Remembering A SCOPES Hero
By Ari Goldstein
Two historically marginalized groups, African-Americans and Jews, got together in the Queens College Hillel on Wednesday to hear Barbara Jean Emerson, the daughter of Reverend Hosea L. Williams, movingly discussed the story of her father and his impact as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
One major incident led to Williams’ involvement with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Williams was beaten after drinking from a water fountain labeled “Whites Only,” the only one in a segregated
bus station in Americas, Georgia.
Once he recovered, he joined with Martin Luther King Jr. and his staff. Described by King as “My wild man, my
Castro,” Williams was assigned, with 500 other college student volunteers, to help register black voters along
the “black belt” of the South in 1965. This project, known as the Summer Community Organization and
Political Education (SCOPE), registered almost 50,000 new voters.
Hosea Williams was with King when he was assassinated. Emerson told the audience that he considered
himself the keeper of King’s dream and accused other African-American leaders of abandoning that very vision.
Emerson also informed us that Williams founded the non-profit organization Hosea Feeds the Hungry (HFTH), which provides the unfortunate “all you can eat with a serving of dignity.” HFTH currently feeds 8,000 families that survived Hurricane Katrina, and provides food the hungry on Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, and Martin Luther King Day.
Also in attendance were Joel Siegel of ABC’s Good Morning America, who moderated the event, and Willy Siegel Leventhal, author of The SCOPE of Freedom which tells the story of Williams and the SCOPE project.
Peter Geffen, a QC alum, came up with the idea for this affair. His became interested in the project when QC student Andy Goodman, along with James Cheney and Michael Schwerner, was killed by the KKK in Philadelphia, Mississippi while working for the Civil Rights Movement. Geffen wanted take Andy’s place, so he traveled down south from 1965-66 with Rabbi Moshe Shur, the executive director of the QC Hillel, and helped southern blacks learn how to write their names so that they could register to vote.
Geffen also discussed the alliance between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and urged
African-Americans and Jews to engage in continued dialogue.
Aside from Emerson and Geffen, additional speakers were Dean Savage, the chair of the sociology department,
Leventhal, and Rabbi Shur, all members of the SCOPE project.
Elit Goldberger, Hillel’s Israel Fellow, claimed that the event “drew many new different faces and it was very
educational.” She also reiterated Geffen’s point that “It was also great to see such warm cooperation between a
Jewish club and African-Americans, and I hope the cooperation will continue and flourish.” She said that the Hillel
plans to do similar events in the future.
Emerson proudly stated that one of Williams’ favorite quotes was, “He who knows not his history is doomed to
repeat it.” She described her father as a man of “precise insight, far-reaching foresight, with wit, wisdom, and if needed, rage.” Reverend Hosea Williams was a true freedom fighter who consistently stood up for freedom, justice, and equality.