Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[SCOPE-SCLC] Commemorate the Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act was signed on August 6, 1965.  Among other things, it suspended the "tests or devices" used to keep blacks from voting in most Southern states.
While it has been watered down by the Supreme Court, it is still one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress.
SCLC expected the VRA to pass in June.  Because it didn't become law until August 6, most of us brought people to be registered under both the old rules and the new.  We saw how important the VRA was in making it possible for blacks to register to vote.

The first week in August is a good time to commemorate the passage of the  VRA and to talk about why it needs to be strengthened.  We have stories to tell and we should tell them.   The House will not be in session that week.  Members of the House should be in their home districts.  We can encourage them to hold press events around the VRA and invite 1965 civil rights activists to participate.

I pitched that idea to Cong. Keith Ellison's office two months ago and got a very positive response.  I knew we had a lot of SCOPErs in Minneapolis so there had to be at least one living in his district.  After hearing back from his Chief of Staff, we put his District director in touch with one of his constituents (Dan Conrad) to set something up. 

We should do that with other Members of Congress.   It can only be done effectively with MCs who have constituents who were 1965 civil rights activists with stories to tell.  Can you tell me who you are?  I don't know where you all live so it's hard to match you up with Members of Congress unless you tell me who your MC is.  If you aren't sure, go to  and fill in the blanks where it says Find Your Representative.

Not everyone's Representative will be receptive to doing something around the VRA.  The ones most likely to do so are members of the Progressive Caucus or the Black Caucus.  Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva are PC co-chairs.  G. K Butterfield is the current chair of the Black Caucus.
You can find out if your MC is one of the 69 Members of the Progressive Caucus at  or one of the 46 members of Black Caucus at  
These lists are by by state.  ( also lists caucus members, but not by state) 
Most of these MCs are members of both caucuses.
If you want to propose a VRA event yourself, this is the week to do so.  The House is not in session this week. You can go to your CD office and speak to the Member, or the District director.  If you want me to ask your MC's office to do something with you, I need to know the name of your Representative.

The Senate will be in session the first week in August, so its members are unlikely prospects for events at home.  Bernie Sanders is the only Senator who is a member of the Progressive Caucus.  He's busy running for President.  Cory Booker is the only Senator who is a member of the Black Caucus.  He's busy being Cory Booker.

There should be something happening in DC, though I haven't found out what.  If you live in the DC area and want to do something around the VRA, let me know and I'll see what I can find.
Let's not let the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act pass without doing something both to commemorate it and to highlight the need to strengthen it.

SCOPE-SCLC mailing list

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


50TH Anniversary Reunion

Reunion Committee Members
Willie Bolden
Barbara Williams Emerson
Jo Freeman
Maria Gitin
Bruce Hartford
Lanny Kaufer
John Reynolds, Chair


CONTACT:  John Reynolds
April 24, 2015

SCLC/SCOPE 50th Anniversary Reunion

Atlanta, Georgia -- Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and its President Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were at the forefront of major Civil Rights struggles. In freedom battlegrounds as diverse as Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama; Albany, Georgia; St. Augustine, Florida; Grenada, Mississippi; and Chicago, Illinois, the leaders, staff, volunteers, and local affiliates of SCLC put their bodies on the line to redeem the soul of America.

In 1965, SCLC's Summer Community Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE) project – conceived and led by SCLC Director of Voter Registration and Political Education, Hosea Williams – mobilized hundreds of northern and local volunteers, mostly students, to support dangerous voter registration drives and implement the new Voting Rights Act in Black communities across Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.  The black people who dared to go to the courthouse to register to vote not only put their livelihood at risk, but also their lives.  Those people who came South to help were seen as outside agitators and, if white, as traitors and were also at risk.  

Now, 50 years later, we Freedom Movement veterans whose boots were on the ground during the Civil Rights era will hold a reunion and commemoration of those struggles in Atlanta, Georgia. We will share our stories, experiences, and the importance of voting rights to the younger activists of today.  We will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.  

DATE:  October 1-4, 2015
LOCATION:  Marriott Century Center
2000 Century Boulevard NE
Atlanta, GA 30345
(404) 325-0000

For more information and updates: 

Registration fee: $75 per person (does not include hotel room)

To register online, go to: 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Historical Context of Voting Rights

When we were founded as a nation, a fierce political battle erupted over who would have the vote. It was a fight over who was included in "We the People." We have been fighting that political war ever since, and continue to fight it to this day.
Bruce Hartford
March 21, 2015
Southern African American youth demanding their basic right - the right to vote. Are we now heading backwards with GOP plans to restrict voting, as part of a new state's right campaign.
    [Presentation given as part of a "Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Voices of the 1965 Voting Rights Struggle" panel at the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora, March 21st, 2015. The other panelists were SNCC field secretary Wazir Peacock, Selma student leader Charles Bonner, and voter registration worker Maria Gitin.]
The Alabama voting rights campaign of 1965 that all four of us were part of was not an isolated event. It did not spontaneously spring into existence. Rather it grew out of a long historical context, and it can only be understood within that context. We used to talk about "1st and 2nd class citizens." But today, Bob Moses of SNCC analyzes the voting rights campaigns in the framework of "We the People."
The very first words of the American Constitution are: "We the people ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
It does not say: "We the states"
It does not say: "We the politicians"
It does not say: "We the 1%"
It says: "We the People."
But who are "We the People?"
Abstract political debates aside, as a matter of practical politics those who are eligible to vote - and who actually DO vote - are members of "We the People." They are what we used to refer to as "full-citizens." They are the recognized stakeholders of our society. As a matter of practical politics, those who are barred from voting are not part of "We the People."

When we were founded as a nation, a fierce political battle erupted over who would have the vote. In essence, it was a fight over who was included in "We the People." We have been fighting that political war ever since, and we continue to fight it to this day. The issue of who has the vote continues to be a fight because those who are well-served by the status-quo want to limit the voting power of those who they fear have good reason to be dissatisfied with the way things are. And, of course, the dissatisfied and disenfranchised want to have their voices heard and counted.
In the Presidential Election of 1800, it's been estimated that no more than 10% of the adult population were eligible to vote. The other 90% were barred from voting. They were excluded from "We the People."
Well, who were these 90%?
Women - half the population - could not vote. In 1776, Abigail Adams asked the Continental Congress to support voting rights for women. Her husband John Adams told her, "Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. ... [We will not be subject to] the despotism of the petticoat..." For 151 years, women fought for the vote. They fought to become part of "We the People." For their temerity, they were beaten, jailed, brutalized, and demeaned. But they carried their battle to every city, town, and rural hamlet in the nation. The Woman Suffrage movement was one of the longest, and most powerful, social movements in American history.
In the election of 1800, Native Americans could not vote. Indians did not win legal voting rights until 1927 - 140 years after the Constitution was adopted. And in many areas after 1927, white terrorism, legal tricks, and official fraud continued to deny them the vote long thereafter. Which is why the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that we fought for in Alabama specifically included and covered areas of California, South Dakota, New Hampshire and all of Alaska, areas with a long and sordid history of denying the vote to Native Americans.
In most states in 1800, only white men who owned property could vote. Renters, apprentices, farm tenants, sailors, factory, and mine laborers could not vote. In New York City, for example, 75% of white men were denied the right vote because they did not own property. The struggle to end explicit property qualifications was fierce and often violent. It lasted 80 years. North Carolina was the last state to end property requirements in 1856 - North Carolina, last in so many respects.
But implicit income restrictions were not ended until poll taxes were finally outlawed in 1964. And many of us believe that today's new Voter ID laws are, in fact, a covert method of again limiting voting rights of the poor and elderly who don't drive, and don't have passports or concealed-carry gun permits.
In 1848, the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the War Against Mexico. It promised that Mexicans living in the conquered lands would be free American citizens with full voting rights. That did not happen. In Texas & California, legal voting rights were granted - in theory. But Anglo terrorism, legal tricks, & official fraud prevented all but a few from actually casting ballots. In Arizona & New Mexico, however, Mexican-Americans were legally denied the vote until 1912. During those 64 years, their lands and water rights were confiscated by judges & legislators elected only by Anglo voters. Across the Southwest for more than 100 years, Latinos fought and struggled for the vote - to be full and equal members of "We the People." A little-known struggle they don't make movies about. A struggle that in many respects continues to this day. And, in fact, one of the best- kept secrets about the VRA is that it also won voting rights for Latino citizens.
Today, we see a Republican Party adamantly opposed to immigration reform. I believe their opposition stems from a combination of out-and-out racism and the fact that newly enfranchised immigrants tend to vote for Democratic candidates. In other words, immigration reform is also - in some respects - a voting rights issue because it impacts and defines who is included in "We the People."
And not just Latinos. After the Immigration Act of 1870, and then the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Asian immigrants were denied the vote. Asian immigrants did finally win full citizenship and voting rights until 1952. One of the reasons that Japanese-Americans could so easily be rounded up and sent to concentration camps during WWII was that many of them had no vote, and were therefore not part of "We the People."
As originally adopted, the Constitution defined slaves as property, not people. And in most states, free men of color were denied the vote through legal barriers or intimidation. Despite what the passionate defenders of "Southern Heritage" now claim, we all know that the Civil War was a war against slavery. But in a broader sense, it was part of a long, and still ongoing, fight to include citizens of African descent as full and equal members of "We the People."
The Civil War did end slavery, but it did not end the fight over "We the People." That struggle continued through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Square Deal, World War I, the New Deal, World War II, and the modern Civil Rights Movement that we four were part of. And as #BlackLivesMatter reminds us, in many respects the struggle continues to this day.
When I arrived in Selma Alabama in early 1965, I had only an abstract, intellectual understanding of the importance of voting rights. I knew it in my head - but not in my gut. That changed early one morning when an errand took me down to the basement of 1st Baptist Church, a block from Brown Chapel.
In Selma in 1965, the public, taxpayer-financed hospital would only see Black patients one day a week. They refused to treat civil rights activists at all. Which is why Rev. Reeb had to be driven 90 miles to a hospital in Birmingham before a doctor would see him - a distance that probably cost him his life. After Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus bridge, volunteer doctors & nurses with the Medical Committee for Human Rights set up an emergency aid station for injured demonstrators in the basement of 1st Baptist. Soon they were treating everyone who was excluded from the public health care that was routinely available to whites.
On the morning I'm talking about, a young woman came down the steps into the church basement. She was carrying a newborn infant just a few days old. Sick. Bad sick, even I could see that. And she was terrified. Absolutely terrified. For her baby - and for herself.
She lived on a plantation 10 miles out of town. The master had refused to let her take her dying child into town to see a doctor. He forbade it. Either because he didn't want to pay the doctors fee, or he didn't want her exposed to dangerous Freedom Movement ideas. Or both.
Somehow, through the grapevine, she heard about doctors who would treat Black patients in Selma. In the dead of night, like an escaped slave, she snuck off the plantation, trudged on foot, carrying her baby through the bogs and fields and rural ravines of Dallas County to the basement of First Baptist Church. She knew she could never return to the plantation. She had defied the Master's edict. She would face his wrath if he ever saw her again. She knew that no matter what he did to her, he would face no sanction or consequences from any elected official or court. He could brutalize her, rape her, even kill her with no fear of punishment.
She had no vote, she was not part of "We the People." She knew with dead certainty that not only would white officialdom fail to protect her, they would turn her over to the plantation master. So she had to give up her family, her home, and her few possessions, to save her child's life. To go in fear of being forced back into a form of semi-slavery. She did not know these white doctors and nurses with the Medical Committee for Human Rights. She was terrified they would send her back to the plantation. I heard her beg them, over and over, not to send her back. Of course, they would never do that.
I don't know what happened to her or her baby, my work was elsewhere. I never even knew her name. But I never forgot her because she taught me the human price of not being part of "We the People." The human cost of not having a vote to hold politicians, sheriffs, and judges accountable.
Copyright c Bruce Hartford

Saturday, March 7, 2015

more about SCOPE

Books with information on SCOPE:

Bates, Frank, From Level Hill to Capitol Hill, self-published, 2014.

Gitin, Maria, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, Tuscaloosa AL: University of Alabama Press, 2014.

Labedis, Sherie Holbrook, You Came Here to Die, Didn't You: Registering Black Voters One Soul at a Time, South Carolina 1965, Rosehill CA: Smokey Hill Books, 2011.

Monnie, Terry and Bill, The Lake Effect: The 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam Conflict Tested the Common Core Values of Two Brothers, Merrimack, NH: A Snowy Day Distribution and Publishing, 2014. Chapter 6 is on SCOPE.

Reynolds, John, The Fight for Freedom: A Memoir of My Years in the Civil Rights Movement, Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2012.

Reavis, Dick J.,  If White Kids Die, Denton TX: University of North Texas Press, 2001.

Siegel-Levanthal, Willy, compiler, The SCOPE of Freedom: The Leadership of Hosea Williams with Dr. King's Summer'65 Student Volunteers, Montgomery AL: Challenge Press, 2005.

Swope, Mary, My Summer Vacation 1965, self-published, 2011.

Published articles:
Rozga, Margaret, "When Civil Rights Were on the Rise," The Humanist, November 1, 2006.

This is a book about SCOPErs, based on a survey at orientation, by three sociologists:
Demerath III, Nicholas, J., Gerald Marwell and Michael T. Aiken, The Dynamics of Idealism: White Activists in a Black Movement, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1971.

There were some follow-up questionnaires.  Information on all of this is posted here. 

library collections
Calhoun Co. SC diary of Lynn Goldsmith Goldberg, Brandeis U.

Orangeburg Co. SC Moshe Shur collection, Queens Col.

Martin Co. NC, Hugh Hawkins collection, Amherst Col.

Dougherty Co. GA, St. Mary of the Woods Col.

The Papers of Hosea Williams, Atlanta Public Library, E:1:20; D:3:7; G:3:8;

Comprehensive Bibliography...