SCOPE50 Newsletter - June 2018
Reflections on the SCOPE50 Annual Board Meeting by Lanny Kaufer
Last week I had the honor of attending a board retreat in South Carolina for SCOPE50, the nonprofit headed by civil rights leader and author John Reynolds that was born out of the 50-year reunion of the SCOPE Project, a 1965 voter registration initiative of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The original project was directed by Hosea Williams and we were blessed to have his daughter Barbara Williams Emerson in attendance as a board member. Richard Smiley, veteran of the Selma March, also joined us on the board along with Jo Freeman and Mary Whyte. Our special guest was Bernard LaFayette, current chairman of the board of SCLC, who led us through the first two hours of training in Kingian Nonviolence.
J.Reynolds, M.Whyte, J.Freeman, B.Lafayette, B.Emerson, R.Smiley, L.Kaufer
John held the retreat at a camp on Seabrook Island, one of several barrier islands along the southeast coast of the U.S. Although the great majority of our time was spent in board meetings, the location of the camp allowed me to indulge in some nature study, another of my passions alongside preserving the history of the Civil Rights Movement. The camp is situated on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in the maritime forest. According to the NOAA, "Maritime forests are shoreline estuaries that grow along coastal barrier islands that support a great diversity of plants and animals. Many maritime forests in the United States remain largely untouched by commercial development and closely resemble the woodlands where Native Americans lived and early colonists settled hundreds of years ago."
As the plane broke through the layer of morning fog over the L.A. basin to expose the frothy topside of the clouds I thought of Hermes's famous saying, "As above, so below." Later that day, walking through the airport in Atlanta I came upon a tribute to Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, a fitting beginning to my journey and a reminder of how much things had changed in some parts of the South since the 1960s.
That feeling was reinforced the next evening on Seabrook Island when we went to a nearby park for a free concert by a great funk-soul band called Java from Charlotte, NC. Back in the day when I was serving in the SCOPE Project (Summer Community Organization and Political Education) in southern Virginia, a band like that would have played only for black audiences on the African-American side of town. What a loss for the white folks back then.
It was an honor and pleasure to meet and learn from Freedom Rider and civil rights icon Bernard LaFayette who is still doing Dr. King's work and teaching Kingian Nonviolence after all these years. But other than a couple of photos of him and a white-tailed deer that wandered through camp, most of my pics were taken during a nature hike the following day with Sam Rockwell, a naturalist employed by St. Christopher Camp.
The first plant that caught my eye reminded me very much of my local Southern California Bay Baurel. It even had a laurel family type flower. I picked a leaf and with heavy sniffing was able to pick up a familiar scent. Sam informed me it was Red Bay. Apparently people use it for cooking but they'd be in for a big surprise if they used our powerfully aromatic Umbellularia californica in its place. The next plant had red berries. It was Yaupon Holly, a true Ilex, the genus that gives its name to our Southern California Hollyleaf Cherry and Toyon which is also known as California Holly.
Inside the canopy of the maritime forest under the gathering clouds of Tropical Storm Alberto we entered a world as foreign to this SoCal ethnobotanist as anywhere I've been. Giant Southern Magnolias rubbed shoulders with Cabbage Palms and Live Oaks enshrouded in Spanish Moss (not really a moss but a flowering plant). Loblolly Pines provided someplace for American Trumpet Vines and Muscadine Grapes to twine and twist up toward the sky. Cardinals flitted through the woods and three species of herons rose up from the estuaries.
The narrow trail snaked through thick beds of fallen Magnolia leaves when suddenly a beautiful snake crossed my path. The instant it left the trail it disappeared under the leaves, or so I thought. It took me 10 seconds or more of staring to discover it right in front of me. Though I'd never seen one before, I knew what it was immediately from its brilliant copper head. A master of camouflage!
Although it was the dry season now in the maritime forest, I couldn't resist trying the rope suspension bridge anyway. It gave me a new appreciation for slack line walkers. Finally we emerged out of the forest to a place where a sprawling salt marsh flanked by Southern Red Cedars met the ocean. Sea Oxeye Daisies flowered in abundance and there in the dunes were the ultimate plant survivors, Opuntia, in this case represented by Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa). I remembered reading in explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's account of his travels in the 1500s that when he was shipwrecked and taken in by Indians on the Gulf Coast he endured a drought and famine along with them by eating the pads and fruits of this humble cactus, the original American survival food.
Finally, after 3 hours in the forest, Alberto struck in the last 5 minutes of our hike, leaving me drenched but exhilarated (and happy about the timing).
John could see I was frustrated after several fruitless walks to a pond on the camp property said to be the home of an alligator, so he drove me and Jo Freeman to a pond he knew where I finally got to see a real live gator in its natural habitat.
We'll be sharing the SCOPE50 news from the retreat on the facebook page and the SCOPE50 website so I won't get into all that here. Just to say it was great to be there in South Carolina for some productive time with my SCOPE compadres although I missed sharing the special moments with my wife Rondia Kaufer. I was almost home to her when I stopped over in Atlanta on the way west and this time had enough layover in ATL to find the legendary Paschal's for a soul food meal you won't find in any other airport between the Atlantic seacoast and Rondia's Kitchen.
Remembering Ralph David Abernathy by John Reynolds
On Sunday, June 24, NPR remembered Ralph David Abernathy and the Poor People's Campaign.
I remember hearing the voice of Ralph David Abernathy over the radio in 1955. I'd never heard a black man speak like him before. I remember the moment ten years later when I saw him for the first time as he burst through the back door of SCLC's National headquarters heading for his office on the lower level.
I spent some amazing times with this man who was my teacher and my pastor. I never will forget him dozing off at a meeting in the conference room during the initial planning of the Poor People's Campaign. There was heated discussion about whether we should go to DC, but Ralph could take a nap anywhere. He awoke and said, "Martin wants to go to DC, and so we're going." And that was it. I said to myself, "Wow!" But as you know, Dr. King had a detour to Memphis, and he never made it to DC.
I was fortunate to be one of three SCLC staff members to be with Ralph as he arrived in DC to begin the Poor People's Campaign. J. T. Johnson arrived on the plane with Ralph. Walter Fauntroy and I waited at the bottom of the stairs as they disembarked from the plane. The three of us took him to a black-owned motel on 14th Street NW in DC. I was also there at the end of the Poor People's Campaign when the Police shut down Resurrection City and placed handcuffs on Ralph because he would not leave.
I remember Ralph coming to Providence with Bernard Lee to promote the Poor People's Campaign. I remember the time that Ralph sat around Gloria's and my dining room table sharing a meal. I remember the time that Ralph, Bernard Lee and I went to the Adult Correctional Institution in Rhode Island for him to talk to inmates. I was surprised, after all of the times that Ralph had gone to jail with Dr. King, to see and feel his discomfort at being in the prison. On another occasion, I remember when a hotel in Providence gave up his room because we were late. I remember him saying to the manager, "Then I will sleep in the lobby." (The hotel found a room for him.)
So I remember a side of Ralph David Abernathy, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, that few others saw. I believe that there wouldn't have been a Civil Rights bill, a Voting Rights bill or school lunches without Ralph David Abernathy. I hope you will join me in remembering this
man, this remarkable leader.
The New Poor People's Campaign
At its annual Board meeting, the SCOPE50 Board decided to become an endorsing organization of the new Poor People's Campaign, which has been engaging in mass nonviolent direct action in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
Their campaign intensified 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 the Stand Against Poverty Mass Rally and Moral Revival, and launching the next phase of the movement for the long-haul.
For those interested in getting involved, go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and get connected with the leadership in your state.
Bernard Lafayette, the Chairman of the Board at SCLC, conducted a two-day Kingian nonviolence training for the SCOPE50 Board members, which we are hoping to take to schools and communities. We have developed a Nonviolence Resistance brochure which we are distributing to communities in several states.
SCOPE50 continues to promote voter registration across the country. We are working with community groups like the League of Women Voters, the Sea Island Action Network, Rock the Vote and churches. We are also working with March for Our Lives. A new PSA is being developed.
In Memorium: Dorothy Cotton –"The only woman in the room" by John Reynolds
On Sunday, June 10, we lost Dorothy Cotton, who was an important part of SCLC since the early 1960's.
Dorothy was Director of SCLC's Citizenship Education Program, replacing Andrew Young as Director. Other than Ella Baker, Dorothy was the only woman to serve as a member of the Executive Staff. Dorothy played a significant role within SCLC, and in the Movement in general.
Often Dorothy was the only woman in the room. SCLC was primarily a men's organization, and most of those men were ministers, and so Dorothy endured sexism even within SCLC. But Dorothy was in the room where decisions were made and where strategies were developed. Her voice was the voice of those in the community. She was in St. Augustine. She was in Birmingham. Dorothy was an educator in her own right, and she was in communities like Selma teaching people how to read and write so that they could become registered voters and full citizens.
I remember meeting Dorothy in 1965 at the Penn Center. One of the first things that I was struck by was her beautiful voice. Dorothy had a great talent for music and on a number of occasions she used that voice to motivate people to go into the battlefield. I remember riding to Atlanta from the Penn Center in South Carolina with Dorothy, Septima Clark and Anita Poindexter to be interviewed by Dr. King and become a part of SCLC.
I have been in touch with Dorothy occasionally over the past five years. For example, I invited her to speak at our 50th Reunion, but unfortunately she was unable to attend. Within the last five years she moved into assisted living facility, and she lost one of her sisters. That loss hit her hard and was difficult for her to talk about.
Dorothy Cotton's importance to the Movement was a topic of conversation during our recent Board meeting, as one of the SCOPE50 Board members was reading her book, If Your Back's Not Bent; The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement. As one of the reviews on the back of the book states: "The history of the civil rights movement would not be complete without the experiences and insights of Dorothy F. Cotton, who provides a much-needed female perspective on life on the front lines with Martin Luther King Jr."
Oral History Project
At the SCOPE50 Board meeting we initiated the Oral History Project, where we are attempting to collect the history of our SCOPE members so that we can preserve and archive this history for future generations. We are planning is to provide this history to schools across the country to be a part of their curriculum. There was discussion at the Board meeting of copyrighting the interviews with SCOPE50 ownership. During the Board meeting, most of the SCOPE members who attended the Board meeting were interviewed. Dr. Kerry Taylor, Associate Professor of History at The Citadel in Charleston, SC, conducted the audio oral histories, and Board member Mary Whyte conducted video interviews with the technical assistance of David Child.
Mary Whyte, David Child, Barbara Williams Emerson
Letters will be going out to the SCOPE50 membership about participation in the Oral History Project. Several options will be given as to how members can participate.
Emanuel 9 Rally for Unity
Several local members of SCOPE50 attended a rally held on the 3rd anniversary of the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that took nine lives. Survivors and family members of the victims spoke. Another participant on the program was Joan Baez, a frequent presence at SCLC rallies in the 1960's. Mayor John Tecklenburg read a resolution recently passed by the Charleston City Council, apologizing for Charleston's role in the slave trade and for wrongs committed against African-Americans by slavery and Jim Crow laws. The resolution pledges that city officials will work with businesses and organizations to strive for racial equality. Also, I was interviewed by one of the local TV stations during the rally.