Chapter 1: Early Career and Association with PARC
16:42:33:20 - 16:42:55:19 LS: Tom, I just wanted to introduce our interview by saying we are happy to be interviewing Tom Gilhool here at Temple University, today, September 28 . Also present is our videographer, Lindsey martin, and our student intern Rob Greenberg, and Tom, do we have your permission to proceed with the interview?
TG: You certainly do.
LS: Thanks so much.
16:42:56:00 - 16:51:34:01 LS: Tom, one of the things that I wanted to start off with was talking about some of your early work. You came of age professionally in the '60s, which was really an exceptional time in our country's history. Johnson had declared a war on poverty, there was a civil rights movement, there was a war in Vietnam. And it seems as though these times were giving rise to a kind o a new breed of lawyer, a rights lawyer, and I wondered if you would describe yourself as a rights lawyer, and if so, what dew you to that type of work?
TG: Certainly I would, ummm, my wife and I, Gillian, were at law school from 1961 - 64, uh, it was an extraordinary time, uh, several classmates of ours at Yale Law school were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the Student non Violent Coordinating Committee. Indeed, one had been sent to Yale Law School by his colleagues at SNCC, um, lest many of them be killed, he would be able to step in, in a serious and well prepared way. Um, those were the fears of that time. Another classmate of ours had been in the first set of sit ins in North Carolina, another was the right hand of the person who organized the March on Washington in 1963. I had come to Yale form Lehigh University and from the 1959 National Convention of the National Student Association, where all of us there were introduced to the Southern Student Movement, which was kind of [inimining?] then, and when the sit-ins began in early February of 1960, at Lehigh we gathered the first Northern action, demonstration, uh library steps, talking and sending telegrams to the Governor of the two Carolinas and so on, in support of the southern student sit-ins. When we got to Law school surrounded by these additional colleagues who had come directly out of the southern Student Movement, and were still very much a part of it, uh, as we used to say, we knew what was happening in the Civil Rights Movement before it was on the front page of the New York Times, because the network included us. And in the first year, uh, the undergraduates at Yale and a couple of us at the Law School had started what became known as the Northern Student Movement, framed initially to organize Northern University Campuses to support the South with money, with telegrams and such political support, uh and with people going South to work with them. Uh, about a couple of months in, Chuck[ McDew?], who was the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he said "we're going to deliver Mississippi before you guys even touch Harlem". And so, we marshaled to focus the Northern Student Movement upon real action in Northern Cities, uh, uh, originally around tutorial programs which most every major university in the country that was within reach of a major city, uh, ultimately joined, um, tutoring addressed to junior high school and high school students. Uh, and then that movement turned to organizing of a different sort, uh, in Virginia, for example, in Northern Virginia, Prince Edward County, the schools had been closed and the Supreme Court ultimately held that they were unlawfully closed. But while they were closed, the Northern Student Movement, with folks from Campuses like Temple and Amherst, and Williams, and all the rest, ran the schools, there, ran Freedom Schools. We had a union organizing project supporting, uh, some of the unions who were engaged with growers on the eastern shore of Maryland, awe had in Philadelphia, uh, the Philadelphia Tutorial Project, the first of its kind, headquartered at Temple University on the famous Park Street, uh, which over a good 15 years, engaged students in the Philadelphia School system and university students from here and, during summers form everywhere, in learning together and quite early, oh, by this time I was here, and in practice, in creating what were called self-help centers, about twelve of them around Philadelphia. Some of them were at the center of the Welfare Rights Organization, where people changed the face of poverty enormously in the late '60s, some were in intensive young peoples' neighborhoods where in two years in the late '60s, we, the welfare Rights Organization, and the Self-help-Centers, ended gang killings in a city which in 1968 had been the country's most mortal city in terms of killings of gang members, one of the other. All of that happened because they had been successful in bringing a Governor of Pennsylvania in intense quarterly negotiations, between the Welfare Rights Organization and the Governor, to raise public assistance grants from $1800 for a family of four to $3600 for a family of four, which was then the poverty standard. Families now able to things with and for their children that they could not do before were an important part of the undertakings that ended those gang killings. That's a, that's a slice of, uh, my work that precede the disability undertakings, uh, I had been chair of the Northern Student Movement, I was chair of the Philadelphia Tutorial Project in m early days in practice here in Philadelphia, and it is a fact that, uh, those experiences, uh, very much framed my approach to the Law, and to actions using the Law to advance the rights, our subject of today, of people with disability, and their families and friends. Uh, I was much informed by all of that, and when the ARC of Pennsylvania came to me, they came largely because of their understanding that I had been involved in such work, and they understood that they needed a lawyer who was prepared to imagine with them, and dream and act on those dreams with them, to kick over the traces and restructure the world which had so thoroughly confined them.
16:51:34:03 - 16:54:41:08 LS: Tom, prior to being approached by PARC did you feel attune to the struggles and particular needs of the disability community?
TG: I did indeed, my uh, uh, my brother, uh, I was going to say my youngest brother, but he's my only brother (laughs), the third of the three of us, is developmentally disabled. Uh, he was born in 1944, and, um, um, we, umm, we shared is experience, uh, of the late'40s and early '50s, seeking to find, uh, for him, some education and some points of engagement in the community an, and for my parents, some, some support in their undertakings. And I vividly remember the, the couple of days a week when he, for a couple of hours a day, went to a school in Lower Merion, the Lower Merion Township School District, um, uh, I can almost call the name of the teacher, uh, and I can remember as well that when all o the other children in the neighborhood, uh, we all lived together on Rising Sun Road in Ardmore, uh, when all of the other children had gone off, to first grade in those days, at least for parochial schools, and it was pretty much a parochial school kind of neighborhood - there were no kindergartens, when they had gone off to first grade, my brother was without playmates, until uh, uh, the young man who was the child of a woman who helped my mother around the house several times a week came with her and engaged Bob, became his friend. And when I was called upon at the first meeting in the basement of the Berean Institute in Philadelphia, to explain what I was doing here, why I was involved in the Northern Student Movement and the Philadelphia Tutorial Project, and seeking to assist in some way the Civil Rights Movement of the late '50s and the 1960's and ever since, I explained it in significant part in those terms, that, that my interest my experience of race came from that support and solace which this young man offered to my brother. And so they did not know I had a background in retardation, uh, when they came to my office, but they quickly found out.
More Interview Chapters
- YOU ARE HERE: Early Career and Association with PARC
- PARC Approaches Gilhool
- Right to Education Case
- Brother's institutionalization influenced Tom's thoughts on Right to Education Case
- Right to Education Heard in Federal Court
- Media and Reaching Diverse Audiences
- Fundamental Shift for the Educational System
- Meaningful Provisions in Consent Decree
- Implementation of Consent Decree
- Impact of Right to Education Case on Tom's Career
About Thomas K. Gilhool
Born: 1938, Ardmore, PA
Attorney, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education 1987-1989
Resides in Philadelphia PA and California
PARC Consent Decree, Civil Rights, Institutions, Advocacy, Self-advocacy, Families