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Oral History Interview with Elizabeth and Courtney Siceloff, July 8, 1985. Interview F-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Elizabeth Siceloff began working with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen (FSC) in 1945. Courtney Siceloff joined the organization after the two were married in 1949. Elizabeth served as a secretary for the FSC, while Courtney served as a minister with the organization. Coming from the Presbyterian and Methodist faiths respectively, the FSC blurred denominational lines. The Siceloffs describe the FSC as concerned with promoting the social gospel through worker education and economic justice. In 1950, they were assigned to the Penn School on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, where they remained until 1969. During this time, civil rights leaders utilized the Penn School's interracial facilities. The Siceloffs discuss the shortcomings of the Fellowship and the problems with activist work. Despite the social purpose of the Fellowship, few females and blacks were appointed to executive positions. Elizabeth also acknowledges the difficulty of FSC work, as members had to weigh economic stability against following their consciences. Furthermore, much of the local press and several southern states opposed the work of the FSC. The Siceloffs discuss the theological divide within the organization and note that gender and generational tensions within the FSC were also a source of tension until Nelle Morton began working to eliminate cliques. The Siceloffs have high regard for Morton, who helped bolster the organizational strength of the FSC through a focus on strengthening its financial standing. After Morton's tenure, Howard "Buck" Kester took over. They describe Kester as a Christian renegade who focused more on promoting work camps than on bolstering the FSC organization. The Siceloffs describe how Kester and Myles Horton established Highlander Folk School but went different ways because of ideological differences. This separation was indicative of a larger, growing divide among FSC members, who debated whether the purpose and mission of the Fellowship was to continue field work or to focus on an organizational agenda.
    Excerpts
  • Any pro-civil rights stance in Alabama met white resistance
  • Nelle Morton improved the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen in executive office
  • The Penn School served as a gathering place for civil rights activists
  • Physical, political, and social harassment of Penn School workers
  • Little gender and racial diversity on the Fellowship's executive committee
  • Southern racial customs affected interracial friendships
  • Changes to the Fellowship's organization led to its demise
  • The Fellowship declined due to Kester's leadership strategy
  • The Fellowship's purpose created large rifts among its membership
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Fellowship of Southern Churchmen
  • Women civil rights workers
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.