SCLC Drum Major Awards Herald New Era

Vanda Trappio Patton, recipient of the Civil Rights Icon Award.
Vanda Trappio Patton, recipient of the Civil Rights Icon Award.

As the United States prepared in January 2009 to inaugurate its first African-American president, members of the recently established Savannah Coastal Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) presented their first Drum Major Community Awards.

The SCLC recognized more than a dozen individuals with awards of distinction for their contributions to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that, nearly all acknowledged, helped pave the way for the election of Barack Obama as the country’s 44th president. Local SCLC Chapter President, Pastor Carl W. Scott Gilliard, presented the awards to the following recipients:

Ron Wallace (Civil Rights Legend Award); Dave Richards (Humanitarian Award); Walter Simmons (Community Award); Ben Johnson (Lifetime Union Award); Rev. Dr. John P. Lee III (Pastor of the Year); Pete Laikakis (Elected Official of the Year); Lester Leck White (Lifetime Award); Rev. Jimmy “The Gator” Lang (Broadcast Pioneer Award); Martha Massey (Civil Rights Legend Award); Vanda Trappio Patton (Civil Rights Icon Award); Mamie Small Williams (Trailblazer Award); and Local 1414 (Organization of the Year Award). Though absent from the proceedings, Francis Bright Johnson was acknowledged with the Rev. Hosea Williams Award.

Rev. Samuel F. Mosteller, Georgia State President of SCLC, described the election of President Obama as a “correction” of history made by God, “at the top, the bottom, and in the middle.” He further spoke about the powerful sense of community that made the Civil Rights Movement successful. As an example, he spoke of how, following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrated performer and political activist Harry Belafonte made significant financial contributions to cover the cost of King’s funeral and to assist the slain minister’s family for months following King’s death. The SCLC was originally founded as the Southern Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 14, 1957, with Martin Luther King, Jr., elected as its president. It was renamed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Montgomery, Alabama, in August 1957. The organization did not have a Savannah chapter during that time but in 1959 formed the SCLC Crusade for Voters, described as an “affiliate,” under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Hosea Williams.

Vanda T. Patton, the Civil Rights Icon Award recipient, recalled working with Williams during the early 1960s and spending her 25th birthday in jail for marching against segregation. “At the time, I didn’t realize how dangerous it was to protest the way we were doing- – for me or my two young sons who were with me,” said Patton. “But I knew it was wrong for us to have to go to the back of the buses or drink out of different fountains just because we were black and I knew something had to be done about that.”

Patton was presented in 1964 with an “Award for Valor and Courage” for her participation in the Crusade for Voters. She also participated as a panelist for the “Legends of Savannah’s Civil rights Movement and the CCCV” program held at the Jepson Center for the Arts in December 2008 and currently serves on the 2009 Advisory Board for the Savannah Chapter of SCLC.

SCLC continues to address issues of voter education and registration but also focuses on youth development, community empowerment, and other issues.

For information on the organization, please telephone (404) 522-1420 or email .

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