Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Cosby Woods
As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I am reminded of the long history of social justice that distinguishes Camp KBY @ Cosby Woods.
The purpose of this space, beginning in 1950 when it was founded by Bev Cosby and his brothers, was expressly as a “refuge” where anyone regardless of race, class, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status would be welcome. Bev Cosby was an ardent advocate for social change in Lynchburg, supporting sit-ins that took place downtown in 1960 and the integration of the then whites-only E.C. Glass High School in 1962. In the summer of 1961, KBY welcomed children of color; the only inclusive camp in the area. Soon afterwards, when the city’s public swimming pools closed rather than integrate, blacks and poor whites had nowhere to swim. Bev Cosby responded boldly by offering the camp’s swimming pool to the public, opening it up to both black and white non-campers.
Also in 1961, The Lodge of the Fishermen, formerly a 3-car garage located on the grounds here, was converted into a café and opened as Lynchburg’s first integrated coffee house during the contentious civil rights era. According to Bev Cosby, The Lodge was a “sorely-needed safe space” where blacks and whites could safely and without judgement or recrimination, “engage in an art that has become a lost one in the 20th Century: The art of genuine communication”.
In March 1962, two months after the first two black students enrolled in E.C. Glass High School, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Lynchburg to encourage the students and the city to move forward with formal integration. Dr. King made a speech titled “The American Dream” to an inter-racial audience at E.C. Glass High School. The day before the speech Dr. King gathered for a meal with local leaders at The Lodge of the Fishermen. At the time, The Lodge of the Fishermen was one of only two public places in Lynchburg where blacks & whites could eat together, and where Dr. King could be served! The other venue was the cafeteria in the Lynchburg hospital.
According to Dan Harrison, current Pastor of Church of the Covenant which was also founded by Bev Cosby, “Bev Cosby and current Church of the Covenant member Larry Farmer were among those who served Dr. King that day, and were simply excited to honor him with a meal—along with the spirit of friendship and openness of communication for which this space was known.”
Bev closely followed the teachings of Dr. King and was instrumental in developing a range of programs aimed at improving social equity in Lynchburg. Bev’s humility and service to others bled into the camp psyche. At camp, we are all servant to one another and the earth.
In many ways we have come a long way in terms of integration and understanding since those tumultuous founding years of KBY. Still, the parallels between those challenging times and today are unmistakable. In addition, in today’s faster-paced and digitized society where inequities are even more pronounced, the challenges and stressors are multi-layered, often causing individuals to feel a “silo” effect, and with greater rates of loneliness, depression, social isolation, and a lack of belonging or community.
Camp KBY@Cosby Woods remains the perfect antidote to these trends. Here, the catalyst that breaks down barriers and levels the playing field, is nature, with the invitation to play, explore and adventure on with few restrictions, regardless of age, ability, background, or even physical limitations. Everyone is encouraged to step out of their “zones” and try a new adventure, for this is where growth happens. While here, you and your children are guaranteed to meet, interact, and form friendships with those outside of your social circles. The more we interact with those unlike ourselves, the bigger our capacity for empathy and understanding.
In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bev Cosby, this is how Camp KBY@Cosby Woods brings children, families, and communities together, breaking down those metaphorical barriers, for that “art of genuine communication” so that Lynchburg thrives and grows into the 21st Century and beyond.
Member of the Board of Directors