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Eyes on the Prize
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National Welfare Rights Organization

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Beulah Sanders of the National Welfare Rights Organization waits to tell members of the Democratic Platform Committee that they should back a radical overhaul of the nation's welfare system, August 22, 1968.

The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) was the brainchild of Syracuse University professor George Wiley, a Congress of Racial Equality member who left academia in 1964. In 1965 he formed the Poverty/Rights Action Center, which would evolve into the NWRO two years later. The NWRO advocated for improvements in the lives of welfare recipients, including dignified treatment and payments sufficient to maintain a decent quality of life. Johnnie Tillmon served as chair; she was a community and labor organizer before suffering disabilities from a life of hard labor. Alongside Beulah Sanders and thousands of other organizers, Wiley and Tillmon spread their gospel of welfare rights across the country. The NWRO grew to 30,000 members and could count more than 100,000 in their local campaigns and more than 300 local affiliates. The NWRO joined with the SCLC in 1968's Poor People's Campaign and nearly reached agreement on welfare reform with the Nixon administration, only to see the deal collapse over the issue of guaranteed incomes for recipients. The NWRO disbanded in the mid-1970s, but local affiliates continued its work.

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