VCU Libraries Gallery

Foundation and History

Lecture under the Freedom Tree, Fieldston School 

In 1946, Algernon Black, Alice K. Pollitzer, and members of the American Ethical Union began an experiment in democratic living. Inspired in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps and other work camps (including the Work Camp for Democracy and Work Camps for America), the Encampment for Citizenship was a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian summer residential camp. The student body would be racially, geographically, and economically diverse. The educational program would be both intellectual and experiential. 

The Encampment was founded on principles that had long been held and practiced by the AEU: a firm belief in the value and efficacy of education and the notion that one's principles must be manifest in action. Education was seen as the first step toward solving many of the world's most difficult problems.

In his book The Young Citizens: The Story of the Encampment for Citizenship, Algernon Black describes three other assumptions that supported the EFC: democracy, citizenship, youth.

A profoundly idealistic project, the Encampment was built around the ideas that:

  • Democracy is more than a way of governing. It is a way of life in which the dignity and worth and freedom of the individual is the central concern of the entire social system. The individual's rights must be protected from the tyranny of governmental power, and the individual must be protected from majority oppression and from minority dictatorship. Rights are based not only on the value of the individual, but also upon a concept of how people should deal with one another; the community is the entity best able to solve problems. 

    Democracy offers more but also requires more from the individual than any other form of society. People are capable of the responsibilities of freedom. They can solve problems by facing their needs, and then mobilizing their resources. So long as men have the instrumentalities of democracy they have an obligation to defend and use them. (pp.3-5)

  • Citizenship is not merely a matter of voting and obeying the laws. The entire process of self-government requires awareness of the community process and the power structure and the flow of history in the world of which the community and the nation are a part. (p.5)
  • Youth can bring strength to the democratic way of life. Frustrated and repressed, it can be alienated and may revolt with explosive consequences. (p.6)

Encampment programs have been held at sites across the United States and Puerto Rico. Program sites and societal changes influenced the focus of these Encampments which have ranged from war and foreign policy to conservation and environmental issues to urban social issues. 

In 1997, the EFC began a 16-year hiatus which ended in 2013 with a two-week pilot program in Richmond, VA, followed by a successful three-week program in Chicago, IL in 2014. Encampment programs continue to promote the development of individual and collective voices within a diverse society. In 2016, the organization celebrates 70 years of dedication to the betterment of America and the promise of youth.