When I signed on to SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Eduction (SCOPE) project fifty years ago this summer I was a naive, idealistic teenager who embraced nonviolence as the path to ending segregation and to securing African American voting rights. When I attended the intensive SCOPE Orientation, “a civil rights boot camp” in Atlanta, I learned that “nonviolent” does not mean passive. Hosea L Williams told us that we were foot soldiers in a nonviolent war to end racism. Dr. King proclaimed that “history is made where students are” and that it was worth sacrificing your life to be part of that change.
Later that year in a speech at Hunter College, Dr. King recapped some of what he taught us: [Negro was the term he used at that time] “The powerful unity of Negro with Negro and white with Negro is stronger than the most powerful and entrenched racism.”
King warned: “The cup of endurance has run over, and there is deep determination on the part of people of color to be freed from the shackles that they faced in the past. Now if the white world does not recognize this and adjust to what has to be, then we will end up with a kind of race war.”
Dr. King penned this declaration in 1965, 50 yrs ago. Today, activists, commentators, even scholars predict that as a result of our failure to eliminate institutional racism, and due to a recent series of murders of unarmed Black men and women that we are now in deeply into a period that has the potential to be both as productive and as violent as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The continued white denial of racial injustice has enraged diverse communities.
Current civil unrest rises up at the same time that a broad segment of the public is disgusted with the electoral process, discouraged about their potential for economic advancement, and fails to register, let alone vote. What does it mean for us as a country if we have large numbers of people who do not believe they are heard, that they are represented, or enfranchised? And that de facto they are still denied those rights for which we risked our lives? And what are we going to do about it?
– Maria Gitin, SCLC SCOPE, SNCC 1965
For more about Summer 1965: http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com