Excerpt From SNCC Central Committee Meeting
Regarding Forging a Relation With Saul Alinsky
January, 1967

[Introductory note from Mike Miller: The following is from the minutes/notes of the 1/20/67 SNCC Central Committee meeting. On page 18, Courtland Cox presents a list of topics to be discussed. One of them is "Organizing Institute in relation with Sol (sic) Alinsky." (His name is Saul Alinsky.) The discussion reflects where SNCC was at this time in its thinking about/understanding of "organizing."

Except for my comments which are set off as such, the following is taken from these official meeting "notes" which were transcribed from a taping of the meeting. These are excerpts so that you have an idea of the discussion. ]

Central Committee Meeting. January 20, 1967.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In attendance: John Buffington, Willie Ricks, James Forman, Shirley Wright, Stokely Carmichael, Cleve Sellers, Bob Smith, Jennifer Lawson, Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Stanley Wise. Secretary: Fay D. Bellamy.

Cox: I would like to begin with the relationship with Sol (sic) Alinsky because I would like to begin in a negative way or on a negative note and to talk to what I think we don't want.

[Saul Alinsky was in some discussions with SNCC about a training relationship with the organization. I had just started working for Alinsky at the time, and had been on the SNCC staff from mid-1962 - end of 1966. I set up a meeting between Alinsky and Stokely Carmichael some time in this period — I think it was in 1967.]

Cleve: I guess I can begin on that note. My move would be more positive than negative in that during the conference the other day with Alinsky and which Stokely participated in, we had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Alinsky about several things that he was doing. We also talked about the possibility of people working with him, organizers working with him, to develop certain skills and being able to relate and remain in those communities after he has been there and gone.

[At this time, Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) had a presence in the Black communities of Buffalo and Rochester, NY; Chicago (Woodlawn neighborhood), IL and Kansas City, MO (where I was working). Alinsky was also in conversations with Black community leaders in Oakland (CA), Dayton (OH) and elsewhere. The IAF pattern at this time was to work in a neighborhood for three-or-so years then withdraw, turning full responsibility for the organization it had formed over to local leadership and a locally-hired organizing staff.]

Cleve: We have to be realistic in understanding that within the organization, there is a minute number of organizers left, if there were any, still around. Some people feel that the key is the development of black organizers to move in and do what we say in our rhetoric. I also expanded that in talking with other people about trying, or having SNCC try, to set up an institute where we could begin to develop our own organizers. But in the meantime Alinsky is planning to do one of two things. One thing is that he is planning to set up an institute in either Oakland or New York and that is just a training institute which I don't think we would be directly connected with, if we decided that we wanted to select six or seven people to work along with the Industrial Areas Foundation.

But I think it might be good in terms of just development of organizers to get five or six people and let them work along with them/him in Rochester, Oakland, Buffalo, Kansas City and I don't know what the other areas are where they are working in the black community. When the funds for them run out, those new people will remain and develop those types of organizations and will be the key to developing a political base and which is something we keep talking about. That is essentially what he said might be possible and that we do not have the apparatus. These new people could get the experience from working on those specific projects. One of the first would be the Rochester project. Within the next six weeks, he's planning to leave the group. FIGHT is left without an organizer and just hanging.

[Minister Franklin Florence was the key leader in FIGHT, the Rochester Black community organization. Florence was an associate of Malcolm X, and asked Malcolm what he thought of Alinsky. Malcolm's response, according to Florence, was "he's the best organizer in the country today." (Florence tells this story in the documentary produced for PBS The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy.) I don't think Cleve is accurate in saying that IAF would have left Rochester "without an organizer and just hanging." IAF's pattern was to train a local person to become the staff director of the organization it had formed. My recollection is that a local Black organizer had been trained in Rochester. At the same time, it is possible that Alinsky would have liked additional Black organizing talent to be present there. Further, it is possible that IAF/Alinsky was upset with the direction that FIGHT had taken — namely becoming heavily involved in "community development." The effect of this direction was to marginalize FIGHT's more issue oriented and power-building work. Alinsky may have hoped that the presence of SNCC-related people would provide a balance against the community development approach.]

Cleve: I don't know at this point if we have people interested in becoming organizers. I think we'll have to go out and recruit them ... In Lowndes County, I would imagine the people are a little more independent than the SNCC people. Now if somebody argues on the negative, I would hope that they would develop an alternative in that argument.

Cobb: I'm not going to argue. Obviously you or Stokely could explain just to me at least, what Sol Alinsky has to offer. Would we relate to him on the basis of programs. The way he organizes or is he just a financial grab-bag or what? ...

Cleve: I think he organizes along different lines than we do or different from the way we consider ourselves doing. I think that may proceed from some different approaches, but I'm not sure that we don't also. I think it offers an opportunity to us to develop organizers. It goes no further than that. Just the basic skills for developing an organizer and I think that's what it offers, within a certain political framework.

Cobb: Perhaps we're missing each other in terms of that phrase "basic skills in developing an organizer". Do you mean like the use of a mimeograph machine, public speaking, the art of moving in a community, canvassing and that kind of thing and is it possible to isolate that kind of thing out say, within a lengthy thing, so somehow people we would encourage into this thing would get these kinds of various mechanical things, as to our political orientation or something like that? Or that we would have around that, something that would neutralize, say, Alinsky's own political philosophy(s) or his own or what he feels he is organizing for.

See I think I disagree with Sol Alinsky in terms of what he's organizing for. Therefore, I think I disagree with Alinsky and how he organizes. Given that, if that is at all reflective of SNCC, are we just utilizing some little tiny portion of ... what is it, this institute?

Cleve: It's just On the Job Training.

Cobb: See, I think we could develop a training program ourselves.

Cleve: We've been talking about that for five or six years.

Cobb: Yeah: We've also been talking about internal education, cultural programs and all of that, and economic programs and presumably we're going to get these things going. I mean that is the hope behind the February programs.

Stokely: Concretely, who will teach organizing in SNCC?

Cobb: I can. If you mean who is going to run a school or a program, that is one thing. I think the organization can teach people how to organize. That can be part of the program of the organization.

Forman: I'd like to raise two points. I don't know ... I don't think that the org. should try to contract people for that. If people want to go to him as Mike Miller did, that is one thing, but in the absence of that, I don't think that the org. itself, all of us, has ever made a real serious attempt to (a). put down certain guidelines and principles for organizing, etc. And none of us can excuse himself. That is all of us. I think on the one hand that there are some of us who perhaps have had some experiences in certain areas before we came to SNCC and on the other hand, I don't think that we can blame some members of our staff who we feel are not as good an organizer as other people, because there is a question about how we have tried to train them. We really haven't. We have not tried to train them and I think that that can be done.

I think it has to be done, in some kind of training program, because I don't ... you see with Sol, you'd have to raise; What is his fee ... I mean in line with what Charlie said...; What is his basic skills for organizing that he sees. What are certain value judgments, Cleve. You raised, organizing people within a certain political context. What certain political context is that which he tries to get people to move around and also then, not only just the basic skills, but what is his program for the implementation or putting into effect, so-called organizing of people for power and training these organizers, because I think we ought to ... maybe some place on the agenda ... there should be place[d] an Organizers Institute ...

I don't start from the premise that it is impossible to teach people a lot of things that some of us know. I think it requires a certain characteristic, if in fact we're going to do that. I think we have an obligation to examine one of those characteristics necessary to train other people and how we begin putting that into effect. Because, for us to take the position that we're going to send our own people out to get some training under other people, without having defined the training program ourselves is to cripple, continually the org. in a sense.

I don't know if my point is clear.

Cleve: It's not clear.

Forman: I mean this Cleve. If you're in charge of a program department, for an example, and if the rest of us on the Central Committee and in the org. feel that collectively throughout our history, for one reason or the other, and there are a lot of reasons, that we have never instituted a training program where those of us who have been ... I mean a collective training program. A program that would be guided by people who have certain experience.

We ourselves, don't sit down ... If we ourselves, don't sit down first and accept that reality and then secondly begin to do something constructive about it ... maybe what we need is a work session for two days ... if we ourselves decided we were going to have a work session for a day and a half where we would draw up a manual for organizing, something that could be taught and then decided: Well I'm willing to take several people and go over this and to take the feeling of this body and try to discuss this and give people examinations and quizzes and so forth and try to instill some of these principles, then I think that could be done. If we don't do that, then it's premature for us to be talking about sending anybody anywhere training them to organize, because we're shirking our responsibility, collectively. That's what I mean.

Cleve: ... We don't have anybody out in the field organizing, nor doing anything. If we are going to deal with that, then good, let's start, but we aren't. Let us try to develop an apparatus to begin to deal and develop the things we need. We need skilled people to go into the community and organize ...

Buffington: We call ourselves an organization and I'm in agreement with Cleve and I'm in agreement with Jim, that we are shirking our responsibility ... We do need to train. We need people out in the field organizing. We do need people oriented SNCC-wise. We do need to start. Then if we're going to have this institute. It's true, we don't have any organizers. It seems to me that we could ... then if the people ... the whole Atlanta office ... it just appears to me that more could be done.

Cobb: I think our organizers are inactive, but we do have them. Maybe they're trapped or have become administrators or stuff like that. Nevertheless, they exist. Recognize that as a resource of the org. The question is not that we don't have any, it's how we're going to utilize them.

Stokely: I think that the Feb. program is a good one as a beginning. We all recognize the need to recruit new people who are committed to organizing. Now the only hang-up is that the reason Cleve suggested the Alinsky thing is because we don't have a training program. If we have somebody who is willing to take that on, not in a teaching institute, but a training program and help to develop one, I'm willing to do that after May. I'm willing to do that if SNCC says okay. I'm willing to go to D.C. and take with me some new people and start training them on how to organize. I think that is the only way it can be done. That is on the job with somebody. If there are some people who don't feel threatened, then I'll be glad to do that.

We can start doing that for other people. That's the way we set up and systematize that; until you do that, I think it's futile to talk about.

Cox: I raised that question about Sol Alinsky but it was not for the reason that was discussed. Carmichael has outlined what I think we have to do. That is one geographic area that has become important. Somebody is going to take Washington, D.C. with people going with them and somebody takes Mississippi with a group of people, Alabama with a group of people, Atlanta with a group of people, New York with a group of people, then those geographic areas, given the comprehensive outline of what should be done, they should be able to train people in motion, and that is the only way we learn.

About our relationship with Alinsky, as Charlie was getting at, is his political point of view.

Stokely: I think I outlined my brief suggestion, because we don't have the program here. Here is a guy who has it whether you agree with his politics or not, he is the only cat in the country who has been doing that ... The summer program sounds very specific and there are various things we could start off with in that training, but you have to understand a training institute of organizers must be on the spot. Those same organizers must decide what people they can train on the spot. Those people are then in charge and will take four or five people to train them to be organizers. If those people want to do that and those people are willing to do that, Charlie says he's willing. I'm willing. Bob says he's willing. Can the six of us sit down and draw up a systematic approach so that if I'm in D.C. and Bob is in Miss., we're doing a systematic way of organizing.

I think that is the only way it can be done.

Cox: ... I think it is important that the org., if it is going to be successful, begins with us now organizing ourselves and not with individual initiative. That we begin methodically outlining what we have to do. Then everybody almost knows, even if it isn't by physical contact, but by political similarity, what is going on and what they are organizing for.

Buffington: It seems to me you need power and if it's ever going to be done, why not. If a cat's got something going in Ala., somebody needs that initiative to pull it, and put him there. If he has the ability to do this, he should be pulled. That even goes for me. I would hate to leave West Point, but if it is that kind of power existing, well you know.

Cox: You have a Program Director who understands what the org. is supposed to be doing and he understands the highest priorities.

Ricks: I'm not sure about that.

Stokely: We ought not to get hung up on that until we have it. I think you were trying to say ... or you were trying to direct to me what you were saying. I have an ability for organizing.

Cox: That is not what I was saying. I'm making an argument for the way we proceed geographically. That's what I'm talking about.

Forman: I will try to give Cleve as much information, in terms of a kit for organizing. I just think there are certain fundamentals that go with developing ones ability for organizing. I will try to prepare by the next Central Comm. Meeting what I consider a kit for organizing.

Stokely: I disagree with you. I'm just shaking my head. Go ahead.

Forman: Rock Bottom is on this agenda, but I maintain that was one of the things in the kit. See I agree that you have to have personal experiences, but I also agree that that is very limited. I think there are certain basic ... pardon me ...

Stokely: I didn't outrule (sic) just organizing. I included that in my theory...

Cox: There must be a history of the organization.

Forman: There are available, man, certain materials. The question is, is the leadership of the organization willing to spend some time, and I'm not talking about the chairman. I'm talking about us who are sitting here. And will we try to educate around some of that material. It is one thing to sit up here and, say, blast, but it is another thing to say that there are certain fundamentals ...

It seems to me that we have to do that. That is one fundamental job that we have to begin moving towards. I've seen some manuals for organizing in certain areas, but to me, none of this material has any validity unless the people who understand that material are willing to sit down in a unit. We have existing material available and we don't just have to wait until June or July. If we really feel this is a serious responsibility, are we prepared to take two cats a night, say for two or three weeks and say: "Man look, there are some things about organizing which I want to talk to you about," and put those things to that cat in a systematic way.

We should write them down so that they can be shared and passed on. Then it is not just from one person to another relationship. That also reflects an attitude man and that attitude about that becomes very important. All of us are moving in and out of the organization. We all have a lot of time at some time. It is a question of how we spend that time. It goes back to the question of, does the leadership ... and again that is broader than just the election ... and especially people in the Central Comm. Given the little time that we have left. Are we prepared to do that?

I'd like to get some reaction. If you don't feel that's useful, then I won't do it.

Stokely: Who are you writing it for? People on the staff or for new people we recruit?

Forman: For both of them.

You see man, you say you know how to train organizers. That you have trained organizers. I'm not questioning that. But I have no way of evaluating that. I don't know what you consider as say maybe, the three most key principles of organizing. I have three ideas in my head that are just fundamental. And that you have to drill them, drill them and drill them and that people have to understand the implications. It's creativity, follow-through and initiative. Those are concepts that I have.

Cox: You can't write that out in a transcript.

Forman: Yes you can brother.

Stokely: All I said baby, is if you feel you can train two and you're serious about that training, because I don't think that organizing a training school for SNCC, I'm being realistic, will get started until the latter part of April. That is the way I feel. You've got the whole month of Feb. for this programmatic thing, then you have March, trying to implement those programmatic decisions and finally by April, you can start recruiting for the summer project.

Cox: We haven't said we're going to have a summer project or not.

Stokely: Well, you're going to recruit some kids.

The people who decide that could just sit down and then do that. Cleve hasn't said he could train an organizer. Maybe he feels he can't. People feel they can, those who feel they can, should sit down around the first week in April and submit your ideas. I'll submit mine. Courtland can submit his. Whoever wants to submit or be in that program can submit his.

Cox: ... The other thing I would say is that if anybody has any ideas, anything he wants to jot down on paper, I could try to codify those things and get them together. I will not be able to attend most of that thing in February, but I would like to try to get something which is available. I talked to a cat in Washington who is preparing some sort of manual for organizers. There are some good things in it which I hope we can get some copies of. I'm going to try to get copies of that. I'm going to try to search around in some of the unions and find out some of the things they used.

They used to have manuals on organizing and that was a key program in their own training process.

[The transcript goes on for another 17 pages, but they are principally on the subjects of the summer project, SNCC's relationship to college campuses and other matters. I have no information at present as to whether or how the discussion on organizing ended.]

© Copyright
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)