by Ryan Taylor, Project Archivist, MARBL
“Working for Freedom: Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and The Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans. The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Each organization regularly contributes blog posts about their progress.
Through financial records, grant documents, correspondence, and records related to a variety of social projects, the papers of the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation provide a comprehensive view of the activities of the charitable organ of SCLC between 1962 and 2001. The documents primarily cover the period from 1966 to the mid-1990s, when the Foundation was most active, administering grants to individuals, organizations, and SCLC, as well as overseeing and operating textile business ventures, like Crawfordville Enterprises, under the leadership of Chauncey Eskridge, the Foundation’s Director. The papers in this series primarily document the actions of Eskridge as Director (though he also served as SCLC’s legal counsel), a position he held from the inception of SCLF in 1966 (originally called the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation) until the mid-1980s, when operational responsibilities were taken over by Betty Brooks, the Foundation’s long-time administrative assistant and aid to Eskridge. Included in the series is correspondence, the records of Crawfordville Enterprises, financial records, documents detailing grants to SCLC to cover operating expenses, other grants to fund projects undertaken by individuals and organizations, and other ventures SCLF involved itself in, including the MLK International Freedom Games.
One of the largest projects that Eskridge and the Foundation were involved in was Crawfordville Enterprises, a non-profit venture undertaken by SCLF, Southern Rural Action, Inc., and the citizens of Crawfordville, Georgia, through a CAP grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Crawfordville Enterprises began in 1966 as a textile manufacturing project in the rural town of Crawfordville. Its aim was to create a black-owned and operated sewing plant, and provide community outreach and assistance to the poor African American population in Crawfordville. Though the project did not always directly involve SCLF, they did act as administrator of the grant money from OEO and helped to oversee some of the plant’s operations, until leadership discrepancies between SCLF and management at Crawfordville created a rift between the two organizations. This pushed Eskridge to create Village Creations and B & B Enterprises, both for-profit textile business offshoots of Crawfordville Enterprises, managed by Chauncey Eskridge and SCLF. Village Creations operated in the same town as Crawfordville Enterprises, gaining some success after establishing a contract with Sears to fabricate textiles for the large company. However, tension between Crawfordville Enterprises and Village Creations came to a head in late 1970s, and Village Creations moved their operations to the nearby town of Mayfield. From the existing records, the fate of Village Creations and Crawfordville Enterprises is largely unknown, but they remain a testament to the diversity and scope of projects and initiatives undertaken by SCLF under Eskridge’s leadership.
NOTE: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference records currently are closed for processing. They are expected to open Spring 2012. Please contact the archivist for more information. All materials related to SCLF and Crawfordville Enterprises will be available in the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation series of the SCLC papers.