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2007 - Association for the Study of African American Life and History Words: 193 words || 
1. Billingslea, Alma. "Freedom and the "Ground Crew": SCLC's Field Staff and the Southern Civil Rights Movement" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Atlanta Hilton, Charlotte, NC, Oct 02, 2007 <Not Available>. 2019-08-20 <>
Publication Type: Individual Paper
Abstract: ABSTRACT

Freedom and the “Ground Crew:” SCLC’s Field Staff and the Southern Civil Rights Movement.

Alma Jean Billingslea
Spelman College

On more than one occasion, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the field staff members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as the “ground crew.” He explained that just as an aircraft could not take off and land without the work of mechanics, traffic controllers, runway directors and baggage handlers, people who all remained on the ground, SCLC could not have implemented its programs without the work of the field staff, most of whom had been recruited from movements in Montgomery, Albany, Savannah, Selma, Birmingham, and St. Augustine. Within SCLC the “ground crew” was organized into positions as state field secretaries, project directors, field coordinators, and project workers. Outside of SCLC, in local and national movements, they were simply freedom fighters. This paper examines how a particular conception of freedom functioned to create and unify the “ground crew.” In its presentation of the lives and movement histories of selected members of SCLC’s field staff, this paper also demonstrates how biography and life stories function as a mirror for history and society.

2013 - American Studies Association Annual Meeting Words: 443 words || 
2. Pearlman, Lauren. "SCLC Goes to Washington: The Poor People’s Campaign in Local and National Politics" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, <Not Available>. 2019-08-20 <>
Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Five years after Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Ralph Abernathy walked to the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The new leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had big shoes to fill. He had persuaded the organization to proceed with its Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) shortly following King’s assassination. Now, fifty thousand people looked to him as he gave his “Solidarity Day” speech on June 19, 1968.

SCLC conceived of the idea for the PPC in December 1967. Originally scheduled to take place in April 1968, the campaign marked the first nationally-oriented civil rights demonstration in the nation’s capital since the historic March on Washington. It reflected King’s desire to broaden the black freedom struggle into a larger human rights struggle. Inviting a wide cross-section of citizens to participate—including American Indians, Puerto Ricans, and people of Mexican descent—SCLC reached beyond the traditional civil rights coalition to raise awareness of the conditions in America’s ghettos and the systemic poverty that plagued the nation. But the campaign’s unique and unpredictable format made members of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the Department of Justice, and Washington residents—both black and white—nervous. When SCLC finished building Resurrection City, a shantytown in view of the Lincoln Memorial, and citizens from across the country flocked to the capital for the summer, the opposition’s scrutiny grew stronger. As Abernathy took the stage on Solidarity Day, many Washingtonians just wanted the camp’s three thousand residents to pack up and go home.

This paper traces the rise and fall of Resurrection City, the shantytown that SCLC built as part of its Poor People’s Campaign. It focuses on the planning and behind-the-scenes politics of Solidarity Day, a rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the PPC’s capstone event. It finishes with an examination of Resurrection City’s closure and an exploration of how local police dealt with the end of SCLC’s campaign. As I argue, the unique geography of the National Mall allowed for unprecedented coordination between local business and civic groups, municipal government, and federal officials to contain the campaign. Moreover, it’s negative reception by D.C. residents and national politicians cannot be isolated from the capital’s complicated history of disenfranchisement, dispossession, and dissent. A study of the ways in which Washington, D.C., helped shape the PPC reveals the interwoven nature of local and federal governance, the importance of local activism to the national civil rights movement, and the increased racial tensions in a city where African Americans were assuming greater political power.

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