National Welfare Rights Organization

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The National Welfare Rights Organization operated from August 6, 1966 until 1974 when the national office in Washington D.C. was closed due to lack of funds. On June 30, 1987, NWRO was reformed as the National Welfare Rights Union.[1] At its height in 1969 it had a membership of as many as 25,000 people, with thousands more participating in NWRO protests. The majority of the members were African American women.


In 1966 civil rights activist George Wiley organized several demonstrations for the poor and brought together a number of local organizations into the NWRO. The organization had four goals: adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation.

In 1969, the NWRO captured public attention when it targeted President Richard Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan. Meanwhile internal dissention arose between the mostly male middle-class staff and the mostly female welfare recipients regarding the strategies and goals of the NWRO. George Wiley sought to expand the movement to include the working poor. Welfare recipients led by Johnnie Tillmon, on the other hand, tried to redefine welfare rights as a women’s issue and pursue a black feminist agenda.

Late in 1972, George Wiley resigned and Johnnie Tillmon was appointed as the NWRO’s new executive director. Three years later, in March 1975, the NWRO went bankrupt and the organization came to an end. Its legacy, however, continued as numerous welfare rights organizations struggled for extending welfare recipients’ rights at the local level.[2]