The United Community Corporation

(War on Poverty)

In 1964, the War on Poverty was created because of the momentum generated by the Civil Rights Movement. President Johnson said it would cure the nation’s “problem” of poor people through a variety of social programs.  The violent rebellions in Birmingham and Harlem in 1963 and 1964, respectively, put “poverty” on the government’s fast track. The Federal Government looked to head off future unrest with grants for programs coming through the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). The OEO provided funding for Community Action Agencies to coordinate anti-poverty programs. Newark’s Community Action Agency was established in 1965 and called the United Community Corporation (UCC).

The OEO legislation included a phrase that sent shock waves throughout city halls around the nation with its declaration that anti-poverty programs that it funded had to assure “maximum feasible participation of the poor.” This led to a new phase of struggle in Newark where community groups such as the Newark Community Union (NCUP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the United Afro American Association (UAAA), and allies from the Black Political Class who were then in disfavor and at odds with Mayor Hugh Addonizio, formed an unpredictable and highly unstable coalition to fight the Mayor for control of the program, which at the bottom line meant jobs for each combatant’s constituency.

This produced a brand new organizing chapter beginning in late 1964. “Development” of the community participants meant learning another set of  “insider” skills.

Newark’s anti-poverty plan adopted the model of decentralized Area Boards urged by Cyril Tyson, from New York’s HARYOU-ACT youth employment program. Under the vision of Tyson, who became the first Executive Director of the UCC, there would be nine Area Boards, each with a separate Board of Directors and a budget for staff and programs. NCUP took over Area Board III as its home base in the South Ward, while the UAAA (Willie Wright) took over Area Board II in the Central Ward.

Tom Hayden, of NCUP, said that he saw the UCC as “a government for the liberals!” He meant that it became the institutional staging ground for a war not so much against poverty, but by insurgents, and exiles from the Mayor’s, working against the city Democratic Party political machine, all for the control of money.

Television commercial from President Johnson’s 1964 campaign that highlights LBJ’s War on Poverty programs. One of the most impactful of the War on Poverty programs was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which authorized the establishment of Community Action Agencies, like the United Community Corporation in Newark.

Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he explains the organization of “area boards” within the UCC. Tyson explains that these local area boards were established as Community Action Programs to promote community participation in the antipoverty program throughout the city of Newark. –Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

 

The UCC Battles as a Training Ground

To some, UCC meetings were a training ground. People were jumping up all over the place, objecting to what was said, using Robert’s Rules of Order to hammer their opposition into submission. The air reeked of testosterone. Most of the verbal combat was among black men, but a few women were involved as well. The objective in these shouting matches was very seldom enlightenment, but always about power. UCC meetings were showdowns amongst at many as 100 to 200 people at the Central Board meetings, and were not for the faint of heart. Junius Williams remembers seeing “more black folks fighting black folks than I had ever witnessed before… portents of things to come.” When black people fight white people, as under the rule of Jim Crow, the battle lines are clear. But when black people fight each other, the issues become more muddled: ordinary people got confused and backed away because the fight was around unexplained but dominant class issues, or personalities.

Community groups learned about building coalitions, joining other insurgents, which included members of the Black Political Class out of favor with Mayor Addonizio. This meant they had helped elect the Mayor, but he failed to deliver as promised, so they were at that point against him. Sides could change from motion to motion in a matter of minutes in the meetings, in a shifting game of interests. Early in the game, NCUP teamed up with other South Ward groups and elected charismatic and personable NCUP member Bessie Smith as Chairwoman of the Board in Area Board III. Tom Hayden at the next meeting offered a motion that said 51% of the Board had to be certifiably poor, and “poor” was defined as people who made $4000.00 per year or less.

Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member and eventual mayor, Sharpe James, in which he explains how leadership experience in the UCC impacted the development of political leadership in Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities. The UCC was seen by many as a “training ground” for Black and Puerto Rican political participation and political empowerment in Newark. James describes how UCC members such as Earl Harris, Donald Tucker, and Jesse Allen went on to hold elected positions in the city government. –Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Personal Testimony about the UCC

“I came to love this new arena. UCC meetings, and all meetings where mostly black people are the players, are like jazz improvisation.  There is a theme, but once stated, all else gets made up along the way. And everybody got a chance to play. All you had to do was raise your hand, or not raise your hand, and start talking. The speeches and the tactical moves were the solo performances of the evening. And though one might predict an ending, when and how we got to the “bridge” was anybody’s guess! Some of the most brilliant oratory and stage performances I have ever seen were played out on the floor during those hot summer meetings at the UCC. And you had to be tough on your feet to withstand the verbal barrage that would come out of the blue, starting with the proverbial, ‘Point of Order, Mr. Chairman!!” –Junius Williams, NCUP organizer

References:

Junius Williams, Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power.

Clip from an interview with Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) member Junius Williams, in which he describes the United Community Corporation as a “training ground” for political involvement. Williams explains that the UCC acted as a “government for those of us in opposition” to the established political system in Newark and influenced a new generation of political leadership in the city. –Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

War on poverty/UCC resources

Emergency Resolution to Provide Funds to UCC

Emergency Resolution to Provide Funds to UCC

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Emergency resolution signed by City Council President Ralph Villani, appropriating $15,000 of city funding to enable the United Community Corporation (UCC) to establish a local anti-poverty program. Mayor Addonizio requested the funding to ensure that Newark met the eligibility requirements of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which authorized the establishment of Community Action Agencies, like the UCC in Newark. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he describes arriving in Newark in 1965 to head the organization. The UCC, a Community Action Agency funded by President Johnson’s War on Poverty through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, was designed to promote community involvement in addressing issues of poverty in Newark. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Mary Smith, in which she describes the sense of excitement and hope that the UCC brought to Newark communities. The UCC, a Community Action Agency funded by President Johnson’s War on Poverty through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, was designed to promote community involvement in addressing issues of poverty in Newark. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Mayor

Mayor's Remarks

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Address given by Mayor Addonizio to the Board of Directors of the United Community Corporation (UCC) in which he offers his views on what roles the organization should play in Newark. In the address, Addonizio urges the Board to “keep the UCC out of politics.” City officials in Newark feared that the antipoverty program would become a parallel government and undermine their political power in the city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
UCC Chart of Organizational Structure

UCC Chart of Organizational Structure

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This chart depicts the “organizational structure and program relationship” of the various governing bodies, Area Boards, and programs of the United Community Corporation (UCC). — Credit: Newark Public Library
UCC Board of Trustees Roster

UCC Board of Trustees Roster

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Roster of the United Community Corporation’s (UCC) Board of Trustees for the 1965-1966 program year. Under the UCC’s bylaws, “members shall not represent but hsould be representative of government, social agencies, business and labor, religious and ethnic groups, as well as those in the community who are to benefit most from the work of the Corporation.” — Credit: Newark Public Library
The Community in Action

The Community in Action

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This manual of procedure, published by the United Community Corporation, explains the establishment, structure, and organizational ideologies of local Area Boards within the UCC. The Area Boards were established as Community Action Programs to allow “maximum feasible participation” in the UCC from city residents in their neighborhoods. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Letter from the UCC Inviting Participation

Letter from the UCC Inviting Participation

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Letter of invitation sent out by the United Community Corporation (UCC) to encourage participation in the development of Area Boards throughout the city of Newark. The Area Boards were established as Community Action Programs to allow “maximum feasible participation” in the UCC from city residents in their neighborhoods. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Inside the Office of UCC Area Board 6

Inside the Office of UCC Area Board 6

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A look inside the office of “Mutual Concern” (UCC Area Board 6), where two women work at a desk. The woman on the right is wearing a National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) member pin. Welfare Rights was one of the central organizing efforts of many of the UCC Area Boards. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he describes the activities of the UCC’s Community Action Programs in Newark. Tyson uses the Blazer Council and the Pre-School Council as examples of how these programs operated in mutually beneficial ways to serve the community. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
UCC Program Report

UCC Program Report

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Report published by the United Community Corporation (UCC) to provide an overview of the agency’s Community Action Programs from 1965-1966. In addition to providing information on the UCC’s programs, the report includes a brief introduction of the origins, structure, and principals of the UCC. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from an interview with DeOtis Taylor, an organizer of the Blazer Work Training Program, in which he discusses the program’s formation in 1964. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the Blazer Program was formed to provide work training services for Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities who faced great difficulties in finding employment in the city. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Proposal for The Newark Legal Services Project

Proposal for The Newark Legal Services Project

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Proposal for the establishment of the Newark Legal Services Project as a Community Action Program within the United Community Corporation (UCC). The Newark Legal Services Project (NLSP) was designed to provide poor communities with access to otherwise costly legal services. In addition to providing legal services to the poor in civil and criminal law, the NLSP also offered legal support to civil rights organizations and individual claims in Newark. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Map of UCC Area Boards

Map of UCC Area Boards

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Map from the United Community Corporation (UCC) Program Report of 1965-1966 showing the locations of the UCC’s Area Boards in Newark. According to Executive Director Cyril Tyson, the Area Board districts generally conformed to the ward boundaries, which “made it seem that some parallel potentially political structure was being set up in Newark.” — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member James Walker, in which he describes organizing community residents to join and “take over” UCC Area Boards. Although the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 mandated “maximum feasible participation” of community residents in antipoverty programs, city officials felt threatened by the growing power of the poor and fought for control of the programs. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he discusses the involvement of the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) in the UCC’s Area Board 3. Although the UCC was criticized by City Hall and others for the active involvement of NCUP (an SDS affiliate), Tyson defended their right to engage in the antipoverty agency as residents of the neighborhood. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
UCC Area Board Personnel

UCC Area Board Personnel

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Roster of personnel for the nine Area Boards of the United Community Corporation (UCC) from June 29, 1967. The roster also lists Area Board representation in some of the UCC’s Community Action Programs. — Credit: Newark Public Library
People

People's Action Group Office

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The office of the People’s Action Group at 471 Clinton Avenue in Newark. The People’s Action Group was the name of Area Board #3 of the United Community Corporation (UCC). — Credit: Newark Public Library
Tom Hayden Memo to Doug Eldridge

Tom Hayden Memo to Doug Eldridge

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Memo from Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) organizer, Tom Hayden, to Newark Evening News reporter Doug Eldridge. Hayden delivered the memo for NCUP and UCC member Jesse Allen to inform the newspaper of the activities of UCC Area Board 3 within the community. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Picket in Suburbs

Picket in Suburbs

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Flyer distributed by the People’s Action Group (UCC Area Board 3) and the Newark Community Union Project to protest the eviction of Mrs. Emma Gaskins. Many housing units in the Central Ward and Clinton Hill were owned by absentee landlords who lived in the suburbs and allowed the apartments to deteriorate. To protest the eviction of Mrs. Gaskins, NCUP and the People’s Action Group distributed this flyer in Millburn, where her landlord Phil Kaufman lived, to encourage the man’s neighbors to talk with him about the conditions in his rental units. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from the film “Troublemakers” with footage of a meeting of Area Board 3 (People’s Action Group) of the United Community Corporation (UCC). In this meeting, Central Ward resident Emma Gaskins speaks to the People’s Action Group about her housing problems. The People’s Action Group collaborated with the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) to address the needs of community members, such as Mrs. Gaskins with her housing problems. Carol Glassman and Bessie Smith, members of the UCC and NCUP, are shown leading the meeting from the table at the front of the room, while Jesse Allen can be seen standing and moderating comments. — Credit: Robert Machover
Who Will Control the Poverty Program?

Who Will Control the Poverty Program?

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Flyer distributed to warn against City Hall control of the United Community Corporation and encourage community members to vote for representatives from their neighborhood to the UCC Board of Trustees. City officials in Newark feared that the antipoverty program would undermine their political power in the city and moved to exert control over the antipoverty agency. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Notes on Insurgent Response

Notes on Insurgent Response

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Report written by Rennie Davis, director of the Students for a Democractic Society’s (SDS) Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), offering a critique on the War on Poverty and strategies for “insurgent response.” SDS was one of many organizations that advocated community control of War on Poverty funding “to change the ghetto and the outside country.” — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
The War on Poverty In Newark

The War on Poverty In Newark

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A printed collection of statements presented by members of the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) to Adam Clayton Powell’s Congressional Committee investigating the War on Poverty in April, 1965. In their statements, these Newark residents describe a lack of community representation and involvement in the United Community Corporation (UCC) in Newark. As federal funding arrived in Newark, city officials and politicians jockeyed for control of the money for their own purposes, while the city’s poor communities sought access to the antipoverty programs. Mrs. Louise Patterson explains that “the Area Boards are being taken over by Ward Leaders and speeches by politicians and candidates for political office.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

Clip from an interview with Donald Malafronte, aid to Mayor Addonizio, in which he explains how city officials in Newark viewed the United Community Corporation (UCC) as a threat to their political power. Fearing that the antipoverty agency would undermine their political power, city officials attempted to bring the UCC under government control.
Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he describes an instance when Mrs. Larrie West Stalks forcefully requested jobs from the UCC for Mayor Addonizio’s supporters. Newark’s city government had a long history of providing government jobs for political support- a tradition that Mayor Addonizio attempted to continue through the UCC. In addition to seeking jobs from the antipoverty agency, city officials attempted to gain control of the UCC to curb what they saw as a “parallel, potentially political, structure…being set up in Newark.”
Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member and eventual mayor, Sharpe James, in which he describes the struggle for community control over the UCC’s Area Board #9. James describes how a sense of frustration in the South Ward over the lack of representation in city government fueled attempts by the ward’s Black residents to gain representation and eventual control over the Area Board. Black and Puerto Rican communities throughout the city struggled to gain control over local antipoverty programs as city officials attempted to bring the programs under the control of the city government.
Bessie Smith Telegram

Bessie Smith Telegram

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Telegram from Bessie Smith, President of the People’s Action Group (Area Board #3) of the United Community Corporation (UCC), to Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity on October 28, 1965. Mrs. Smith sent the telegram to request Shriver’s assistance in response to the City Council Committee’s investigation of the UCC. Mrs. Smith and many others felt that the investigation was an attempt to bring the antipoverty agency under the control of the Mayor and the City Council. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers

Clip from an interview with City Councilman Frank Addonizio, in which he describes the investigation of the United Community Corporation (UCC) conducted by a City Council Committee in 1965. The Committee, composed of Councilmen Addonizio, Lee Bernstein, and Irvine Turner, charged that the UCC was “not utilizing the monies that the federal government was pouring in…to help the poor,” but was using the funding to build political bases to organize campaigns against incumbent city officials. Community members like George Richardson and Hilda Hidalgo, however, argued that the Committee’s investigation was an attempt to “bring the anti-poverty program under the control of the Mayor and the City Council.”
Letter from George Richardson

Letter from George Richardson

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Letter from United Community Corporation (UCC) members George Richardson and Hilda Hidalgo, to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., seeking assistance in response to the City Council Committee’s investigation of the UCC in 1965. Many Black and Puerto Rican ommunity members, like Richardson and Hidalgo, argued that the Committee’s investigation was an attempt to “bring the anti-poverty program under the control of the Mayor and the City Council.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

Clip from an interview with Cyril Tyson, founding executive director of the United Community Corporation (UCC), in which he describes the investigation of the UCC conducted by a Newark City Council Committee in 1965. Tyson explains the dissenting report issued by Councilman Irvine Turner, as well as the national context of the struggle for control over antipoverty programs between local communities and city governments.
The Report of the Council Committee

The Report of the Council Committee

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Report of the City Council Committee’s investigation of the United Community Corporation in 1965. The Committee charged that the UCC misappropriated funds and utilized federal money to fund and organize political campaigns. The Committee concluded that the City of Newark “should immediately undertake its own Anti-Poverty Programs and…that it should not combine with or participate in or contribute to any provate groups or non-profit agencies.” Community members like George Richardson and Hilda Hidalgo, however, argued that the Committee’s investigation was an attempt to “bring the anti-poverty program under the control of the Mayor and the City Council.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

Minority Report of Councilman Irvine Turner

Minority Report of Councilman Irvine Turner

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Minority report of Councilman Irvine Turner on the City Council Committee’s investigation of the United Community Corporation (UCC) in 1965. Turner disassociated himself from the Committee’s report on the ground that he disagreed with many of the assumptions and recommendations of the report. In his report, Turner refutes the claim that ‘the UCC has taken many of the aspects of a political-action pressure group,” citing the policy of the Board of Trustees that required any member of the UCC running for political office to take a leave of absence during the candidacy. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Offices of the UCC Area Board 2

Offices of the UCC Area Board 2

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The offices of Operation We Care (UCC Area Board #2) and the Small Business Administration program on Springfield Avenue in the Central Ward. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member James Walker, in which he discusses the effectiveness of the War on Poverty in Newark. Walker explains how Area Boards were dependent upon companies owned by people outside of Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities for supplies, which ended up reinforcing the underlying economic power structure in the city. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries
Community Slate for UCC Trustee Board

Community Slate for UCC Trustee Board

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Flyer for the “Community Slate” for the United Community Corporation (UCC) Board of Trustees election. The flyer provides a brief biography of each of the candidates, along with instructions for voting for the slate. In addition to gaining community representation in the UCC, the act of voting for leadership positions in the antipoverty agency was an important aspect of preparing Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities for participation in electoral politics in the city. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Candidate for Councilman of the South Ward

Candidate for Councilman of the South Ward

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Leaflet from the Black and Puerto Rican Political Convention (1969) promoting the candidacy of Sharpe James for Councilman of the South Ward. Leadership experience gained through the UCC had significant impacts on the development of political leadership in Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities. Many UCC members, including Sharpe James, Jesse Allen, Donald Tucker, and Earl Harris went on to be elected to political office in Newark. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers

Consider Jesse Allen

Consider Jesse Allen

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Leaflet from the Black and Puerto Rican Political Convention (1969) promoting the candidacy of Jesse Allen for Councilman-At-Large. Leadership experience gained through the UCC had significant impacts on the development of political leadership in Newark’s Black and Puerto Rican communities. Many UCC members, including Sharpe James, Jesse Allen, Donald Tucker, and Earl Harris went on to be elected to political office in Newark. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers

Newark Police Report on UCC Subversive Activities

Newark Police Report on UCC Subversive Activities

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Police report forwarded to Newark Legal Services Project director, Oliver Lofton, from Newark Police Director Dominick Spina on June 19, 1967. The report was based on information provided by the City Clerk regarding alleged plans of the UCC Area Boards 2 and 3 to bring the Black Panthers to Newark. The report names several influential Black and Puerto Rican community leaders, including Lofton, Robert Curvin, Louise Epperson, Honey Ward, George Richardson, and Jesse Allen, as accomplices to a planned “revolt” by the “Spanish and Negro population” on June 27. The UCC and other community organizations in Newark were continuously subjected to official surveillance and later blamed for the outbreak of the 1967 Newark rebellion. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers