Interview with William Rutherford
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

What were the debates like? What was the discussion like?

WILLIAM RUTHERFORD:

Oh, I think there was a great deal and, I have to preface this, preface this by saying that many of our senior staff were clergymen, meaning that they are very good talkers. They like to talk. They're trained speakers. They're trained rhetoricians and being very strong willed and strong minded, or they wouldn't have been in the movement in the first place or they wouldn't have survived in it, they were all very strong personalities and characters. So each one would have his point to make. Each one would speak to his point and at great length and with great eloquence. And these meetings could go on for hours. And being again basically very, ah, creative, independent people, ah, they were very difficult to discipline. And my role, or part of my role as an outsider, was to attempt to put some organization in this very, ah, volatile, spontaneous, ah, situation. So, ah, we made it very clear who was in charge. Dr. King had made it very clear who was in charge. I chaired, pardon?

WILLIAM RUTHERFORD:

I chaired these meetings and that's when I got in the process of saying, "Well, each one get ten minutes or else we'll be here all night."





WILLIAM RUTHERFORD:

No, the SCLC staff was a collection of great individuals and individualists. Very independent as I said, and very articulate and each with a mind of his own, resulting one, to join the movement, and two, survive, ah, internal, external pressures. But being very, ah, individualistic and independent they're a hard lot to control. And I'd say that practically, practically no one could do that except Dr. King. Ah, all of that of course compounded by the fact that everyone was a volunteer, ah, come or go. So, who's going to give or take, ah, orders, ah, and of course part of my role was to attempt to instill some discipline or at least, ah, some order. And it wasn't, ah, easy as you can imagine having, ah, such a collection. I really, ah, high-powered, active, hyperactive, articulate, ah, motivated, dedicated people to try and control as a staff. Imagine Jose, Andy, ah, Jesse, ah, Fontroy, just a collection, T.Y. Rogers, others that you've forgotten by now. T.Y. Rogers being the head of our filliest[SIC] division. We called him the Tiger of Tuscaloosa. And he was one of these southern preachers who could mesmerize you, he could hypnotize, you know, masses of people and did. But when this same process was being applied on one another our meetings could go on for hours. And Dr. King was a soul of patience and he would listen and listen and listen and rarely interrupt. He would hear everyone out. Then he would say, "Well, ah, this is very interesting but what I think is:" Then he would summarize in about 20 minutes, four hours of previous discussion. In attempting to organize at least to moderate somewhat this outpouring of energy and enthusiasm and many, many very, very good ideas that were, you know, some practical and some not practical. I did a number of things, ah. I'll never forget going at some point, we'd say, each one has ten minutes. You'd take off your watch and you'd put it on the table in front of you and you'd try to each one to go for ten minutes. But how do you stop someone in the mid-oration, ah, the middle of their peroration, ah, to stop and say, "Well it's, your ten minutes are up" and so on. So I went by Sears and Roebuck one day on the way to the office and for a few dollars I got a kitchen timer and I put it on the, ah, table and of course then Jose would take off or Jesse would take off or Andy would take off. All of a sudden you'd hear that little ping. "What? You mean that's ten minutes already?" Of course it was ten minutes. Probably, ah, you know, a minute more or so. But other things, like sometimes people would show up for meetings and sometimes they wouldn't, ah, these very independent, individualistic people. So I began, again, something that might sound a little Boy-Scoutish now, ah, but it was necessary and I'm happy to say it also worked. I would impose a fine of $25.00 for someone who came to a meeting late. I would pose, impose a fine of $50.00 for someone who didn't show up at all. And this was particularly true of one of our staff members who was located in Chicago, was so independent he would come or not come as it suited him. And we'd be hopping mad because we'd sit there. We'd have, maybe Stan Levinson, who would fly in from New York, spend the night, talk to Dr. King, stick around for the staff meeting the next morning and the meeting would start an hour late. So you had to put an end to that. So we tried all kinds of things and, ah, so at some point I read off these new rules and regulations. From now on here's the way it's going to be. Following week, everybody showed up including our contingent from Chicago and so on. Ah, the meeting still started half an hour late. You know who the first person was that we stuck? You'll never guess. It was Dr. King. Twenty-five dollars it cost him. And this of course, a staff that has very little, ah, income of any kind, certainly not from the organization. But, ah, we were going to then use that fund for a recreation fund and, you know, all go on a picnic or something with those funds at some point. But that was our effort to put some discipline into the meetings of the staff.