The Early Years at CCI

In January, 1969, we occupied a small office space offered by the First Congregational Church, Reading, made possible by the Ministers, Paul Barnes, and Ashley Doane. Donations of a rug, and a file cabinet, completed the furniture, including a table, desk chair, a typewriter, and easy chair. Book ends on the table provided a place for the books which eventually became the Community Change library. One of the first books was Bob Terry’s For Whites Only. Writing from his experience with “urban unrest” in Detroit, Terry became a kind of guru, leading much of the early thought about the “white problem”. Also between the book ends was Knowles & Prewitt’s Institutional Racism in America; its “inventory of Racism” became the early model for what we developed later as a way to “audit” for racism in institutions. A third book, which was then, and remains today, a prophetic insight was James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
Baldwin’s admonition to his nephew about white people is that they, I will say “we” are “trapped in a history we do not understand”. A few words which have had an immense impact on my life. Each of these books became prominent, urged for reading for everyone who came into our cozy office space. Mary Doane, wife of Ashley, volunteered time to set up files, and served ably all the years we were in Reading.

It was clear to us that the “Community” could apply to almost any group of people in any setting where there was some evident common purpose. Given our assumption of a “white problem”, our focus was to be directed toward those communities around Boston, populated predominantly by white people. The focus was to be where white people lived. We knew that the “white problem” must be centered there in the white suburbs. The method was “training” and organizing.

Some of the earliest groups to seek assistance included nascent groups in towns north of Boston. SCORE, was the Saugus Committee for Racial Equality. Encounter for Ecumenical Action, with offices in Lynn; Concern, was a human rights group, located in Wenham-Hamilton.; an Urban-Suburban seminar was sponsored by the Greenwood Union Church, Wakefield, including people from Everett and Woburn. The Board of Christian Social Concerns, of the Methodist New England Southern Conference, provided participants from a wider geographical area.

Those were lonely days; not many people were talking about a “white problem”; few white people and white men in particular were ready to hear that word. There were days when I quietly said a prayer: “Lord, I need a sign …I know I’m not supposed to ask for “signs”, but oh, I need something to happen that will be a sign that I should continue …” I remember especially that within minutes after one of those prayers, the phone rang, a new group asking for help with the “white problem”. A sign ???? answer to prayer ???; I’m not sure what to think, but it kept me going through many times of doubt. With my “epiphany” at heart, there was no option of giving up.

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