The Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was a bold voter registration civil rights initiative conducted from 1965-66 in 120 counties in six southern states.
While leading the Chatham County Crusade For Voters in Savannah, Georgia, one of many S.C.L.C. affiliates across the South, Rev. Hosea Williams, an S.C.L.C. aide to Dr. King, had been joined by white college students for various short term civil rights projects. From that interracial success, the idea of SCOPE grew to fruition. Dr. King and S.C.L.C. decided that there was a need for white college students to journey south to join with local activists. The goals included preparing formerly disenfranchised African Americans for voting, and, if necessary, organizing street demonstrations to help put political pressure on the Congress, should the proposed Voting Rights Bill of 1965 be met with congressional resistance and stalling, or even filibuster by die-hard segregationist forces.
In the Winter and Spring of 1965, the voting rights movement in Selma and the Selma-Montgomery March were challenging the segregated status quo. During the spring of 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assigned the Rev. Hosea L. Williams, SCLC Director of Voter Registration and Political Education, to lead the SCOPE Project, The SCOPE Project, which had been approved by the SCLC executive committee in December 1964, continued into the Fall of 1965 and the Spring of 1966. Some of the white college volunteers returned in the summer of 1966, and a few enrolled in Black southern colleges and continued community organization activities beyond the spring of 1966.
Dr. King announced the SCOPE project in a speech at UCLA on April 27, 1965 and his visit resulted in the recruitment of twenty UCLA students, including the late Joel Siegel, who later became the film critic for Good Morning America and Rick Tuttle, who worked with Rev. Hosea Williams and Rev. Andrew Young and spent two months in a Savannah jail as a result of his Movement activities before he was released. Tuttle’s case won the right to use property bonds for civil rights workers bail. Later he would serve 16 years as Los Angeles City Controller. The SCLC staff sent regional recruitment teams to visit colleges and universities nationwide. Mrs. Gwendolyn Green, the executive director of the Western Christian Leadership Conference joined Dr. King at UCLA and was temporarily assigned to the Atlanta office to serve as the Assistant SCOPE director, reporting to Rev. Hosea Williams and Dr. King.
Initially, the SCLC had hoped to recruit 2000 volunteers, but due to the sometimes extreme danger involved with mid-60s civil rights movement in the southern states, college students from the north and west did not respond in the hoped for numbers. Eventually about 500 predominantly white college volunteers—representing nearly 100 universities—were deployed in 90 of the 120 SCOPE Project targeted counties across six southern states. Some students were re-deployed and assigned to more than one county by their leader, Rev. Hosea Williams, who had received leadership training as a World War II Army Sgt. in General George Patton's Black tank brigade, and was a combat decorated veteran.
The SCOPE project began on June 14, 1965, with a week-long Orientation at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, which was led by Mr. Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March On Washington. The "faculty" for the orientation included: Vernon Jordan of the Urban League; Ralph Helstein, president of the meatpackers union; John Doar, Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights); Michael Harrington, author of “The Other America”; civil rights lawyer Charles Morgan, Jr., as well as Dr. King, Rev. Andrew Young, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Junius Griffin, Rev. James Bevel, and others on the SCLC Executive Staff.
The students were led by local African American leaders in the targeted counties and joined by Black community volunteers, including local ministers and large numbers of local high school and college youth. The SCOPE Project registered an estimated 49,000 new voters through the combined efforts of the local community and the SCOPE college volunteers during a ten week initiative, from June 14 - August 28. In addition, SCOPE educated thousands of citizens in political and voter literacy education classes.
The volunteers also tested and reported violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, John Doar, which led to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations and the deployment of Federal voter registrars to counties that denied African Americans the right to vote. SCLC field staff and SCOPE volunteers also worked with the DOJ Community Relations Service (CRS), and engaged in nonviolent demonstrations to dramatize the denial of voting rights and the refusal to remove "white only" signs and desegregate public accommodations.
S.C.L.C. and other organizations bridged racial and religious barriers to forge partnerships with both white Christian and Jewish groups, along with progressives in the Southern Regional Council and other liberal organizations. SCOPE volunteers were assigned to work with African-American community leaders who had requested the white college volunteers.
The students lived with African-American families, who were paid $15 a week for their room and board, which barely covered expenses. About 40 of the college volunteers were asked by Dr. King, Rev. Williams and his assistant, Mrs. Gwendolyn Green, to join the SCLC Field Staff. They were then paid a subsistence salary of $5 a week, with the African American community providing housing and meals. Many veterans from other S.C.L.C campaigns were assigned to the SCOPE project including: Field Staff members Rev. Willie Bolden; Benjamin Van Clark; Jimmie L. Wells; Ms. Lula Williams; Lena Turner; Gloria Wise; Jewell Wise; Patricia Simpson; R. B. Cottonreader; J.T. Johnson; Tom Houck; Dana Swan; Rev. James Orange; Ben “Sunshine” Owens; “Big Lester” Hankerson; Leon Hall, Bruce Hartford, and many others. Both Albert Turner and Stony Cooks worked closely with Hosea Williams in statewide leadership roles.
SCOPE volunteers experienced violence, tear-gassing, harassment and threats with guns on numerous occasions, according to "incident reports" from the project's administrative records. On June 18, 1965 in Camden, AL, for example, 18 SCOPE workers were arrested in a church for "illegal possession of boycott materials." One SCOPE worker, Mike Farley, was beaten in jail by a white prisoner, who was reportedly both bribed and threatened by a jailer. On July 8 in Wilcox County, AL, three cars carrying SCOPE workers were shot at by white men, after police stopped SCOPE workers and spoke with white men. On July 15, in Chatham County, GA SCOPE worker Shirley Savaris was threatened by a white man with a gun and told to leave town. The next day in Taliafferro County, GA, SCOPE workers were threatened by a deputy sheriff and county attorney with beatings and killings, "if they did not leave town the next day." Also in Taliaferro County, on July 23 SCOPE volunteer Richard Copeland was beaten by two whites on the courthouse steps in Crawfordsville. On July 28 in Sussex County, VA, 2 SCOPE workers, Gary Imsland and Elke Wiedenroth, were run off the road while returning from a church meeting and threatened by a white man with a shotgun. In Luverne, AL on August 3, SCOPE workers Dunbar Reed, Bruce Hartford, Carol Richardson along with a number of local students were attacked and beaten by a white mob after they integrated a local cafe. On August 18 in Berkeley County, SC, two SCOPE volunteers were beaten after attempting to integrate restaurants in Monk's Corner and the local SCOPE office and volunteer residence was shot up the following day.
SCOPE Veterans Legacy
The SCOPE volunteers were profoundly impacted on a personal level by the inter-racial experiences throughout their lives, as were the host families and communities. Press accounts termed the SCOPE volunteers "the freedom corps." Although the college students were in no way leaders of the civil rights movement, they were a part of a generational vanguard of about only 3,000 whites between 1961–1966, who were willing to put themselves in harms way during the movement struggle in the South. Rev. Hosea Williams predicted in an interview with the Stanford University radio station in August, 1965, that SCOPE volunteers would provide significant leadership to America in the future. And, within the ranks of the SCOPE students there have been many who provided impressive leadership in various fields, including: Dr. Jo Freeman, an author/journalist; Father James Groppi, as an activist Catholic priest; Dr. Barbara Jean Emerson, a college administrator; Elizabeth Omilami, actress and current CEO of Hosea's Feed The Hungry and Homeless Inc - a non-profit that provides food and assistance to the poor in Atlanta; Rabbi Moshe Shur, Hillel Rabbi at Queens College; international educator Peter Geffen, founder of the Abraham Heschel Day School in NYC; Dr. Dean Savage, chair, Dept of Sociology, Queens College;, Dr. James Simons, M.D., Oncologist, Kaiser Hospital, Oakland, CA;, Judy Van Allen (Institute For African Development, Cornell University; Dick Reavis, professor, NC State University); Dr. Bruce Mirhoff, professor, SUNY); Bruce Hartford, co-founder Civil Rights Vets website; Beth Pickens, attorney – NYC and others. Additional SCOPErs who became leaders can be found on the civil rights vets website.
John Lewis, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Chairman from 1963–1966 (later a U.S. Congressman representing Atlanta), welcomed the SCOPE volunteers as “brothers and sisters in the movement,” who were willing to put their lives on the line for freedom. Mr. Lewis was jailed with white SCOPE workers, along with local African American SNCC and SCLC volunteers, in Americus, Georgia on August 1, 1965, after attempting to integrate to local churches. As Lewis said during a question and answer session, in 2006 at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, "The SCOPE volunteers were no different than Freedom Summer workers, we were all together that summer of 1965, and we all took the same risks. The SCOPE volunteers stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our struggle for civil and voting rights."
In assessing the courageous contributions of the SCOPE volunteers, Rev. Andrew Young, who went on from the Civil Rights Movement to serve as a U.S. Congressman, United Nations Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta, told a King Holiday audience in Atlanta “The volunteers in SCOPE knew that some of the Freedom Summer workers had been killed the Summer before, but they came anyway.” On another occasion, he told a reunion of civil rights Movement volunteers, including SCOPE veterans “Most of you were taking your lives in your hands by associating with us. It made us truly a national movement, when the students came. Their parents had to learn about the South.”
Books about SCOPE by SCOPE Participants include: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, Maria Gitin, University of Alabama Press Feb 2014. For more information see: www.thisbrightlightofours.com.
Appreciation goes to Willy Siegel Leventhal for his collection of SCOPE documents and essays: The SCOPE of Freedom, which enabled Gitin to contact some of her co-workers and to conduct some fact checking.
Aiken, Michael, Demerath, Dr. Jay Dr. and Marwell, Gerald. (1970) Dynamics of Idealism: White Activists in a Black Movement. New York: Jossey-Bass Publishers
B'NAI BRITH National Magazine, June, 2007, "Blacks, Jews and Civil Rights ... The Struggle Continues"
Leventhal, Willy. (2001) "Rick Tuttle and the Ghosts of Mississippi ... How the '60s Began at UCLA", UCLA Alumni Magazine
Leventhal, Willy. "A Personal Odyssey", NEW SOUTH. Fall, 1972
Leventhal, Willy. The Scope of Freedom: The Leadership of Hosea Williams with Dr. King's '65 Student Volunteers. (2005) Montgomery: Challenge Publishing.
Leventhal, Willy. "A Short Line To History", Montgomery Living Magazine, May 2003, pages 68–69.
National Park Service: S.C.O.P.E. Selma-Montgomery National Historic Site Visitor's Center information card
Siegel, Joel (2004). Lessons for Dylan: From Father to Son. New York: Public Affairs.
Yoo, Charles. "Decades Later, Young Foot Soldiers for Civil Rights Meet Again in South", July 4, 2005, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, pages D-1 & D-3.
Young, Andrew (2008). An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America. New York: Baylor University Press
- Summer Community Organization & Political Education Project (SCOPE) ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans
- Dynamics of Idealism: Volunteers for Civil Rights, 1965-1982 online data archive ~ Data and Information Services Center (University of Wisconsin)
- Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute
- Southern Christian Leadership Conference website
- SCOPE project - Civil Rights Digital Library
- Stanford University "Project South" SCOPE interview archives, Green Llibrary Special Collections
- Leventhal, Willy. The Scope of Freedom: The Leadership of Hosea Williams with Dr. King's '65 Student Volunteers. (2005) Montgomery: Challenge Publishing, pp. 367-389