Jim Pierce's successful strategies appealed to a broader electorate
Wilson-Allen discusses how her meeting with Jim Pierce broadened the Mecklenburg Voter Coalition's pool of organizers to include more labor union groups. She discusses Pierce's effective tactics in attracting more people to the cause and educating the electorate.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Tawana Belinda Wilson-Allen, May 11, 2006. Interview U-0098. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
- TAWANA BELINDA WILSON-ALLEN:
The Rural Advancement Fund, the whole thing ended some time, but they
were still doing the final paperwork in 1996. You hear what I'm saying.
They were trying to finish up. There was some equipment and furniture
that was housed in this building. Jim Pierce owned the building. He was
primarily doing real estate at the time when I met him. But he was an
organizer in his own right, labor organizer. He had not done the voter
participation in this area anyway prior to that. He was a labor
organizer. When I met him, he was doing real
estate. The building where Rural Advancement Fund was
located--. [There] was still some old equipment. There were
still some questions about paperwork and everything. So I was called in
to see if I knew anything because they couldn't get their hands on
anyone else. That was the first time that I had met Jim Pierce. I had
heard a lot about him. He was almost like a legend before. Where I went
to get my initial organizing training was called the Graham Center in
South Carolina, and Cathy Howell and they rented the Graham Center to do
our organizing training. It was a full complex where we could stay
overnight. It used to be like a farm area. Jim Pierce owned it, and then
he set it up for organizers to come in and do workshops and different
things. So I had heard about him before, and I had heard that he was
this huge man in labor and all. So I finally had a chance to meet him,
and we talked and went from one thing to another. By him doing labor
organizing, a lot of that, a lot of the skills overlap into voter
participation, and we each saw how we could complement each other. We
had a good labor component in MVC prior to him coming along with Jim
Lawrence with A. Philip Randolph Institute and James Andrews of AFL-CIO.
There was the Central Labor Council with Kyle Spencer and
Marvin Wilson, Bill Brawley representing the
firefighters union. So we had those contacts prior to Jim Pierce, but
what I think he brought to the table was his experience in labor
organizing and expanding the unions that actually participated with us
to some I'd never heard of including the pilots union and the
attendants, flight attendants. They were all doing voter registration
there as a part of our coalition. The food workers, so we had quite a
few people I think at that point. We were rather quiet in our operation.
We just wanted to simply help people get to the polls that needed to. We
wanted to make sure that they knew what they were doing when they voted.
We were all about doing the trainings with other organizations if they
wanted to do voter participation. We did the canvassing, every facet,
every facet of get out to vote just about. So when Jim came along, he
says, we may as well let some other people know what we're doing. We
used to work in the offices that you say too much then you'll have
people working against you too. He says, what the heck. What the heck.
He says it's just going to be a battle down to the wire anyway. So we
may as well, if you keep it like it is, the electorate won't know that
your services are available. So that's when we just sort of opened it up
to the whole community.