Interview with William Rutherford

What was your position in SCLC? What did Dr. King have in mind when he brought you in? What did he want you to do?


Well my job in SCLC essentially was to serve as a manager in mounting, developing, and installing certain management systems that hadn't existed before. And when Dr. King asked me to come, it was essentially to fulfill a gap that they had begun to feel more and more strongly where they had this really, ah, mass movement of people interested in social change and in seeing civil rights advanced in America but who essentially were not organization people or were not accustomed to functioning in terms of organizations. And I remember when I first spoke to him about it. I originally came to SCLC not to serve in the organization but to serve as a representative of the organization in Europe. And I came over essentially to attend the, ah, first annual, ah, or the first for me, the first annual meeting of, ah, the Board of Direction, the Board of Directors, sorry. And, ah, become acquainted with them and with the organization's program and so on and then to return to Europe where I was living and working at the time, to set up something called "Friends of Martin Luther King" in Europe. This would have grouped several, ah, Nobel Prize winners in various areas, ah, Italy, Holland, Sweden, I think, ah. We had representatives and to serve as a locus for fund raising in Europe and also as a source of information. In those days there was virtually no information about Black America being diffused or actually available in Europe at all. That was going to be my, ah, role and function. But when I came to America essentially for a two week period to do this in 1966, I walked into the office on Auburn Avenue and it was filled with enthusiastic, busy, involved people, wandering here and there. Some saying hello, some trying to work. But a total, total chaos and cacophony, if you would. And I looked around and it was just unbelievable. And in one of my first meetings with Dr. King he explained to me that they were coming up on the 10th anniversary of the founding of SCLC. This was approximately in June/July and I think the anniversary was to have been in August/September. And he explained to me that unfortunately there was not sufficient time to produce a brochure or booklet or some kind of commemorative publication for their 10th anniversary. And having been a journalist myself, having worked, ah, for many years in publications and in publishing and so on, I was astounded at the idea that they couldn't produce a document, a publication in two months. So I said to Dr. King, "Well perhaps I can be of some help on this. And let me see what I can do." So I went and I called one of my oldest friends in America, Milton Moskowitz, who was in charge of one of the external affairs departments at J. Walter Thompson in New York. And I said, "Listen, Milt, ah, what do you think we could do about producing a booklet on SCL--ten years of SCLC?" He said, "Well, why don't you gather whatever materials and pictures you've got and come up here." And sure enough I rattled through the files and the archives at SCLC and so on, gathered up a couple of suitcases of documents and flew up to New York and we did it in five days.