Roslyn Pope: Atlanta Student Movement Icon

Roslyn Pope is credited by her peers, especially the founders of the Atlanta Student Movement, Lonnie King and Julian Bond for single-handedly writing the first draft of “An Appeal for Human Rights”: One of the most profound literary documents that drove the Atlanta Student Movement of the In 1960’s-The Appeal for Human Rights.

This appeal appeared as a full-page advertisement in The Atlanta Constitution (today The Atlanta Journal Constitution), The Atlanta Journal, and a black owned newspaper the Atlanta Daily World on March 9, 1960. The publication was so profound that the New York Times, The Nation Magazine, and The Harvard Crimson also ran it full-page and  free of charge.

I cant help but marvel at the eloquence in which Roslyn, while in her early twenties articulated the grievances that she and other black people living in the south experienced. Senator Jacobs Javits must have been exceptionally impressed by Rolsyn’s work since he had it read to the Congressional Record and is still there for posterity. Personally, I’ve likened it to the Declaration of Independence.

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An image of an advertisement carrying the Atlanta Student Movement’s manifesto; An Appeal for Human Rights. This manifesto was predominantly written by Roslyn Pope in 1960

The Atlanta Student Movement was inspired by a group of four black college students from North Carolina A&T State University took the first ever direct action towards the fight for equality. One of those students, Ezell Blair Jr. said in an interview “…on Sunday night, January 31, 1960, decided we were going to request equal service for all Americans at F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter on Monday, February 1, 1960.”

Months later, as the result of students’ actions and pressure from national boycotts, six Nashville stores desegregated their lunch counters. The young men who later became known as the Greensboro four are largely responsible for setting the nonviolence precedence that many other student activists adopted in their respective states.

Lonnie King, leader of the Atlanta Student Movement was primarily inspired by the success of the Greensboro four. He wanted to do something similar in the city of Atlanta and therefore he began to recruit student leaders who were as equally as fed up by status quo as they were hungry and inspired to bring about change through nonviolent direct action. Enter Roslyn Pope!

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A 1960 portrait of Roslyn Pope

Roslyn Pope had just come back to America from France. She had been a recipient of the prestigious Merrill Scholarship study abroad program through which she was able to spend a year studying in Paris. Unlike Atlanta, Roslyn’s home state, Paris was a progressive city and there was no segregation nor discrimination. AH, a taste of what true equality felt like.

As fate would have it, Roslyn’s arrival back to Spelman College coincided with Greensboro sit-ins success at desegregating Woolworth’s lunch counters and also with Lonnie’s recruitment efforts. In one interview, Roslyn is shares that she on many occasions considered not returning to the U.S. due to the poignant letters her Spelman schoolmates in Atlanta sent her while she was in Paris.

Luckily, for humanity’s sake, Roslyn decided to come back regardless of the plight of her people. Lonnie approached a young Roslyn who saw right through Atlanta’s self  proclamation as “the city too busy to hate”  for what it was…an illusion of freedom and equality. She also had been praying for an opportunity to do something that would allow her the opportunity to get involved as heard in one of her video interviews below.

Inspired by the possibility of a better life such as the one she enjoyed abroad, along with the awareness that something radical had to be done to end the oppression and segregation of black people, Roslyn accepted Lonnie and Julian’s invitation to join the movement of student leaders who formed the Committee on Appeal of Human Rights (COAHR).

When Lonnie approached Roslyn, didn’t know her or her background. They were simply recruiting members who would join the Atlanta Student Movement in staging sit-ins at various segregated venues around Atlanta. Word of recruitment efforts soon reached Dr. Mays-the President of Morehouse College at the time, who called a meeting between all six presidents of the other Atlanta University Center schools and Lonnie King.

Basically, the purpose of the meeting was to discourage Lonnie from disturbing the peace by staging sit-ins, picketing or any other form of civil disobedience and to remind the young Lonnie that there was a hierarchy and decorum to be followed when it came to Civil Rights affairs. Lonnie was able to win the support of four out of the six presidents.

Having just returned from a year of study in Paris as a Merrill Scholar, I was not in the mood to return to segregation and second-class citizenship.~Roslyn Pope

Ultimately, the presidents allowed him to proceed with his recruitment efforts. In one interview, Lonnie shares that they only agreed to do so if the student body, under his (Lonnie’s) leadership could produce “an intellectual document that you draft, not us, that would put forth why you might do what you might do later on”. See Lonnie’s interview.

Lonnie then began looking for English majors to write this document which is where he remembered his encounter with Roslyn Pope. When Lonnie sat down to speak with Roslyn, he found her to be “…so brilliant until it is unreal how brilliant she is…” Naturally, Lonnie appointed English majors, Roslyn Pope to edit the document, Charles Black and Julian Bond were also appointed to help Roslyn.

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Roslyn Majored in Music and minored in French and English at Spelman College

As with many other group projects, the committee Lonnie appointed had done nothing except for Julian who turned in the data used in the manifesto. This data came from a separate publication called “A Second Look . One day before the document was due for presentation to the AU Center presidents, Roslyn called Lonnie to let him know that there was no document to show.

Lonnie responded by saying “Roz, it your time. We’ve got to have a document for the presidents in the morning…write the damn thing!” Watch Lonnie recount this moment when Roslyn took it upon herself to write An Appeal for Human Rights Below.

And so it came to be. The vast majority of the manifesto: An Appeal for Human Rights was written in one night by a young college student. Through this document,  the brilliance of Roslyn Pope is and will always be in full display. Even though the statistical data was revised from the pamphlet, “A Second Look,” the surrounding words were penned by Dr. Pope who having just returned from a year of study in Paris as a Merrill Scholar, was not in the mood to return to segregation and second-class citizenship.

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