Initially created to document the activities of several Queens College students who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement, the college’s Civil Rights Archive recently announced the acquisition of a new collection—this one from a QC faculty member.
When Dean Savage (Sociology) joined the college in 1971, he was only six years removed from his own participation as a Columbia University graduate student in one of the initiatives whose acronym conjures images from the racially charged decades of the mid-twentieth century. In fact, it is images in the form of 15 3.5-inch by 3.5-inch color photos that make up the heart of the Dean Savage Collection.
“I’m not sure which of these I may have taken,” says Savage of the snapshots that capture events he participated in during the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project in the summer of 1965.
He was one of a group of students recruited by Columbia history professor Jim Shenton to join SCOPE, which sent them to Orangeburg, South Carolina, where they worked to increase voter registration among African Americans. An initiative by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and directed by Hosea Williams, SCOPE was a response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for northern students to assist in civil rights activities in the south.
One photo shows King addressing SCOPE volunteers at their June 15 orientation in Atlanta with a speech titled “Why Are You Here?” The substance of subsequent weeks is captured in photos that range from casual snapshots of Savage and his youthful comrades eating dinner or celebrating a birthday to startling images of a cross burning at a nighttime Ku Klux Klan rally and SCOPE members being beaten and arrested by police at a sit-in at the Orangeburg County Courthouse. (In one photo, volunteer Robert Brumbaugh displays extensive bruising on his back from having been dragged by police.)
SCOPE volunteers are seen seated in a courthouse in a photo taken later that month at a hearing for arrests related to the sit-in. The hearing and the resulting sentence of 30 days or a $50 fine were front-page news for a local paper. A clipping of the story is included in the collection, along with a pamphlet from the Klan rally, news articles relating to arrests, transcripts from the SCOPE orientation in Atlanta, and supplemental materials provided by Savage as contextual information.
Though only seen from behind in two photos, another later-to-be member of the Queens College community was part of SCOPE’s South Carolina campaign and assisted in the preparation of the Dean Savage Collection: former campus Rabbi Moshe Shur, who now teaches in Jewish Studies. Recounts Savage, Shur (then known as “Mickey”) was one of the volunteers who snuck into the Klan rally. When a collection was taken up among attendees, Savage says Shur tossed in his SCOPE button.
“Not a smart move,” he says, recalling a Klan member proclaiming upon reviewing the offerings, “We know you’re out there!”
Savage, whose student activism also included participation in civil rights protests as an undergraduate in California and being arrested during the May 1968 student protests in Paris, where he was a doctoral student, says, “I always tell my students to pay attention to the larger social currents: If you have a chance to hear somebody famous, if you have a chance to see something or be a part of history, take advantage of it. It will turn out to be a formative experience in a way that a classroom experience may not.”
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Contact: Phyllis Cohen Stevens
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