California State University, Long Beach

Show simple item record Tillmon, Johnnie (b. 4/10/1926 - d. 11/22/1995) Berger Gluck, Sherna, interviewer 2022-09-30T22:43:16Z 2022-09-30T22:43:16Z 2022-09-30
dc.description SUBJECT BIO - Johnnie Tillmon began her work as a leading activist for poor women in 1963, when she helped to found ANC Mothers Anonymous of Watts, the first grass roots welfare mothers organization in the country. She played key roles in the later formation of both the California Welfare Rights Organization (CRWO) and the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), and eventually became executive director of NWRO. The eldest of three children, Tillmon was born in Scott, Arkansas. Her family were sharecroppers and she recalls picking cotton when she was only seven years old. She moved in with her aunt in Little Rock in order to attend high school, and during the war worked the night shift in a local munitions factory and attended school by day. At war's end, she quit high school and went to work in a laundry, where she engaged in her first organizing experience. Tillmon continued to work in that non-segregated laundry for fifteen years until moving to California, by which time she was the single parent of six children. Trying to deal with her daughter's truancy, she decided to remain at home to supervise her children and applied for public assistance. She mobilized other women in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Project and after an initial meeting, they organized the ANC Mothers Anonymous of Watts. Several years later, she was elected to the newly formed LA County Welfare Rights Organization and then to the presidency of the CWRO. In 1967, she was elected to the NWRO. In 1971, Tillmon moved to Washington, DC to become Associate Director of NWRO and following George Wiley's resignation in 1972 , she became Executive Director. This is also the year that she published her now famous article in Ms, "Welfare is a Woman's Issue." When NWRO closed its doors in 1974, Tillmon returned to Los Angeles, were she resumed her local community organizing. She remained active in the Watts community and continued to respond to phone queries from welfare recipients until 1991, when diabetes caused her health to fail. Although we had every intention of completing her oral history after the interviewer's return from Palestine in the summer of 1991, Tillmon's health problem resulted in continued postponements. Ultimately, it became clear that we would not be able to complete the oral history. As a result, the coverage of Tillmon's post-1972 life and activities is barely covered. [Note: the Tillmon entry in the Notable American Women v.5 includes a bibliography related to Tillmon and NWRO.] TOPICS - attitudes towards welfare recipients; formation of National Welfare Rights Organization; Ms; Magazine article; Gloria Steinem; economic status; community organizing; union activities; welfare allotment; housing projects; organizing ANC recipients; and formation of ANC Mothers Anonymous;structure of ANC Mothers Anonymous; East Los Angeles welfare mothers; advocacy role of ANC Mothers; formation of California Welfare Rights Organization and National Welfare Rights Organization; George Wiley; Tim Sampson; Federation of the Poor; Citizens Crusade Against Poverty; feminism; attitude towards women's movement; and political activity during 1972 presidential election; political beliefs; economic philosophy; local politics; ANC Mothers Anonymous; Frances Pivens; Kenneth Hahn; and welfare rights actions; political activities; political beliefs; community organizing; and attitude towards women's movement; en_US
dc.description.abstract INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This first of five interviews with Johnnie Tillmon was conducted seven years prior to the initiation of a life history interview with her. It was recorded at her "office," a desk in the Field Office of one of the Los Angeles City Councilmen, and was done conjunction with an LA women's movement history project by members of the Women Rising Collective. Information from these interviews were incorporated into an art installation at UCLA created by Women Rising Collective member, artist, Dara Robinson. This initial interview contains little biographical information and focuses on the organization and formation of ANC Mothers Anonymous and the National Welfare Rights Organization. Some of this material is covered in more detail in the oral history of Tillmon conducted in 1991. [See interviews 2-5.] 1984-02 en_US
dc.description.tableofcontents *** File: wmjtillmon1.mp3 Audio Segments and Topics: (0:00-6:59)... Tillmon worked in laundries for twenty-three years, first in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then in Los Angeles until 1963 when she became sick. Yet, she had six children to feed. Although she had heard women talk about their experiences on welfare and the evasive practices of social workers, because of her connections in the community, her welfare application was processed and she was given money for rent and groceries. In 1963, Tillmon helped to form the ANC Mothers Anonymous in the Watts area and the National Welfare Rights Organization three years later. When she met Gloria Steinem, Steinem asked her to write an article on women and welfare issues, which was published in the second issue of Ms. Magazine. (6:59-7:54)... The women who lived around Tillmon often complained about the difficulties that they faced when they applied for welfare; how they were mistreated by social workers and had no one with whom to talk about their issues. They were afraid to complain for fear their funding would be cut off. These women were not involved in any community organizations that might help them get assistance with welfare issues. Tillmon's attitude at the time was "if they didn't like it then do something about it." (7:54-8:49)... Before organizing welfare mothers, Tillmon was active in political and community organizations. She worked for the Registrar of Voters and visited people's home during political campaigns. After she moved into a housing project, she began attending meetings in the evenings at the Housing Authority. (8:49-9:29)... When she worked in Los Angeles, Tillmon joined Local 52 of the Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers Union and was a union steward at the time she left the laundry shop. Her union activities did not have any effect on her ability to organize people. She feels that her knack for organizing was an inherent quality. [Editor's note: This might have been called Laundry, Dry Clearning and Dye House Workers Union.] (9:29-12:19)... The women living in the housing project with Tillmon often complained about their problems with social workers making midnight raids on their homes searching for male occupants and men's personal effects. If these things were discovered, the women would not receive a check for that month. Even though she was sick and out of work, Tillmon was hesitant about relying on a system that treated her friends that way. However, a male friend from the Housing Authority committee in which she was active, persuaded her to apply for welfare so that she could stay home with her children. He arranged the paperwork with a supervisor at the Welfare Department. She received $41 for rent and a $26 grocery allowance. (12:19-23:35)... Note: there is an interruption in this segment. Tillmon relates a story about a Black woman who lambasted women living in the housing project for being lazy and living off welfare. Tillmon went to the manager of the Housing Authority and reported the incident. She was encouraged to get in touch with other women in the community who felt the need for change in the welfare system. She organized six other women and they returned to the manager's office. There, they noticed a stack of folders on his desk marked "ANC," identifying the women in the housing project who were receiving welfare. Subsequently, they visited these women and convinced them to join their organization. Tillmon later dictated a letter requesting that women meet at the Housing Authority to discuss "your leases and your grants." The manager agreed to sign the letter and it was sent out to every family receiving AFDC in the housing project. A small booth was set up at the Housing Authority and over a period three days, more than three hundred women were interviewed. Tillmon helped organized women at three other housing projects in the area, after which ANC Mothers Anonymous was formed. (23:35-28:26)... The formation of ANC Mothers Anonymous was celebrated with refreshments and hors d'oeuvres donated by a catering business. The officers were elected at the organizations's first meeting, with approximately fifteen to twenty women involved with the group at that time. Tillmon believes that ANC Mothers Anonymous was the first organization formed by welfare recipients for welfare recipients. The group solicited money and business supplies from community and political leaders in the area. It was "underground" for over a year [Editor's note: which is why it was initially called ANC Mothers Anonymous]. Tillmon notes that some welfare recipients were hesitant to get involved, believing that the group was associated with the Welfare Department. End of tape. *** File: wmjtillmon2.mp3 (0:00-2:17)... ANC Mothers Anonymous was a unique organization because it did not need to solicit assistance from the community. People had a dim view of welfare recipients at the time and it was easier for the group to remain self-sufficient. When the War on Poverty Program was developed, ANC Mothers Anonymous did not receive any funding, but it nevertheless became widely recognized as a countywide organization. Similar ANC Mother Anonymous groups were organized in the Los Angeles area and the Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization was formed. In 1968, Tillmon worked with Alicia Escalante and a doctor in East Los Angeles to establish an ANC Mothers Anonymous group for welfare recipients in that area. (2:17-4:40)... When ANC Mothers Anonymous was first organized, the group familiarized itself with the heads of the Welfare Department and the Bureau of Public Assistance. They worked individual cases for women who were denied assistance or were having problems with social workers, contacting the social workers' supervisors when there were problems. As a result, social workers did not like the role that ANC Mothers Anonymous played in the welfare system. Tillmon was involved in two hearings involving welfare cases. (4:40-7:08)... ANC Mothers Anonymous initially had offices at 11411 South Central Avenue until 1974, when it moved to 119th Street. It outgrew this location and moved again in 1979. Meetings, parties, and fundraisers were held at the office. The group was financially sustained through its bake sales and other fundraising events and did not receive any money from the War on Poverty Programs. Tillmon preferred this arrangement because she did not want to be tied to the federal system. (7:08-16:50)... A Welfare Rights Organization was formed in Alameda County by social workers and interested parties in support of Benny Harris, a blind social worker who was fired when he refused to conduct midnight raids. This group, together with civil rights organizations and countywide welfare rights organizations pooled their resources and formed the Federation of the Poor. The statewide Welfare Rights Organization grew out of this Federation. Tillmon became the California WRO organization's first president in December 1966. In April 1966, she was sent to Washington, DC to attend a conference sponsored by the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty. When she returned to Los Angeles, Tim Sampson organized a group of women to speak at a conference at USC. Tillmon and members from ANC Mothers Anonymous went to the conference and "took it over," after which she was nominated to represent the group at a conference in Chicago organized by George Wiley of CORE. In August 1966, Tillmon and twelve women from other state welfare rights organizations participated in the formation of the National Welfare Rights Organization. (16:50-19:18)... Even after the statewide and National Welfare Rights Organization were formed, ANC Mothers Anonymous remained active. Tillmon notes that most of the groups she helped organize across the country were still in existence because of her emphasis that they be self-sufficient. Groups need to learn how to function independently because organizers come and go. By the same token, she would like to see women supporting themselves and their children with income from jobs, not the welfare system. Tillmon advocates that welfare recipients receive the proper training so that they are qualified for positions in the job market. Even though she was involved with federal and state poverty programs, she did not allow these programs to take over ANC Mothers Anonymous. Many of those programs are gone while ANC Mothers Anonymous is still operating in Los Angeles. (19:18-27:39)... Tillmon believes that welfare is a women's issue; that poverty does not discriminate between race and class. During her travels around the country between 1966-75, she came to realize that both Black and White women perpetuate negative views of poor women. This concerns her because most women have no control over their economic status and would have a difficult time adjusting if they had to face with poverty in their own lives. Tillmon believe that one problem in the women's movement is the inability of women to understand where they are going and what needs to be done in order to bring about social change. Over the years, she has been resistant to moving into other political arenas because her work in welfare is unfinished. In some ways, her philosophy is antithetical to the women's movement. She digresses regarding the role welfare organizations played during the presidential election of 1972. End of tape. *** File: wmjtillmon3.mp3 (0:00-5:12)... Tillmon notes that the presidential administrations from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan have done very little to improve poverty in America. She discusses the governors in California since the 1960s and how these mirror the federal policies towards poverty. She believes that it is important for people to continue to be politically active in order to improve their status in society. If anything, it is imperative that people vote. (5:12-14:18)... Tillmon would like to see the political and economic system in the US rebuilt. She thinks that Presidents "keep on tacking on boards and boards" to our foundation without solving important economic issues. She subscribes to Keynesian theory and believes that if more people were employed any discontent for the welfare system would cease because there would be ample money in the economy to assist the unemployed. Rather than train people, she believes it is important to educate them so that they are equipped with skills that make them more marketable in the job market. She discusses the status of the domestic economy and the emphasis on defense and international programs. She finds it amusing that people talk about women on welfare buying Cadillacs when there are a "fleet of welfare Cadillacs" in front of the White House. (14:18-27:33)... Note: there is an interruption in the interview during this segment. Tillmon's work in welfare made an impact on the community in Los Angeles. She discusses the study conducted on the welfare system by Fox and Pivens, noting that she does not put much stock in their study. When she was organizing welfare mothers in Los Angeles, they were not around. They were writing books while Tillmon was working in the front lines trying to solve welfare problems. [Editor's note: Tillmon is referring to the work of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.] Tillmon talks about the welfare marches that took place in New York, noting that women in Los Angeles did not need to march because they had cooperation from city and county agencies, including the director of the Welfare Department and LA County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. The welfare organizations in Los Angeles did not wait for an invitation to county Board of Supervisors meetings; they "bust" in and put themselves on the agenda. There were certain "days of activity," such as June 30, Welfare Rights Organization Day, when the welfare groups organized mass meetings. These activities are no longer as organized as they once were. However, Tillmon continues to keep in contact with welfare rights organizations around the country, naming women with whom she maintains contacts in other states. End of tape. *** File: wmjtillmon4.mp3 (0:00-1:55)... Tillmon talks about her current involvement with welfare organizations in the Los Angeles area. (1:55-10:34)... Tillmon would like to see the women's movement organize around a particular issue and stick with it, commenting that it takes a lot of time and patience to change society. However, it only takes a few people "to do something" and get the attention of millions of people. She believes there is too much internal fighting among women in the women's movement. Even though it is healthy to fight, it only benefits the group if it is constructive and leads to real solutions. Internal struggles within organizations do not create the united front that is necessary to improve society. She believes that women "should come together regardless of who they support in political office and say 'here is what is needed for all women' regardless of race and socioeconomic status." End of tape. en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.subject Welfare Mothers, Welfare Rights en_US
dc.subject Women's History en_US
dc.title Tillmon, Johnnie (audio interview #1 of 5) en_US
dc.type Recording, oral en_US

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