Bob Fitch photography archive, © Stanford University Libraries
On 15 June 1965 Martin Luther King addressed the opening orientation session for student volunteers in Atlanta’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He told the assembled volunteers: “This generation of students is found where history is being made” (King, 15 June 1965).
SCOPE took place during the summer of 1965, growing out of SCLC’s participation in the Voter Education Project, the momentum following the Selma to Montgomery March, and SCLC’s desire to highlight the voter registration process for blacks while the Voting Rights Act was pending before Congress. SCOPE was also inspired by the 1964 Freedom Summer, a Council of Federated Organizations initiative that mobilized hundreds of white college students to work in the South against segregation and black disenfranchisement. SCLC’s Voter Registration and Political Education Director Hosea Williams was selected to manage the effort. On 30 April King and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s John Lewis announced that the two organizations would work cooperatively to implement programs designed to carry out a program of voter education and political organization across the South (King and Lewis, 30 April 1965).
Despite promises that the Voting Rights Act would be enacted by June 1965, SCOPE began that summer as the bill wended its way through Congress. Its three objectives were local recruitment and community grass-roots organization, voter registration, and political education. Over 1,200 SCOPE workers, including 650 college students from across the nation, 150 SCLC staff members, and 400 local volunteers, served in 6 southern states to register African Americans to vote.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on 6 August 1965, three days after its enactment in Congress. SCOPE ended only three weeks later, depriving the SCLC workers, students, and local volunteers of federal support during most of the program. King reported that the project’s goals had been achieved and projected success in SCLC’s future registration efforts.
King, “Let My People Vote,” 19 June 1965, New York Amsterdam News.
King, “Meaning of Georgia Elections,” 3 July 1965, New York Amsterdam News.
King, “Why Are You Here?,” Address Delivered at the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) orientation, 15 June 1965, MLKEC.
King and Lewis, Statement on cooperation between Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, 30 April 1965, SCLCR-GAMK.