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Jim Wilson chapter 2


Chapter 1: Family and Early Career
Chapter 2: The ARC of Pennsylvania and Early Advocacy (you are here)
Chapter 3: The Right to Education and PARC Consent Decree
Chapter 4: The Need for Ongoing Advocacy
Chapter 5: Inspirations

transcript - entire interview

Jim Wilson Interview (Word)

transcript - current chapter

Chapter 2: The ARC of Pennsylvania and Early Advocacy

04:22:13:05 - 04:25:07:24

Lisa: You went to school, um, Penn and Wharton and embarked on a career, um, initially with The New York Times. Um, I am wondering when you first became a member of The Arc.

Jim: I became a member of The ARC, uh, probably, my guess is, uh, in the, uh, late 50's and, uh, I would, uh, come down from New York City, uh, for those meetings. Became a member the board quickly and would come down, uh, from New York City, take the, uh, train and, uh, jump on a cab and go up to 1440 North Broad, where we located then and I tried to do that often, attend those board meetings so I became, uh, quite intensely involved, uh, at that period of time.

Lisa: You had a demanding career in New York and the commute couldn't have been all that easy, um, doing it so often. Why was this involvement in the ARC so important to you?

Jim: I think, at that point, , uh, I was, uh, very much, uh, influenced by the civil rights movement and the fact, that, uh, these gains, uh, were, uh, being accomplished, uh, for, uh, the gays and women and African Americans and Native Americans, among many other minority groups and I began to feel strongly that, uh, that our group of folks, intellectually developmentally disabled, uh, were neglected and, uh, and then of course with a John F Kennedy becoming President and, uh, the impetus that he provided, uh, uh, established in the presence of PCMR, The President's Committee on Mental Retardation. I was caught up personally in, uh, the civil rights movement and that was a great inspiration, as I said and then with President Kennedy and his initiatives. I think that created the kind of a fire in me and of course I had the personal background of, of my family. Uh, my mother, her inspiration and the inspiration of Lowell so there was, uh, enough to keep me going. I should hasten to add too, that, uh, I was quite young and, uh, in those days, I could, uh, work 8, 10 plus hours a day, jump on a train, get back to Manhattan at one o'clock in the morning and be bright and bushy eyed, tailed, and ready to go, uh, the next day at 7:30, 8 o'clock, so, those were the days that I could do that kind of thing.

04:25:07:24 - 04:26:14:25

Lisa: The ARC was initially established as a parent's organization but you're a sibling. Was it unusual for siblings to be subjectively involved with the organization at that time?

Jim: I think it was. Uh, there were very few, if I recall, uh, siblings. Uh, there was one, uh, George Horowitz. Uh, who was, uh, became involved with The ARC just about the same time that I did. The ARC of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Association for Retarded Children as we were known and, uh, George and I became very good friends. Uh, he had a brother, uh, who was handicapped, disabled and, uh, we became good pals and he eventually became President of the Philadelphia Association and played a leading role, uh, in the associations initiatives and activities going forward. But outside of George, I don't recall even one sibling, uh, at the local level or even at the state level, uh, who was involved in the arc, so I was probably kind of unusual at that time.

04:26:14:25- 04:27:38:25

Lisa: When did you become President of The Pennsylvania Association, Jim, and how long did you serve in that role?

Jim: I, uh, became President of The Pennsylvania Association( PARC) uh, in 1969 and, uh, that was a very important year, very important time and, uh, the tenure was two years so I served for two years at a very transformative time in the association's history.

Lisa: What did, when you took your leadership role, what did you feel were the most pressing issues facing the intellectual disability community at that time?

Jim: I, think that, uh, I, I was caught up, uh, at that time with, uh, what was then the, uh, the major, uh, thrust initiative, uh, particularly, uh, here in Philadelphia, uh, but state wide, uh, but, uh, the focus was on closing Pennhurst. Pennhurst State School and Hospital and, uh, it was a dehumanizing place and, uh, the thrust of our efforts, uh, primarily were to close down Penn Hurst State School and Hospital.

04:27:38:25 - 04:29:01:27

Lisa: I know that in 1968, probably just before you took over the Presidency of The State Arc, Bill Baldini did his groundbreaking piece about Pennhurst, called 'Suffer the Little Children'. Um, do you remember seeing that broadcast?

Jim: I remember seeing that broadcast. I could go back even a few years before, uh, Bill Baldini did that, did that fabulous, uh 'Suffer the Little Children', uh, segment, uh. It was extraordinary, uh, so impactful. But, uh, during the 50's and into the 60's, uh, particularly in the 60's, uh, the, uh, the drum beat of focused on closing Pennhurst kept increasing in intensity and, uh, we, a few of us, were, uh, majors in the band, beating the drums and, uh, we were out getting interviews, uh, on the television stations and planting articles in the newspapers and beating the drums, uh, focused on closing Pennhurst State School and Hospital and, uh, of course Bill Baldini's, uh, piece was, uh, a capstone to those efforts.

04:29:01:27 - 04:31:12:02

Lisa: Because of his piece over the years, um, a lot of money was funneled to improving Pennhurst. Um, I have heard various figures, 21 million is the, is the figure I have heard most often. Um, did that money improve Pennhurst? Was it possible to improve Pennhurst?

Jim: From my stand point, I think and the standpoint of many of the leaders then, uh, that did not make a difference whatsoever. We, uh, focused, uh, in May of 1969, as I recall. I was then President of the association and, uh, that was a turning point, uh, at that time and we met up at Buck Hill, the Northeast, uh, section of Pennsylvania for our, uh, state convention that May and, uh, I can remember, uh, so distinctly, uh, we, uh, plastered the walls, uh, of the room where our delegates, uh, met. Delegates from the various counties, the local associations at that time and we plastered the rooms with these huge pictures of the dehumanizing conditions at Pennhurst and, uh, we, uh, brought a resolution after, I think after the second or third day of, uh, the uh, convention, uh, to, uh, retain council and, uh, ask, uh, legal counsel, uh, to focus on Pennhurst and, uh, suggest, uh, legal recommendations, legal strategies to address the issues at Pennhurst and, uh, in turn, that was voted up. And that was a major turning point, uh, to our efforts, uh, again the focus was on closing Pennhurst notwithstanding the 20 million or 25 million dollars that was, uh, used to improve Pennhurst. The focus again was to, to just close Pennhurst.

04:31:12:02 - 04:32:49:16

Lisa: So, I am wondering, Jim, I know that, um, The Arc or PARC had a residential services committee. I know that Dennis Haggerty served on that committee, chaired that committee, I believe.

Jim: He did.

Lisa: Um, and he and others, um, did go into Pennhurst and tried to expose some of the conditions they saw. I believe some of that information was the information you presented at your convention.

Jim: Yes

Lisa: I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about that. What, what did they find? The folks who were investigating Pennhurst and what impacts did those findings have on you?

Jim: We had, uh, at the state association level, we had, uh, effected a study of Pennhurst, uh, which went back a few years. So we had already accumulated a great deal of information, as best we could, uh, about what was going on at Pennhurst and, uh, Dennis's initiative, uh, give him so much credit for this with Bill Baldini and the crew, the television crew going in there with their cameras, uh, and then exposing that. When suffer the little children had an extraordinary impact in the community. A major, major impact in the community and I think that was one of the turning points, uh, that led us to the, uh, resolution that was introduced at that May convention and, uh, then subsequently, uh, we retained Tom Gilhool and, uh, I'll tell you a little more about that and how that proceeded, if you wish.

04:32:49:16 - 04:34:52:02

Lisa: Yes, I'll, I'd love to ask you about that but first I'm curious about the reaction of the PARC membership, um, both to the findings, these, these horrific images exposed the horrific conditions, of course at Pennhurst.

Jim: Sure

Lisa: Um, were parents secure with the idea of pursuing litigation to close Pennhurst?

Jim: Not all parents were happy with that. It wasn't a unanimous vote on that resolution. Uh, there were dissenters. There were many dissenters, uh, that is parents, who were really afraid of retaliation. There were parents who felt that Pennhurst was the best place in the world, uh, for their family members. And that was one of the stumbling blocks to change. Parents who felt that there could be retaliation, who wanted us at the state association level to continue to work with the state administration, uh, to try to negotiate with the state administration, uh, and there were some of us on the other hand, including Pat Clapp and Dennis and certainly myself and Stu Brown, who was chair of our legal advocacy committee, who were beating the drums and said we've done that for all these years and we've not accomplished much and we had to move to force change, to affect change at Pennhurst. So, parents, some parents were stumbling blocks. That resolution at the May convention, 1969 did not pass unanimously. One of the reasons we put those big posters all over the place and they were terrible, dehumanizing, uh, images of folks at Pennhurst was frankly to just to get the troops on board so we could get that resolution passed.

04:34:52:02 - 04:36:52:08

Lisa: How did parents experience those photos? Did you, did you understand where they were coming from?

Jim: I certainly understood, uh, where the parents were coming from. Absolutely, uh, I could, uh, I talked to them all. I was of course, uh, pushing hard for approval of the resolution, uh, but, uh, I had, uh, and even to this day have the greatest empathy for those parents, uh, who were really quite afraid, quite afraid of us taking the course that, uh, we wanted, uh, the group to take and, uh, I can remember sitting down with, uh, several of them and talking to them and trying to explain what we were trying to do and, uh, that, uh, we felt confident that, uh, this was the right course for us at this time and we had to take, uh, this opportunity at this time. The timing was so propitious and we would never have the opportunity that, uh, we had at that point in time and we needed to do so then.

Lisa: Why then?

Jim: Because it was, uh, it was a precipitous time and, uh, we, we were ready to do this. We had the backdrop of, of the civil rights movement and the changes had taken place, uh, some of us realized the class action initiatives of the African American's had been so extraordinary successful beginning of course with, uh, the 1954 Brown ruling of the Supreme Court and, uh, subsequent rulings and that legal strategy advocacy was the way for us to go. So, we really in many respects copied, uh, the tactics of the civil rights movement.

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