Andrew Young, one-time Atlanta mayor and former U.N. ambassador, will remember John A. Bascom Jr. as one of the quiet foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.
“He was just one of the steady – what Dr. [Martin Luther] King used to call the ground crew. The people who really make the plane fly. The ones who fill it with gas and make sure all cylinders are functioning,” Young said.
John Adolphus Bascom, who organized get-out-the vote drives for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1960s and was a quiet and lifelong champion of the needy, died Jan. 5. He was 79.
Bascom was born in Philadelphia and enlisted in the Army Reserves after his graduation from West Philadelphia High School. He spent about three years in the Army before serving 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
His family said the racial inequities he witnessed in the military left a lasting impression and instilled this man of faith with greater degrees of leadership, honor, tolerance and service.
After his time in the military, Bascom made the natural progression to a career in public service, working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Washington, D.C. and organizing its 1968 “Poor People’s Campaign.”
He participated in marches and demonstrations with the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, James Orange, Hosea Williams and others, his family said.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, said Bascom, was “very, very active” at the height of the movement, working with King and the SCLC.
“Whether it was a march for civil rights or labor rights, you could count on him,” Lewis said. “He was just a good non-violent soldier who was a dedicated follower of the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
In his hometown of Philadelphia, Bascom worked for Operation Breadbasket, an organization dedicated to improving economic conditions in black communities across the country.
Soon after, Young recruited Bascom to work in the SCLC national in Atlanta.
Later, he would become the SCLC’s director of student affairs, organizing students nationwide to promote voter registration and participation in the political process.
“He did the things that were very important,” Young said.
He was there opening the office in the morning and then closing it late at night.
“He was just a very even-tempered, saintly sort of guy,” Young said. “No ego. He wasn’t trying to be seen. He wasn’t trying to be important. He was just trying to get the job done.”
Bascom held several jobs throughout the years. He was president of the Hotel, Motel Employees Union, Local 151 of the AFL-CIO, worked 13 years with the U.S. Postal Service and was employed in Atlanta city government during Young’s tenure as mayor.
For more than 20 years, he was involved with the United Youth Adult Conference, including a stint as chairman of its board of directors.
At the time of his death, he was working as a resource development and community resource coordinator for the non-profit WestCare of Georgia, his family said.
Young and Bascom were both Masons and members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
They remained friends and in touch through the years, Young said.
“Anytime anybody got sick or any time there was a crisis or someone couldn’t pay the rent, John was there trying to help them out,” the former mayor said. “And he’d call me to let me know he needed my help to help somebody.”
Bascom is survived by Sylvania Taylor Bascom, his wife of more than 50 years; daughters Antoinette Berrian, Sonya Maria Foreman and Nicole Blount; and several grandchildren.
Funeral services were Saturday at Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in Atlanta.