Interview with William Rutherford

How did you organize? What was the grassroots organization like with the PPC?


Well we organized the Poor People's Campaign by putting out what is known in the movement as a call. A call to worship, a call to participate, a call for camaraderie, and so on. Whoever hears your call will respond. It's a kind of unspoken bond of friendship and camaraderie and so on. When I call you it means I need you and you will come.** If you put out a call and I hear you I will come. That in the movement was the call. So, the decision was taken and there had been a number of meetings with Dr. King's closest advisors in the trade union movement, amongst the clergy, World Council of Churches and so on about focusing on, ah, the issue of poverty in America. Ah, there was this famous book by Harrington, ah, _The Other America_ that dealt with the problem of hunger. Dr. King saw that a c--copy of that circulated amongst the staff and others and so on and so forth. Ah, so the call was issued and people arrived in Atlanta from every part of America, north, south, east, west, ah, and so on and they arrived to participate and to work, to discuss but then to, ah, go out and to assist in organizing this newest, most important of SCLC campaigns. And I remember there were some 300 people who gathered in Ebenezer Church, ah, to discuss the logistics, the arrangements, the plan and we had worked on those for weeks and weeks now, ah, and we were going to give the word to those who had responded to our appeal or to our call. Ah, they had really gathered, ah, as I said, from Texas from California from Detroit from Chicago from New York from, you name it, Mississippi, Alabama, all of the surrounding states of course. People had come in who had participated in previous drives, previous demonstrations, previous campaigns and so on that were all answering the call. And as I said, we all gathered at the, ah, church to hear the leader speak, give us the direction, then to discuss the details and so on. And we had a very, very large number of persons and we had chosen some that were known before and we would, ah, organize and dispatch teams, generally of two persons per location. For example we took two experienced, ah, civil rights, ah, participants or leaders or workers whatever you want to call them to organize Manhattan. In principal we had no money, we had a war chest that was very limited. The organization was indebted at the time. And I think we had allocated something like fifty dollars per week per each participant. That fifty dollars was to pay for everything, food, board, lodging, clothing, transportation, incidentals and so on. And for, ah, campaign expenses we allocated the princely sum of twenty-five dollars. Anything beyond that they had to raise locally. So we sent a team to California. We sent a team to Chicago, ah, Al Sampson being half of our Chicago team. We sent two men to organize Chicago and we sent two men to organize, ah, New York City. And of course they were to call upon the local clergy, the local SCLC affiliate, the local communities and so on for the resources necessary to organize, ah, the campaign in that locality and by and large they did. And I must say, ah, they also were to see about fund raising in each. Their mandate was to respond to the total needs of the Poor People's Campaign in terms of organization and participation, recruitment of persons, identification of persons, ah, publicity, information, and so on and so forth, through the schools, through the churches, through other community organizations and so on. Ah, and the whole logistical problem was that we could only ensure, I'd say, two months budget at the time we were sending this team into the field. Ah, but we had literally 300 people, ah, as I say, a very mixed group.