Interview with Bill and Joan Shannon 2013 by Jackie Frank

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In 2013 Bill Shannon accompanied the summer program to Washington, DC to meet with Eleanor Holmes Norton who is an EFC alum (1957). Ada Deer, EFC Board Chair (EFC alum, 1956) was part of the joyous reunion pictured above and the inspirational meeting with Representative Norton.

Below is EFC Board member Jackie Frank’s account of her interview with Bill and Joan Shannon that same year.

It could be said that Bill Shannon and his wife Joan married into the Encampment. Shannon, director of the Encampment for Citizenship from 1952-1958, became involved thanks to EFC founder Algernon Black, a leader of the Ethical Culture Movement in New York City. Black performed their marriage ceremony after Bill and Joan were turned down by Catholic and Jewish clerics unwilling to carry out a religious ceremony for a mixed-faith couple.  Their connection led to a friendship and Black asked Shannon to direct the Encampment when then-director Henry Herman moved on to the University of Wisconsin. Shannon agreed and directed the Encampment while he continued his doctoral work in education at Columbia University.

“Once he got involved with the Encampment, it just took over our lives, really,” Joan said. “All encompassing,” Bill added.  He went on to say that for nearly ten years that included: over 1,000 Encampers, including their children Carol and Jeff; numerous yearly recruiting trips around the country; and the expansion of the Encampment program to Berkeley, California.

In the early years, the summer Encampment took place at the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, which was conveniently across the street from the Shannons’ home.

Shannon, who lives in Kensington, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., found many inspiring people to address the Encampers, among them the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in July 1957; Al Black who was also vice president of the NAACP; Federal Judge Julius Waties Waring of South Carolina whose desegregation rulings made him an outcast in his home state; folk singer Pete Seeger; and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park who invited the Encampers to her home in Hyde Park each summer.

Shannon noted how the 100 to 120 youth would arrive each summer, somewhat bewildered, and a little startled at more diversity than they might have encountered in their lives. “Then the assimilation process took over and they became very good friends,” he said.  “The Encampment opened their eyes.”

In one memorable incident, Shannon said an Encampment group came to Washington, D.C., which at that time was segregated. “No restaurant would take the mixed group,” but they were served in the Hot Shoppes on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. “It was one of the first times the color line was broken in Montgomery County,” he said.