Interview with Marian Wright Edelman
QUESTION 23
HENRY HAMPTON:

And you talked to me on the phone about a group that you formed with Roger Wilkins and Carl Holman, can you tell me who was in that group and what you did?

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN:

Well, again, ah, I was a, I was a, I was a 27, 28 year-old lawyer who had been up in Washington a month or two from Mississippi, not wise to the ways of the town, ah, though learning, ah, and determined. And the only way that I was able to go through and be technically correct on what it is, ah, the poor people should be asking for, was by getting the help of people inside agencies who knew programs and policies and politics in great detail. So since I had a silent, quiet cabinet that would meet every night at 10 or 11 o'clock, ah, people like Lisle Carter who was then an assistant secretary at HEW, Carl Holman who was a deputy director of the Civil Rights Commission, ah, Roger Wilkins who an assistant secretary at the Justice Department, John Schnitker who was the Under-secretary of Agriculture but someone who cared about hungry people. And there were a network of sympathetic officials. And we would meet and I would draft position papers and they would help me correct them and, and making sure that I was not off base, ah, and, ah, then I would deliver those to Ralph Abernathy over at, ah, ah, the motel in the middle of the night and he would get up and say them the next morning. There were, we were able to function in that way, ah, because the poor brought their needs and they brought their eloquence, ah, in fact one of the things I remember most is once when we were doing hearings on the Hill, during the Poor People's Campaign, we decided to have the poor people from resurrection come and line the subways on the way to the senate. And I remember a senator, to show you how spaced we are about the poor in America, coming up to compliment me on the costumes of my people. And it took me a little while to realize that he was really talking about these poor people. One of the hearings I am proudest of because it was again a hearing that was not carefully conceptualized in the way in which we try to conceptualize hearings at the Children's Defense Fund today. On that day there were poor people, all kinds, the Native American from their reservations and, and the Mexican Americans from their point of need and the rural Blacks and the rural Whites and you have to understand this was the first time that poor people of all colors had, had come together to express their need in, in, in, in their own way in one of the most eloquent hearings I can remember ever in Washington was simply pulling together these people, ah, to talk about the representative kinds of poverty that was a universal kind of poverty, ah, that is more true today, ah, but, ah, you know, I felt privileged to kind of be their lawyer. But it took both the eloquence of the poor but also the technical know-how of those middle class leaders, ah, to make it happen.

HENRY HAMPTON:

That was very, very nice.

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN:

It was a wonderful hearing I still remember--