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A Time to Plan

A Time to Play

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) 

Dorchester Academy is nationally significant as the primary site of the Citizenship Education Program sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) between 1961 and 1970. The Citizenship Education Program formed the basis for the very successful SCLC Voter Education Project (VEP). The citizenship training program was responsible for educating thousands of Southern blacks about their rights as American citizens, and providing them with the necessary skills to pass the voter registration test. After the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment following the Civil War, southern whites implemented such barriers as the white primary, poll tax, grandfather clause, and literacy tests, to deny African Americans their right to vote.
Increased voter registration was one of many goals Southern blacks fought for during the civil rights movement to gain equality and end systematic discriminatory practices that violated the rights guaranteed to them by the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.[1] Dorchester is also associated with the planning meetings for the Birmingham Campaign. During a two-day retreat in January 1963, eleven top SCLC officials met to discuss Project “C,” Wyatt T. Walker’s blueprint for a coordinated attack against segregation in Birmingham, one of the South’s most staunchly segregated cities. For nine years, the Dorchester Academy served as the main training site of the Citizenship Education Program, and during that period was successful in establishing 897 citizenship schools throughout the South by “providing full citizenship through education.”[2] The property is also associated with civil rights activist Septima Poinsette Clark, whose vision and grassroots organizing made the Citizenship Education Program successful. Considered the “queen mother of the civil rights movement,” she was responsible for developing the citizenship education model and overseeing the program from its inception in 1956 until 1970, five years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Taylor Branch, the author of the Martin Luther King Jr. biographical trilogy, credits Septima Clark with having “one of the most powerful impacts on the whole scene.”[3]

[1] Townsend Davis, Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 188; Jacqueline Anne Rouse, “We Seek to Know…In Order to Speak the Truth: Nurturing the Seeds of Discontent - Septima P. Clark and Participatory Leadership,” in Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 96, 113; Grace Jordan McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights,” in Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline A. Rouse, and Barbara Woods, eds. Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 93.
[2] McFadden, “Septima P. Clark and the Struggle for Human Rights,” 93; Rouse, “We Seek to Know,” 113.
[3] Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 575-79, quoted in Rouse, “We Seek to Know,” 96.