Johnnie Tillmon

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Johnnie Tillmon
A photograph in which Johnnie Tillmon is on the left, and George Wiley (a founder and executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization) is on the right
Johnnie Tillmon is on the left, and George Wiley (a founder and executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization) is on the right.
BornApril 10, 1926
Scott, Arkansas
DiedNovember 22, 1995 (age 69)
Los Angeles, California
OccupationWelfare rights activist

Johnnie Tillmon (1926–1995) was a welfare rights activist.[1] She was born Johnnie Lee Percy, and her mother died in childbirth when Johnnie was five years old.[2] In 1944 she went to live with her aunt.[2] She left to marry James Tillmon in 1948, but they divorced in 1952.[2] In 1959 she moved to California to join her brothers there.[1] By that time she was a single mother to six children.[3] In California she organized workers and became involved in a community association called the Nickerson Garden Planning Organization.[1] In 1963 she became ill and was encouraged to begin receiving welfare.[1] Seeing how people on welfare were treated, she organized those on welfare in the housing project, and in 1963 founded ANC (Aid to Needy Children) Mothers Anonymous, which was one of the first grassroots welfare mothers’ organizations.[1] This organization later became part of the National Welfare Rights Organization.[1] Tillmon became the first chair of the NWRO.[4] In 1972 she became its executive director when George Wiley resigned.[1] Wiley had been trying to mobilize the working poor, and tried to broaden the horizons of the feminist movement by redefining poverty as a “women’s issue.”[1] Tillmon's 1972 essay, "Welfare Is a Woman's Issue," which was published in Ms., emphasized women's right to adequate income, regardless of whether they worked in a factory or at home raising children.[5] The funding for the NWRO had gone down by the time Tillmon became the executive director, and the NWRO ended in bankruptcy in March 1975; however, Tillmon continued fighting for welfare rights at the state and local levels.[1][6]

The National Union of the Homeless used what was called a "Johnnie Tillmon model" of organizing, named after her.[7]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Welfare is a Women's Issue" (1972), originally published in Ms. magazine, by Johnnie Tillmon
  • Want to Start A Revolution? Radical Women In The Black Freedom Struggle (2009), edited by Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard. Note: Feminist Review stated about this anthology: "These women stood at the intersection of racial, sexual, and class oppression, and often devoted themselves to working on all three fronts. A chapter on Johnnie Tillmon and the welfare rights movement explores this theme of poor Black women's triple exploitation..."[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Tillmon, Johnnie (1926-1995); The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". The Black Past. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  2. ^ a b c "American National Biography Online: Tillmon, Johnnie". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  3. ^ "Content Pro IRX". Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  4. ^ Dorothy Sue Cobble (15 March 2007). The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor. Cornell University Press. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-0-8014-8943-3.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Tsuchiya, Kazuyo. "National Welfare Rights Organization, 1966-1975".
  7. ^ Baptist, Willie; Jan Rehman (2011). Pedagogy of the Poor. New York: Teachers College Press.
  8. ^ Charlotte Malerich. "unknown". Retrieved 2015-11-09. Cite uses generic title (help)