Black History Moment: George Wiley, founder of the National Welfare Rights Organization (1966-1975)

by Feb 26, 2021Blog0 comments

Yesterday, we took a glimpse into the Moynihan Report of 1965, a landmark federal government report that was bold in its assessment on why black families in predominantly (low-income) black neighborhoods live below the poverty line.   For a follow up on yesterday’s subject, today’s black history moment highlights an initial post-Moynihan Report attempt to rectify that situation: George Wiley, founder of the National Welfare Rights Organization.
George Wiley (1931-1972) – Key Highlights/Accomplishments
* Received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of RI in 1953, received a PhD in organic chemistry from Cornell University in 1957
* Taught at Syracuse University as a chemistry professor, founded Syracuse University’s Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter
* In 1966, Wiley founded the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO)
* In 2010, Wiley was posthumously inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) – Key Highlights/Accomplishments
* In 1966, the NWRO was founded by George Wiley as the result of a Cleveland to Columbus (Ohio) welfare recipients’ protest march for higher payments, and for more respectful treatment by state/local welfare case workers
* NWRO membership consisted of a majority of African American single mothers on public assistance.  Formed in response to the passage of stringent anti-welfare laws that sought to limit the number of recipients, and to limit the size of recipients’ welfare grant checks
* Four main goals of the NWRO: adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation
* NWRO New York chapter’s “minimum standards” organizing campaigns for furniture and clothing, increased welfare payments in NYC from $1.2 million in 1963 to $40 million in 1968.  This income increase went directly to the pockets of welfare recipients’ taking care of their families.
* Johnnie Tillmon later led the NWRO before its demise in 1975.  During her tenure as NWRO leader, Tillmon emphasized welfare as a woman’s right to adequate income, whether working outside the home, or staying at home raising children
National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) – Legacy/Significance
* Became the national voice for the rights of welfare recipients, who at the time, were mainly black single mothers
* Infused welfare recipients with a sense of political agency to advocate in their collective best interest
Visit the websites below and/or conduct your own research to learn about George Wiley and the NWRO.
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame – George A. Wiley
Syracuse University: “Legacy of civil rights activist George Wiley honored at 12th annual Sojourner Storytelling Conference”


New York Times article (Aug. 10, 1973): “Dr. George Wiley Feared Drowned”


New York Times article (Sep. 27, 1970): “Now It’s Welfare Lib” “National Welfare Rights Organization (1966-1975)”
Article: “Revisiting the National Welfare Rights Organization”
Johnnie Tillmon essay (1972): “Welfare as a Women’s Issue”


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