SCLC and the Voter Education Program 1962 – 1970

Citizenship Schools

Dorchester Cooperative Center played a key role in the struggle for civil rights and the vote.

In 1954, Septima Clarke, a school teacher from Charleston, SC and Esau Jenkins, a farmer and school bus driver from Johns Island, SC, were on the forefront of grassroots efforts to make voter registration a reality. With the support from the Highlander Folk School, they devised a plan to help rural adults to pass literacy and citizenship tests.

The first Citizenship School, known as the Progressive Club, was established on Johns Island, SC. But in 1961 control of the Citizenship School Program was transferred from Highlander Folk School to the American Missionary Association who acted on the behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. The Citizenship School moved its headquarters to the Dorchester Community Center.

The Citizenship Education Program operated at Dorchester from 1961 to 1970. During that period, 897 Citizenship Schools were established, SCLC leadership planned their Birmingham demonstrations.


Septima Clarke supervised instruction at Dorchester; Andrew Young administered the program; and Dorothy Cotton served as a “cultural emissary” and used music and folklore to generate interest in the program. During their tenure at Dorchester, Clare, Young and Cotton drove all over the South recruiting prospective students. Students were bused to Dorchester for a week-long training program that began on Monday morning and ended after a Saturday night banquet. The program was designed to get participants home in time for church so that they could then share what they had learned at Dorchester with others, and hopefully, establish citizenship classes in their own communities.