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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leslie W. Dunbar, December 18, 1978. Interview G-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Southern Regional Council, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and voter registration

Dunbar talks about how the Southern Regional Council had to work carefully in distributing funding to the major civil rights organizations for the Voters Education Program. According to Dunbar, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference emerged as the most influential group in terms of effecting change in voter registration. He describes in detail their Citizen Education Program which worked to teach African Americans how to pass literacy tests in their communities in order to gain access to the ballot. This demonstrates the importance groups like the SRC and the SCLC placed on voting rights as an important avenue towards equality.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leslie W. Dunbar, December 18, 1978. Interview G-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
Given all of the competitiveness among the different organizations, I'm surprised that SRC didn't get more criticism, or become alienated from various organizations because of this squabbling for money. I don't know of criticism about this.
LESLIE W. DUNBAR:
Well, thank you. I think we did a fairly good job. I think Wiley is principally responsible. Vernon Jordan got into it too. I guess Vernon's title was Assistant to the Executive Director, but then he got two titles. He was Assistant to the Executive Director of SRC, and Assistant to the Director of VEP.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You first hired him as your assistant? Where did you find him?
LESLIE W. DUNBAR:
Vernon was the Georgia NAACP Director. I'd met him around town someplace. I think I first met him at Frances Pauley's house one time. Paul Rilling left to go elsewhere, and I gave Paul Anthony Paul Rilling's job. And Paul Anthony became Field Director. Paul had been "Assistant to", and then I found Vernon.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How much money did SNCC get for voter registration drives in comparison to these other organizations?
LESLIE W. DUNBAR:
I couldn't tell you any longer. If you took SNCC plus COFO, there's no doubt in my memory that SNCC would have received a larger sum of money than any of the other big organizations. That's not altogether accurate, because COFO also included CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. COFO essentially was SNCC and CORE in Mississippi, but SNCC more than CORE. After the first year, when we had just made a gesture in the direction of the Urban League, they didn't get anything. We insisted with SCLC that we would not give them money for general voter registration programs. They had to say where. And that became difficult.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In a recent documentary about the life of Martin Luther King, and other popular versions of the history of the civil rights movement that I've seen, SCLC definately has center stage, and SNCC was definately less important.
LESLIE W. DUNBAR:
The most effective voter registration work that SCLC did was what was called the Citizenship Education Program, which was funded by the Field Foundation. This was separate entirely from VEP. It had nothing to do with me either. It meant a lot. The Citizenship Education Program got set up in 1961 or '62. It was an outgrowth of things going on at Highlander. It was under the administrative jurisdiction of the United Church. The field grant always went to the United Church. That is pretty much why Andy Young got involved; he was a United Church minister. Andy came back south, hired by the United Church to head the Citizenship Education Program, as its Director. All during the movement days, Andy was on that payroll. He spent most of his time in Atlanta, working for King, and nobody objected to that, but his payroll spot was always over there. Septima Clark, Dorothy Cotton, and Anelle Ponder, and a few others, they did a job. They brought these people in from all over the South. Fannie Lou Hamer is the most distinguished alumna, but she's certainly not the only one. Women pretty much ran the place, under Andy, who was sitting in Atlanta. That was important work. They taught these people how to take a literacy test, and they taught them how to go back where they came from to teach other people how to take the literacy test. That was a real great contribution. They had that center down at McIntosh. One time, when that got unusable, they used Penn for about a year. It's too bad nothing like this goes on now, because we sure need it. It continued to go on for several years. After I got up to Field, it didn't seem to me to make a whole lot of sense to continue funding this through the United Church. I thought SCLC ought to be responsible enough to handle the money itself, so the grant was shifted to SCLC. It was the largest single grant the Field Foundation made, at the time I went up there, and it stayed that way for a while. Field was pouring one hundred forty or one hundred fifty thousand dollars a year into that, in addition to what it was giving VEP.