and many of his Congressional allies were devout segregationists.

Johnson’s speech directly addressed King: “The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’ It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock.”…The speech was given on Memorial Day, May 30, 1963, not on the anniversary of a battle now regarded as a turning point in the Civil War. Johnson’s visit to Gettysburg was a helicopter trip that took but 2 hours and 34 minutes, start to finish, but it was indicative of the bigger journey he would take as president.

Pres Johnson Memorial Day 1963

Pres Johnson Memorial Day 1963

The speech was given on Memorial Day, May 30, 1963, not on the anniversary of a battle now regarded as a turning point in the Civil War. Johnson’s visit to Gettysburg was a helicopter trip that took but 2 hours and 34 minutes, start to finish, but it was indicative of the bigger journey he would take as president.

For full text and audio recording: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/sunday-review/at-gettysburg-johnson-marked-memorial-day-and-the-future.html?hpw

Photo copyright Batteson/Corbis

Welcome to Wilcox County 1965

SNCC & SCLC Cooperat at SF State to Recruit Student Civil Rights Workers

As a freshman at San Francisco State in 1965, I joined the Summer Conference on Community Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE). The project was the brainchild of Reverend Hosea Williams, one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s top aides and a chief organizer of the recent Selma to Montgomery march, as well as the 1963 March on Washington. In anticipation of the imminent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, SCOPE’s mission was to recruit and train college students to work with local leaders to identify, educate and register as many disenfranchised Black voters as possible. After an intensive five-day orientation in Atlanta, I was assigned to rural Wilcox County, Alabama, where the judge, sheriff and mayor were outspoken about belief in segregation and racism was public policy. The Ku Klux Klan was highly active, and the white community had been silent during months of police tear-gassings, beatings, and arrests of local Black demonstrators (mostly young students from Camden Academy) before we arrived. They were fighting nonviolently for a good education, voting rights and jobs, none of which were available to Black residents. Their struggle quickly became ours as we jumped into the dangerous now nearly forgotten Freedom Summer of 1965.
Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours on my first night in Wilcox County:
It was after 4:00 a.m. when we heard truck doors slam as booted feet quickly surrounded Antioch Baptist Church where our exhausted group of newly trained civil rights recruits was trying to get some sleep. “Get down and stay down till I say,” shouted our leader Major Johns. Then there were shots—unmistakable, shotgun shots. I moved closer to Bob, a fellow civil rights field worker I had met only ten hours earlier. “They won’t kill us tonight,” he whispered as I shivered in fear. “Not likely anyway. I’ve only been cattle prodded once and never been arrested yet. Welcome to Wilcox County, that’s all.” I held my breath and prayed.
© All rights reserved by Maria Gitin (formerly Joyce Brians) 2012. This Bright Light of Ours publication announcement forthcoming.

In Wilcox County, SNCC Student civil rights workers before us included Charles Bonner, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Mants, Judy Richardson, Bernard and Colia Lafayette and Ruth Howard, among others. Our summer 1965 project worked cooperatively with Selma SNCC in Wilcox, especially with Charles Bonner and Amos Snell. SNCC workers after us included Martha Prescod Norman Noonan and Willy Squire of the SNCC Alabama Project, an all-Black voter registration community outreach project. For more information see: www.crmvet.org

John Matthews Antioch Baptist Church After Renovation 2009

For Maria’s first meeting with John Matthews in 1965 see: https://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/civil-rights-worker-student-reunion-in-corn-field/