Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Around the room were blow-ups of the late George Wiley, the founder of the National Welfare Rights Organization, his arm raised in a gesture of urgency, his mouth at the verge of a victorious smile.
Standing by those images were many of the people who felt a kinship with the complex activist, people who lived on welfare, those who walked the picket lines, the writers who interpreted the cries against social injustices and the politicians who created legislation from those dreams.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of George Wiley," said Johnnie Tillmon, one of the welfare mothers who inspired the chemist-turned-civil-rigths-activist in his call for economic justice, a call cut short by his death four years ago. She had traveled from Los Angeles to join in the celebration Wednesday of a new biography of Wiley, "A Passion for Equality," by Nick and Mary Lynn Kotz, two Washington writers.
In one knot of people at the Federal City Club, Ray Marshall, the Secretary of Labor; Clifford Alexander, the Secretary of the Army, and M. Carl Holman, president of the National Urban Coalition, held a lively discussion on a current civil rights issue, the future of affirmative action programs and the debate on the Bakka case.
Clusters of people, many veteran organizers like Bill Pastreich, a union organizer from Cape Cod, and Barbara Bode, president of the Children's Foundation, caucused with Nicholas Johnson, former Federal Communications commissioner; Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate; John Lewis, a civil rights organizer now with ACTION; Hodding Carter, another face from the South, now with the State Department, and Ethel Kennedy.
In a very reflective mood, Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.) told the 200 guests of his friendship with Wiley, and added, "His death left a void and it continues. Many of us lost that spirit and fight when we became involved in elected politics. After this meeting is over, it is not enough to read the book but we should rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work."
Agreeing with Dellums' jab at political apathy, Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), said, "it takes a few George Wileys to make us realize what we should do. George might have made you feel uncomfortable but the feeling was he was calling you to a higher standard."
Etta Horne, the fiery leader of the welfare forces in Washington, observed, "The only way you can be in touch with George and his legacy is to work with the problems. Many of the people in this room may not know how to reach me but those in real need do. George would like that."
Not only the authors but members of Wiley's family were autographing books, including his parents, William and Olive Wiley of Providence, R.I., his wife Wretha, and his children, Maya and Danny. "We never thought of George in heroic terms," said his pictures of many of the guests, "but we are very happy he was able to do all that he did."