December 13, 2020
Pearl River It was interesting reminiscing with Johnny Clark, ACORN’s former national treasurer, from Dallas, Texas. As part of the 50th Anniversary commemoration of ACORN, Johnny was part of the monthly Wade’s World walk down memory lane with organizers and leaders.
Johnny’s clearest memories went back thirty years or so to the late 80s and 1990s when he first became involved in ACORN He lived then, and now, in the Singing Hills neighborhood in the southern edge of Dallas, nine miles or so from the center of town, a modest area with an almost suburban feel to it.
His first interaction was the classic memory, shared by hundreds of thousands, when someone showed up at his front door, said they were from ACORN, and asked if he had any issues in his neighborhood. He was curious and joined the organizing committee. He hated the way the park in the area had deteriorated so that people were afraid to visit. At the first meeting he was surprised to find himself elected president. They took action on the park and ended up winning a total refurbishment and cleanup.
As the chair of Singing Hills, he joined the Dallas ACORN board where all of the other ACORN groups met regularly to coordinate ACORN activities in the city. He was elected president of that board. The biggest fight he remembered then was going toe-to-toe with the city council to try and win a boost in the minimum wages paid under city contracts. . At the time the city was still under the thumb of the Dallas Civic Council, a business dominated political and booster group that held sway in the at-large elections for decades in an “anything that is good for business is good for Dallas, and the devil take the hindmost” program. ACORN joined the fight, successful finally in 1991, to move the city to a 14-1 single member district system that would finally enfranchise the growing African-American and Latino population with the one at-large seat belonging to the Mayor.
One campaign led to another, and Johnny with his casual good humor and open-handed East Texas country geniality found himself elected as chair of the Texas ACORN board and then later as one of the delegates to the national board, and eventually to several terms as national treasurer. I asked him to describe his experiences at that level. He said the national board was essential to “planning.” He described the budget process that allocated any general fund monies to states that needed help and made their case to the budget committee. He underlined that the leaders and members made the decisions and the staff followed. He reminisced about the national conventions he attended in Chicago and the big effort to get members to fly to Los Angeles.
It was interesting, but not surprising to me, that so many of his recollections were the local fights. I asked if he was still involved in his neighborhood with the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas ACORN successor organization over the last decade. He said not so much. They were mainly involved in voter registration and GOTV campaigns, not neighborhood work.
Fifty years of ACORN memories are indelible to the members and leaders who made them in real time, day by day. That’s a legacy that leaders cherish, and something we can all be proud of.