Roslyn Pope, ‘Appeal for Human Rights’ author, 84
— Roslyn Pope, a Atlanta college professor and musician who wrote “An Appeal for Human Rights,” laying out the reasons for the Atlanta Student Movement against systemic racism in 1960, has died. She was 84.
Pope died Jan. 18 in Arlington, Texas, where she moved from Atlanta to be with her daughters after her health began to fail in 2021, according to her family’s obituary.
The document Pope wrote as a 21-year-old senior at Spelman College launched a nonviolent campaign of boycotts and sitins by Black college students protesting discrimination not just in voting but in education, jobs, housing, hospitals, movies, concerts, restaurants and law enforcement.
“We do not intend to wait placidly for those rights, which are already legally and morally ours, to be meted out to us one at a time,” the Appeal declared. “We plan to use every legal and nonviolent means at our disposal to secure full citizenship rights as members of this great Democracy of ours.”
Atlanta’s white-owned newspapers wouldn’t publish it, and Georgia’s segregationist leaders tried to dismiss it, saying it couldn’t possibly be the work of college students. But The New York Times ran it on a full page, as did other publications across the U.S. It was read into the Congressional Record as a testament to how segregation was stifling the ability of people to coexist with equality and dignity.
“She really kicked off our movement and made it acceptable,” Charles Black, who was a Morehouse College student when he joined Pope and others organizing the campaign, recalled Monday.
Pope showed that change doesn’t depend on “great men” like the Rev. Martin Luther
King Jr., and that a few committed people can make a real difference, Black said. “Because of her words, everybody understood what we were trying to do, and that’s why we had such broad, community-wide support.”
Born Oct. 29, 1938, in Atlanta, Pope was exceptional from an early age. She belonged to an all-Black Girl Scout troop and was sent as Georgia’s representative to a national camp in Cody, Wyo., that no Black Scout had attended before.
“I was one little dark person among 50 white faces,” she recalled in an AP interview in 2020. “It became national news. Nobody in Atlanta could fathom that such a thing could happen.”
The Friendship Baptist Church plans a Friday service in her memory, and a celebration of Pope’s contributions to racial equality will be held at Spelman College on March 9, Black said.