Carol Ahlum (1966 KY), Newly Re-connected with the EFC

Caroloverlook (2)

Why is the Encampment important now? The Encampment is important now, as always, because as alums know, the Encampment changes lives, and we need to create this experience for young people today. I recently participated in the 2017 InterGen(erational) Weekend. I loved it! My favorite part was meeting other alums and current parents. I enjoyed the Saturday performances the most because they showed the young Encampers’ creativity, spirits and views of our society. Their presentations were amazing and inspiring. What is important to me about intergenerational programming is being part of the present and future of a program that had a big impact on me.

You recently re-connected with the Encampment after a long hiatus. Tell us that story. I participated as a 16-year-old in the 1966 Encampment for Citizenship at Union College in Barbourville, KY. Ed Peeples was the director. After receiving two recent communications about the current EFC, I searched on the EFC website. In addition to being inspired about the revived EFC, I also read about Ed Peeples’s autobiography, Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey through Segregation to Human Rights Activism (with Nancy MacLean; University of Virginia Press, 2014). EFC alums should read Ed’s book, which includes a chapter about the 1966 EFC. After I e-mailed Ed, he asked me about my life since 1966 (See Post-Encampment Activities).

How did you learn about the Encampment? I learned about the upcoming summer 1966 EFC from an advertisement in a girl’s magazine, Ingénue (similar to Seventeen). I applied in spring 1966 during my junior year of high school, and received a full scholarship to attend. I took a bus in Allentown, PA, to New York City’s Port Authority in a skirt and jacket to meet the EFC bus at Port Authority, headed to Kentucky. My recollection is that no other girl was wearing a skirt.

 What do you remember about the program? My memories of the 1966 Kentucky EFC are of hot summer days and long group discussions. I have no memories of the assaults on us as a group or as individuals. I remember being told not to go to town alone or to be outside after dark alone. I remember the discussions about poverty, and the federal programs to bring income and services to economically poor Appalachian areas.

My workshop leader was Buddy Saylor. I have memories of feeling cared for and being listened to. I remember Buddy talking about his Peace Corps experience in the Dominican Republic and explaining colonialism and imperialism. Buddy’s workshop was about poverty and community development.

I remember fondly the week of living in the community. Three of us girls stayed with an “elderly“ woman who had two double beds with feather mattresses, including the woman’s bed. The three of us decided we would rotate, taking turns sleeping with our host in her bed, since none of us wanted to volunteer to sleep in her bed for the entire week. We each found it odd to sleep with someone we did not know. I remember the breakfasts—she fixed us eggs with thick bacon and cornbread made on the stove.

Buddy took us for a hike through the forest and taught us that if we got lost (which we appeared to have done), we should follow the creek and walk downhill. We found the way out.

Since I was headed into my senior year and planned to apply for early decision to Goucher College, I applied to take the SATs in the nearest large city in Kentucky that summer—Louisville? I took the bus back and forth. Someone must have helped me figure this out; I can’t remember who it was. I remember waiting for the tests to start by eating in a small restaurant across the street from the high school. I was aware that I was the only white person in the restaurant.

During the Encampment, I remember hanging out with fellow Encamper Missy Greer. Often our conversations were held while sitting on logs that had fallen into a marsh-like area near the dorms. Somehow, no mosquitos bothered us. I remember dancing with a black boy from Richmond. We exchanged letters but then lost touch.

Post-Encampment Activities

After the EFC, I graduated from high school in 1967 and attended Goucher College. I had a number of amazing professors, but spent most of my time organizing women’s liberation activities and attending anti-Vietnam War support meetings and trials of the Baltimore radical Catholics who raided draft boards to spill blood and burn draft records. I participated in May Day protests in Washington, DC, in May 1971 (a few weeks before college graduation). I was arrested with friends and eventually was part of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) class-action monetary court victory for unlawful arrest.

I went on to the University of Massachusetts/Amherst to earn a master of arts in teaching degree in summer 1972. In western Massachusetts, I participated in the Northampton (MA) Women’s Center work against the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. Groups of us were arrested at Westover Air Force base (twice for me). All charges were dropped.

I then worked for the Feminist Press on Long Island, under my former college professor, Florence Howe, who founded the Feminist Press and inspired the national women’s studies movement.

By summer 1974, I moved to Philadelphia, where I worked at the Medical College of Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant. There, I started organizing white-collar workers like me into the same union, Philadelphia 1199, into which the blue-collar workers were organized. We won our election and the right to bargain collectively and create a unit of white-collar workers. After our victory, I was hired by 1199 to organize the white-collar workers at Philadelphia hospitals where 1199 already had contracts with blue-collar workers. I was successful in winning significant elections of large units of white-collar workers.

By summer 1977, I moved with my now-husband to rural Maryland (Frederick County), about an hour from my husband’s mother’s home in DC. We bought the property with my husband’s brother and two friends. I stopped union organizing to focused on creating a family.

After we moved to Maryland, I taught high school social studies over a period of 10 years in three different high schools, under four principals. I lasted until my second child was born and then found a job as a public benefits paralegal at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. For 21 years, I represented low-income individuals who had been denied or terminated from public benefits.

Since living in Maryland, I’ve participated in but have not led political action. When we moved here, the only progressive political group we found was a very small Clergy and Laity Concerned Group. Then I participated in the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, Peace Resource Center and Women in Black. I eventually became a Quaker by becoming a member of the Frederick Friends Meeting in Frederick, Maryland. We sent our two daughters to Quaker camp through Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and then they both graduated from Earlham College, a Quaker college in Indiana.

I participated this spring in the Maryland anti-fracking campaign—we won a total fracking ban in Maryland—and I participated in the DC Climate Change March.

At age 67, I’m enjoying time reading, where we live, and watching younger people work for human rights and social justice.

 

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