The Struggle Continues!
SCOPE50.org May 2018
Visit to St. Matthews, SC - April 9, 2018 – by Lynn Goldberg
The remarkable and all too short life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prompted a trip to the United States by Japanese professor, Miyuki Kita this past week. She has studied and written about American history and particularly about the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Her students at Kitakyushu University study the book she wrote about the SCLC-SCOPE summer of 1965 and ask her many questions about the students who were courageous enough to go south to register voters. Following the emotional ceremonies in Memphis, TN she traveled to St. Matthews, SC, the town that was the focus of her book on the voter registration effort. She had never previously had an opportunity to visit the town, nor to meet some of the people at the center of the memorable SCLC-SCOPE summer of 1965.
Our group met in downtown St. Matthews on a glorious spring day the made us glad that summer had not yet arrived here with its dripping, scorching heat such as we experienced there when the group from Brandeis University worked to register people to vote. First we stepped into the courthouse of Calhoun County, which is very much as it was when lines of black folk stood for hours hoping for a chance to have their names registered. Melvin Hart (son of our host Furman Hart, Sr.) was our guide and he introduced us to Ken Hasty. Ken is now the clerk of court of Calhoun County – proud to be the first black man elected to that office. He gave the SCOPE workers of the 1960's credit for helping to make his position a reality. It was such a gratifying moment for me.
We toured the town to see the points of interest pertaining to the Brandeis SCOPE summer. First off was the scene of the KKK rally that took place on August 14, 1965. The small grassy field brought back painful thoughts about how our group was constantly intimidated by so many of the white residents of the community. It also was a stark contrast to the white Banks family who stood with us during that summer. It was a distinct pleasure for me to actually meet Martin Banks, a prominent lawyer in St. Matthews, who filled us with stories of how it was "back then". His family has owned and farmed thousands of acres in the region dating back to the time of land grants from England, yet they were at the forefront of freeing and elevating the slaves.
As we continued our drive, we saw the home of the Floyds and the site of their store. This was such a central meeting place for our SCOPE group, a place where we could meet and be fed in more ways than one. We saw the home where the Hart family welcomed and supported us during that long tortuous summer. Another site we passed was the location of the once beautiful swimming pool, open to whites only and closed forever when black swimmers decided to join them in 1965. Now it is no more than an insignificant grassy area. Not far from there is the home where six of our group lived and worked for two important months of our lives.
During our tour we chanced upon Miss Geneva Floyd, who is now 98 years old, and out driving to meet her friend Miss Lillian Murphy who also leant us a hand during the summer of 1965. These two ladies made a huge difference in our comfort and well-being, and they are remembered always with great fondness. I was delighted to be able to see them.
Continuing our journey, we left the town of St. Matthews to follow the routes we took all those years ago looking for people we wanted to see registered to vote. We passed unending miles of cotton fields. The town of Lone Star, we discovered, was little more than a ghost town. In Fort Motte, a tiny village amidst those cotton fields, we visited the home of Abraham Williams whose father, Hope Williams, had nearly begun the civil rights movement long before the arrival of our group of workers. He knew the importance of education and voting to the progress of equality for everyone. He led us, and our fellow workers, to meet with people who could further our efforts. Meeting Abe was like meeting Hope again–he is very much like his father.
This day, for me, reinforced the importance of my experience in 1965 and made me grateful for the people I have come to know and the time I spent immersed in a culture I knew little about.
In our last issue we mentioned the book – Hope's Kids – recently published by Alan Venable, another Brandeis student who volunteered for the SCOPE project and was assigned to South Carolina. Jo Freeman has written a review of the book which you can see at www.seniorwomen.com/news/index.php/jo-freeman-reviews-hope-s-kids-a-voting-rights-summer
The New Poor People's Campaign
You have all probably been aware of the emergence of The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This movement, which kicked off on December 4, 2017 – fifty years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others called for the original Poor People's Campaign – will unite the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized to take action together, combining direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, power building and nonviolent civil disobedience.
In an article entitled "It's Time to Fight for America's Soul" in the December 5, 2017, issue of Time magazine, the co-chairs of the The Poor People's Campaign – Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis – described traveling around the country, holding trainings and mass meetings that drew thousands of people, in order to lay the groundwork for the launch of the new campaign. It became clear to them that people are ready to come together and demand change. "The conditions that motivated the original campaign have only worsened over the last fifty years, making the need for the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival more urgent than ever… The Poor People's Campaign will unite Americans across all races, creeds, religions, classes and other divides to demand a moral agenda for the common good."
The campaign will intensify this year, starting on Mother's Day with six weeks of education, organizing, coalition-building and direct action across 39 states and the District of Columbia, leading up to a mass mobilization at the U. S. Capitol on June 23.
For those interested in getting involved, go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and get connected with the leadership in your state.
SCOPE50's Support of the Poor People's Campaign
I was asked to attend a meeting of the local group working on this. When I informed them that unfortunately I would be out of town visiting a friend who is ill, they asked if I would write a letter which could be read to the group. I am reprinting here the letter I wrote as President of SCOPE50:
It was fifty years ago that the Poor People's Campaign took place, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember sitting around the table at SCLC headquarters planning the Poor People's Campaign, and Dr. King coming up with the name Resurrection City. I remember the debate as to whether or not we should go to Washington, DC. I remember that Dr. Abernathy, who had been dozing, woke up and said "We're going to Washington. Martin wants to go and that's what we're going to do." And then he walked out of the room.
We set about recruiting poor folks to go to DC – Native Americans, poor whites, Hispanics. So in the summer of 1968, five thousand people lived in Resurrection City. It was one of the worse rainy periods in DC in a long time. It rained and rained. Mud was everywhere. But people who had never left their communities before were now in the Nation's capitol, confronting the leaders of the time. Telling their stories about how real poverty was in America. Talking about children going to bed hungry every night. It was one of the few times that the people who were poor and the organizations representing them came together as one.
Obviously, we were not successful, because we did not end poverty. And that is why you are here tonight. Because you are poor. Children are still going to bed hungry. Many of you do not have health care. Many still have to choose between food and prescriptions.
I stand with you this evening to say that poverty is real, and that is why SCOPE50 supports the new Poor People's Campaign. I support your efforts. I would be standing here in person, except that my best friend is ill in Rhode Island, so I am with him, but I am also with you in spirit. And I pledge to stand with you going forward, for no child should go to bed hungry here in South Carolina or in this country. I thank you for picking up the mantle of the Poor People's Campaign fifty years later.
Reprint of book about the Poor People's Campaign – "Jill Freedman: Resurrection City, 1968"
Published in 1970, Jill Freedman's Old News: Resurrection City documented the culmination of the Poor People's Campaign of 1968, organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy in the wake of Dr King's assassination. Three thousand people set up camp for six weeks in a makeshift town that was dubbed Resurrection City, and participated in daily protests. Freedman lived in the encampment for its entire six weeks, photographing the residents, their daily lives, their protests and their eventual eviction.
This new 50th-anniversary edition of the book, published March 27, 2018, reprints most of the pictures from the original publication, with improved printing and a more vivid design. Alongside Freedman's hard-hitting original text, two introductory essays are included, by John Edwin Mason, historian of African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, and by Aaron Bryant, Curator of Photography at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Article about Jimmy Collier, SCLC organizer/musician
Many of you may know Jimmy Collier from your time with SCLC or SCOPE. Kerry Taylor, Associate Professor of History at the Citadel in Charleston, SC, has been working with the new Poor People's Campaign and decided to reconnect with Jimmy since he was such a presence at the original Poor People's Campaign in Resurrection City. Kerry has given permission to reprint the article he published about Jimmy in Facing.South.org.
"Meet the organizer who helped create the soundtrack for the Poor People's Campaign"
by Kerry Taylor, March 9, 2018
A recent conversation with a young organizer who is working for the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival prompted me to reconnect with Jimmy Collier. I wanted Jimmy — who was an organizer-musician with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — to know that the songs he composed and recorded 50 years ago with the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick continue to inspire activists for peace and equality.
Jimmy Collier at the original Poor People's Campaign. (Photo by Erik Falkensteen used with permission.)
In 1968, they recorded an album for Folkways Records titled "Everybody's Got a Right to Live" that served as the soundtrack for the original Poor People's Campaign — a mass mobilization of poor people who traveled to Washington, D.C., to engage in disruptive protests aimed at forcing government action to end poverty. The Poor People's Campaign was initiated by Martin Luther King Jr., who believed that President Lyndon B. Johnson had sacrificed federal War on Poverty programs for an expanded war in Vietnam. In the wake of King's assassination, organizers like Jimmy continued the work of the Poor People's Campaign, recruiting poor people from across the country to take part in the D.C. protests. Gordon Mantler's outstanding 2013 book "Power to the Poor" provides the best critical history of the Poor People's Campaign.
Beyond an occasional Facebook message, I had not spoken to Jimmy for at least 10 years. Knowing that he had suffered some recent health setbacks, I was glad to find him in excellent spirits. He was pleased to learn that young activists find meaning in his music. And he had been tracking the new Poor People's Campaign from his home in Fresno, California, where he and his wife, Cathy, moved a few years ago from their home near Yosemite National Park in order to be closer to their children. We updated one another regarding the whereabouts of mutual friends, many of whom were affiliated with the Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival — a yearly celebration of labor culture that brings together musicians, visual artists, poets, storytellers, and filmmakers. We first met at the San Francisco Bay-area festival in the mid-1990s, when Jimmy, playing guitar or banjo, shared billing with protest-song luminaries like Utah Phillips and Pete Seeger.
Following our phone conversation, I revisited a 1999 interview that I conducted with Jimmy along with Tenisha Armstrong, my longtime co-worker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University (now the MLK Research and Education Institute). In that interview Jimmy had discussed his musical upbringing in Fort Smith, Arkansas, his introduction to the movement as a community college student in Chicago, and his four-year association with the SCLC. Both the phone call and the interview reminded me of Jimmy's great qualities as an organizer and a friend. The conversation also reinforced ideas I have been thinking about with regards to our present political moment and the importance of movement building.
Within SCLC, Jimmy wanted to be recognized as an organizer, but SCLC leaders viewed him firstly as a musician. Jimmy was often tasked with warming up crowds as a song leader until the arrival of Dr. King or another featured speaker. "I got very clever at being able to get people going," he recalled. "As soon as he walked in, then pretty much I was forgotten. I mean it was kind of in an instant." SCLC leaders preferred Jimmy as an opening act over church choirs or high profile performers because he would leave the stage quickly and without fuss upon Dr. King's arrival. "It didn't bother me," he said. "It was sort of part of my job."
The lines between musician and organizer were always porous in the movement, so Jimmy made the most of his opportunities to organize. Assigned to work in Chicago under the direction of SCLC strategist James Bevel, Jimmy's talent for fusing topical folk songs with contemporary soul hits proved useful in organizing young African Americans who were skeptical of King and SCLC's advocacy of nonviolence. We were "trying to get the gangs on our side, or at least to get them to let us have nonviolent demonstrations," he said. "At least if they're not going to join, [they should] at least not stop" the protests. By the mid-1960s, freedom songs emerging from the Southern struggle sounded dated to Northern ears, but reworked hits by the Impressions and Sam Cooke resonated with Chicago's West Side youth. Jimmy's "Burn Baby Burn" — a dark lament and angry meditation on the urban rebellions of the mid-1960s written from the perspective of an arsonist — represent a creative peak of his efforts to merge soul and protest music. The song's subtleties, however, may not have translated well to SCLC mass meetings. Jimmy recalled that Dr. King suggested he not play "Burn Baby Burn" because of its tone.
At several points in our conversation, Tenisha and I raised criticisms of SCLC's strategy and tactics, echoing arguments we had read in scholarly accounts of the movement. Jimmy's gentle rejoinders reminded us that successful movements require flexibility and humility. "No one has the key to the timing, the evolution, or any of it," he said. "I mean, all you can do is what you can do at the time, and then if it's the right time things will jell, personalities will come together, energies will be created." Given the level of resistance, "it was a miracle that any of it ever worked," he added. Did we underestimate going into Selma, Albany, or Mississippi? he asked rhetorically. Ending Jim Crow segregation "was a goal that any rational person would have said was impossible to meet at any time, but that just wasn't going to stop it."
Though sympathetic to the criticisms of the movement's over-reliance on King's charismatic leadership at the expense of bottom-up organizing, Jimmy continues to admire SCLC's ability to forge powerful coalitions and to tie the local work to concrete legislative reforms. "My guess is you needed both" approaches, he said. "The situation was severe enough to where you need every style." Moreover, on the ground and in the face of sometimes deadly opposition, the fine distinctions tend to diminish in importance.
At 73, Jimmy may not be able to join us for the new Poor People's Campaign — traveling with his guitar can be a challenge these days and he is slowly recovering after losing his voice last year. But new organizers and artists will emerge to carry through on what is shaping up as a national campaign to confront poverty, racism, environmental degradation, militarism, and our debased political culture. The best of those organizer-leaders will engage the movement with at least a bit of Jimmy Collier's compassion, creativity, and generosity.
Visit with a President
Mary Whyte, a member of the SCOPE50 Board of Directors and an internationally known artist, recently received a surprise note in her mail – a handwritten note from former President George W. Bush, inviting her to meet with him in Dallas. The following article appeared in the local Seabrook Island newspaper describing her visit with President Bush.
"Mary had sent the former president a book of an art exhibit of hers, titled Working South after she saw his book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors, which contained 66 portraits of military veterans who had been wounded. The president had painted head and shoulder portraits of the veterans and wrote about each one. Mary was moved by his book and wrote to the president wishing him well in his endeavors. She hadn't expected to hear back from him, so his return note came as a great surprise. His note said, "Dear Mary, you've picked the hardest medium, watercolors. Next time you're in Dallas let's talk 'art.'" He enclosed the card and telephone number of his personal assistant.
Mary called the assistant and they proceeded to pick a day when a visit would be possible. The assistant helped Mary get a hotel room in Dallas close to the Presidential Library. Mary had to be vetted to get through security. Mary called the assistant before she left, asking what the appropriate dress would be. The assistant let her know the president would be in a suit as he had appointments later in the day. Mary wore a navy blue suit, with a rhinestone pin depicting the American flag.
George W. Bush has a Presidential Library and Museum located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Mary was able to walk to the library from her hotel, and she was met by the Assistant to the Chief of Staff and was escorted to former-President Bush's office, which is nicely decorated with some antique furniture, plus paintings mostly by Texas artists. Coffee appeared immediately and the conversation centered primarily on painting. Bush asked how long she had been painting, what artists she admired most, which ones had the most effect on her work. They asked each other what paintings they were working on at the moment. They talked about Winston Churchill who had taken up painting during his career as a politician and written a book called Painting as a Pastime. President Bush mentioned to Mary that he had tried watercolors but couldn't master it. When Mary mentioned that she would be in Dallas in the future teaching a course on watercolors, Bush said, "Let's get together and paint." He gave her a copy of his book, which he signed: "From one artist to a really fine artist." Mary took a picture of the autographed page putting her pin of the American flag in the upper corner."
Rise Up: The Movement that Changed America
It was brought to our attention that Jim Keck, one of our SCOPE50 members, appears in the documentary, Rise Up: The Movement that Changed America, which aired on the History Channel on April 4, 2018. Jim, who worked for SCLC in Chicago, came to our 50th reunion with his son Jason in 2015.
Events in Northern California
SCOPE50 will have a presence at two events taking place in California this summer – one in San Francisco and the other in Antioch. Joseph "Rugsy" Ruggiero is organizing these two events. We will have a table at both of these events, and Sherie Labedis, one of SCOPE50's board members, will be a featured speaker at the San Francisco event.
Dr. Rita Jackson Samuels, a longtime SCLC staff member, died on March 27 at the age of 72. She worked with the Rev. Fred Bennett on the Operation Breadbasket project out of SCLC's national headquarters before it was taken over by Jesse Jackson. She was one of the few women on SCLC's staff back in the 60's and, according to the Atlanta Constitution, became the first black woman in Georgia's history to serve on the personal staff of a Georgia Governor during Governor Jimmy Carter's tenure and later under President Carter's Administration as a staff consultant. She was the founder and Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women, Inc.