UCSB SCOPE Project 1965
SCOPE Project Success Story
Martin Luther King & the Spirit of the '60s #1
Martin Luther King & the Spirit of the '60s #2
Voting Rights March — Virginia, 1965
While a freshman at UC Santa Barbara in the spring of 1965, I was recruited to serve as a voter registration worker in the Rev. Dr. M.L. King Jr.'s SCOPE project (Summer Community Organization and Political Education) by SCOPE director Rev. Hosea Williams. Our group was sent to Sussex County in southern Virginia after orientation and training in Atlanta, GA. Stationed in 3 small towns in this rural county, we were welcomed by a small, courageous group of church-going African-Americans and their sons and daughters. The teens "adopted" us first, learned our Freedom Songs, and were instrumental in bringing many reluctant parents to our first meetingswhich we helped them establish Improvement Associations, the backbone of the SCLC's plan to empower Southern blacks.
The local blacks had good reason to be afraid of associating with us. Their county was the modern equivalent of a feudal state. One man alone owned the logging-and-sawmill operation (the major employer in the county), employed many peanut field workers (the other major business), was many employee's landlord, State Senator from that region, and president of the local bank!
We spent a good deal of time trying unsuccessfully to get the county registrar to expand the voter registration office hours beyond a meager2 hours a month. With the help of SCLC coordinator Herbert Coulton of Petersburg, VA, we organized a march to the County Courthouse, followed soon after by a massive turnout to register on the next scheduled Monday afternoon. A long line waiting outside to register was still not enough to persuade the local authorities, so we went to Washington, DC, to meet with the Justice Department. They applied pressure on county officials who relented and opened up the office. The bulk of our ensuing time was spent walking and driving many miles in the summer heat, amidst clouds of pine swamp mosquitoes, knocking on doors and arranging for people to register.
One time, some of our group endured being held captive in a laundromat by the owner, a violent racist who threw our clothes on the floor, Lysoled the machines we had been using, and screamed profanities while threatening us with bodily harm. Another time, some of our group were chased one night at high speed down a country road by young men in a truck brandishing a gun. They made it back, recognized the truck and riders in the light of the streetlights, and managed to have them put on trial where the charges were dismissed for their inability to name the exact year, make and model of the truck.
The experience changed — and enriched — my life forever in more ways than I can articulate right now. Seeing Virginia vote for Obama in the 2008 election brought me a sense of pride about the role I played back then and the positive effect it had on the political power of African-Americans. That feeling led me to join this site today.
As for me, my life was profoundly affected by my association with Dr. King (whom I was privileged to meet that summer), his staff, and the opportunity to live and work alongside some of the friendliest, most hospitable, and most courageous people I've met, the African-American community of Sussex County, VA.
I am currently a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Ventura County and an Associate Member of the Ventura County chapter of Veterans for Peace. Please contact me about my musical multimedia presentation on my experiences, "Martin Luther King and the Spirit of the '60s" for your school assembly or community program.