I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. And I’m on welfare. In this country, if you’re any one of those things, you count less as a person. If you’re all those things, you just don’t count, except as a statistic. I am a statistic. –Johnnie Tillmon, 1972
Johnnie Tillmon was a pioneer activist who was best known for her fight in the welfare rights movement. She founded one of the first grassroots welfare mothers’ organizations, ANC (Aid to Needy Children). Mothers Anonymous in 1963. The purpose of the organization as to fight against the unfair treatment by welfare caseworkers. Together with other welfare mothers, she struggled for adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation.
Tillmon was born in Scott, Arkansas, in 1926. A migrant sharecropper’s daughter, she moved to California in 1959 to join her brothers and worked as a union shop steward in a Compton laundry. In 1961, Tillmon became ill, being the sole provider for her children, she was advised to seek welfare. However, she had heard in the past how caseworkers harrassed recipients by visiting their homes and designated how money should be used.
In order to fight against being dehumanized, Tillmon organized people on welfare in the housing project and founded ANC (Aid to Needy Children) Mothers Anonymous, in 1963. When a former CORE activist, George Wiley, brought together local welfare recipients’ groups and transformed them into a national movement, ANC Mothers joined the movement and became a part of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO).
When a former CORE activist, George Wiley, brought together local welfare recipients’ groups and transformed them into a national movement, ANC Mothers decided to join National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). The NWRO was officially run by welfare recipients. However, the male middle-class staff were managing finances and administration office. This gave the men great influence over the organization.
Tillmon and other welfare mothers became increasingly critical of Wiley and his supporters who dominated leadership positions and sought to place control of the organization in the hands of the welfare recipients.
As the welfare mothers became more critical of Wiley and his supporters who dominated leadership positions and sought to place control of the organization in the hands of the welfare recipients. When the number of recipients rapidly increased and the NWRO was under fierce attack, the internal conflict between the staff members and welfare recipients came to the forefront. NWRO folded in 1975, and Tillmon returned to Los Angeles, continuing her struggle for welfare rights at the local and state levels. In 1995, Tillmon passed away at the age of 69.