Raised in Washington, D.C.
After earning a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960, Myrtle Glascoe settled in Baltimore to work as a social worker at the Rosewood State Hospital. The Movement was heating up in the city, and one of Glascoe’s colleagues invited her to a meeting of the local CORE chapter. She agreed hesitantly–she didn’t believe in nonviolence and didn’t want to participate in nonviolent protests in the city. But she soon found her niche in the local Movement. “I would do all kinds of things behind the scenes; I would drive people places; I would do support work and all kinds of stuff like that but I just wouldn’t walk the picket line.”
Despite her reluctance to join nonviolent protests, Glascoe sat in with a group of young people at the White Coffee Pot, a local segregated restaurant. When they were turned away by an employee, Glascoe was seething with anger. “It was like a rod of steel was put in my back and I can’t describe how I felt, it was that burn that turned me on.”
In 1962, Glascoe left Baltimore to work with “emotionally disturbed” and “delinquency-prone” youth in Los Angeles, California. Though separated by a continent from her activist-friends in Maryland, Glascoe remained plugged into the Movement’s national network. She met SNCC’s Mike Miller, who headed up SNCC’s support group in the Bay Area. Miller introduced her to other SNCC veterans, including Ivanhoe Donaldson and Lawrence Guyot. But the SNCC member who made the biggest impression on Glascoe was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer from Sunflower County, Mississippi.
Glascoe couldn’t resist SNCC’s pull. She volunteered steadily for the Friends of SNCC group in California. In the spring of 1965, Glascoe was on the committee to select volunteers for the upcoming Arkansas Freedom Summer Project. She had no intentions of going South herself until a colleague convinced her otherwise. In mid-June, she arrived in West Helena, Arkansas, a small city on the Mississippi River.
As a social worker with experience in dealing with children, Glascoe was a natural fit to be the director of West Helena’s Freedom School–a summer school for local youths that linked education with self-discovery and freedom. “An important part of that,” Glascoe explained, “was discussing with them what was going on in their communities and facilitating for them opportunities to express themselves.” Over 100 children and young adults regularly attended, and the school offered classes in standard academic subjects as well as African American history and civics. Fellow summer volunteer Mike Simmons described the Freedom School as “one of the most dynamic activities during the summer.”
Glascoe worked in Arkansas until 1967. “My goal being there was to create a process where [local people] got in touch with the fact that they are capable and where they develop confidence to move and do on their own,” Glascoe explained. “I saw that as the building blocks to them being in charge of their own communities and doing things for themselves.”
Interview with Myrtle Glascoe by Dwandalyn Reece, November 17, 2010, Civil Rights History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
Interview with Gertrude Jackson by LaFleur Paysour, November 22, 2010, Civil Rights History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
Arkansas Freedom Summer Project Pamphlet, 1965, Social Action Vertical File, Wisconsin Historical Society.
“News from the Field,” undated, Howard Zinn Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society.
“News from the Field #5,” March 1966, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website, Tougaloo College.
Betty Garman, “A Note to the SNCC Staff about the Northern SNCC Staff,” 1964, Civil Rights Movement Veterans, Tougaloo College.