By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Seabrook resident John Reynolds was 16 when the Civil Rights Act (CRA) was signed into law. He lived in Troy, Alabama and had been working in the fields when he heard the news. Tired and hungry, he decided against walking miles to the other side of town for lunch, opting instead for the nearby “whites only” counter at Byrd Drug Store. Staff pushed back when he placed his order until he explained the law of the land. Flabbergasted, they served him. The meal would be the first on a journey of a lifetime which included membership in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King knew the victory of the CRA would hollow out if not exercised. King felt voting was essential and registering to vote was required, so he formed SCOPE (Summer Community Organization for Political Education). Reynolds was quick to join and would visit other lunch counters in the course of registering voters, though never with the same success. Rocks, bottles, rotten fruit, eggs, rocks, physical abuse, verbal abuse, beatings at the hands of police, dogs, and death threats rained on him and his group of determined compatriots.
Confronted with incessant violence in Mississippi (three were murdered), Alabama, Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina, they simply endured it non-violently as a necessary evil demanded by their membership in SCLC/SCOPE.
Owing much of its success to the SCOPE group’s efforts, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law on August 6, 1965. Enduring relationships were formed in the fires of the Civil Rights movement, and SCOPE celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2015. They voted to focus their energy in a number of new directions which included stamping out “Children in Poverty”.
Alarmed at dropout rates in poor communities, SCOPE member Dr. Fayrine Brown formed Capers Preparatory Christian Academy in 2003, located on Bees Ferry Road in Charleston. CPCA is making a real difference in the lives of teenagers. The school’s website, CapersPreparatoryChristianAcademy.com, boasts a 100% college acceptance rate. Brown’s focus is smaller class sizes for families that struggle to put food on the table, let alone afford private schools. Reynolds used SCOPE funds (and some of his own) to take a mountain of food to the twenty-five Charleston families with students enrolled there, in the run up to another SCOPE reunion.
SCOPE dignitaries met with area residents at the Church of Our Savior on June 22, 2017. Lanny Kaufer, Richard Smiley, Jo Freeman, renowned artist/author Mary Whyte, and local author Reynolds each spoke for a limit of ten minutes. Whyte described her intent to promote a program of oral histories of Civil Rights in local schools, while others touched briefly on “what it was like” and what they were up to now. It’s difficult to do justice to any one of their “tip of the iceberg” accounts, let alone all of them. Jo Freeman’s Wikipedia page is a good start for those interested in a broader grip on their efforts. The site is wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo_Freeman, and it fans out with links for even further information.
Reynolds said the time limit was imposed to allow more time for questions from attendees, which didn’t really solve the problem either until someone asked, “Well, what do you want us to do?” Seabrook resident and audience member Robin Girardi was ready with a response to that one. She, along with Reynolds and 200 of their best friends have formed Seabrook Island Voter Outreach as part of the Sea Islands Action Network. The group’s immediate priority is the SCOPE-esque mission of registering voters in and around Johns Island.
Two events have been planned to transport unregistered locals to the Johns Island Regional Library on Maybank Highway. The first will be help on September 21 and the second on September 30. Both events will take place between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Photo Voter ID’s can be obtained and will be produced onsite. “Our goal is outreach into the Sea Islands community to enable unregistered voters to take advantage of these scheduled events,” said Girardi in an email.
More information, answers to questions, and a way to register to help are available by visiting siansc.com.