November 22nd in African American History – Johnnie Tillmon Blackston

November 22, 1995 Johnnie Tillmon Blackston, welfare reformer, died.

Blackston was born in 1926 in Scott, Arkansas. The daughter of sharecropper’s, she never finished high school. When things went bad in Arkansas, she left her first husband and moved to Los Angeles, California with her six children. There she worked in a laundry and received Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

During this time, welfare inspectors routinely invaded the privacy of recipients, checking on their possessions and ensuring that they were not living with men. In 1963, Blackston organized a meeting of other recipients to protest these invasions. Out of that meeting came a statewide organization, Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous. That organization inspired the creation of the National Welfare Rights Organization with Blackmon as executive director.

The NWRO successfully campaigned for reforms that removed many of the system’s paternalistic trappings. After the NWRO closed in 1974, Blackston worked as a legislative aide and served on state and local committees concerned with welfare.

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