[Dean Joseph W. Mathews testimony

before the Subcommittee on Government Research

Committee on Government Operations,

U S Senate on April 17, 1968.]

When we reflect on the problems of the inner city it is crucial that we see them in the larger context. The turmoil of the central city is but a reflection of and a primal catalytic force in the world's struggle to create a new social vehicle demanded by the scientific, secular and urban revolutions that define our age. This context staggers the imaginal powers and puts dread into the heart of all who oppose radical change. Taken simply by themselves, the human problems of the inner city are overwhelming in number and complexity. If intelligent remedial action is to be initiated it is necessary to attempt to designate the crucial underlying issues upon which the maze of economic, political, and cultural problems rest and depend.


Four years of experimentation and research by over 100 persons comprising the staff of the Ecumenical Institute-who both live and work in the Negro ghetto of Chicago's West Side-have disclosed three foundational problems of the inner city crisis of America. The first, and by far the most basic, is the image of self­depreciation that the white man has scarred upon the psyche of the American black man over several hundred years. The second is the absence of local social structures whereby the unbelievable human benefits which the modern world has created and amassed can be funneled into the lives of the people living in the central city. The third fundamental problem is intimately related to the foregoing. It is that the man in the inner city is deprived of any real means of participating in the decision­making processes and the concrete social activity whereby his practical destiny is determined. Let us look at these three defects which are destroying millions of our citizens and deterring the very advance of civilization. Afterwards we will describe the comprehensive approach to community reformulation which we believe is the rational strategy which the situation requires.


The problem in the ghetto that underlies every other problem is not social inequity. It is not lack of jobs or inadequate income. It is not a matter of rights and liberties. It is not second­rate education and social forms. Change all this tomorrow and the real issue is still not touched. The primordial problem in the black inner city is psychological or internal. Every man and every people operate out of a primordial self-image. Their practical action results from that image. The American Negro has an interior image, a self talk, an operating principle, a spring of action, a self­understanding that tells him that he is a second­rate human being. All the benevolent, upgrading gifts-public or private-will not alter this state. The American Negro, who is moving to the city ghettos in increasing numbers, sees himself as the bourgeois white man sees him. To use crude language he sees himself as "Nigger". He lives and acts out of that metaphor. The deprived Negro senses after himself as a sub­citizen, doomed to a ghetto existence, the victim of social forces beyond his control, incapable of altering his inhuman condition. He can only quiescently submit to his fate or wildly strike out like an irrational animal trapped in a corner of history. The victim image of the black man is the first and fundamental problem in the central city.


The second most discernible problem beneath the tragedies of the inner city situation is the non­existence of adequate functional social structures by which humanness is mediated to individual persons. The scientific and technological advance of our times has provided the means for human development almost beyond description. Yet these benefits have not been and are not being funneled into the inner city. The surface problems are myriad and cover the spectrum: medical care, cultural development, housing, education, jobs, urban services, civic rights, recreation facilities and on and on. Underneath all of these is the lack of local social constructs whereby the solutions, which our society has invented and has in vast abundance, can be made available to our people in the central city. The benefits of urban life, under the control of vast bureaucratic networks, flow according to pressures generated by local structures. There are no such structures in the inner city. This is the great deprivation. The super city complex has destroyed older forms of local corporateness within its boundaries and no new forms have yet been generated. Because suburbia still has such structures and the accompanying power, it drains off the means of the good life that society at large creates. Lack of concrete social forms on the local level makes the inner city citizen a pawn in the hands of a vast bureaucratic web.


The third inclusive problem area relates closely to both of the above. It is that the inner city Negro citizen has no means of significant involvement in history. He has little concrete opportunity to participate in decision­making processes by which his own destiny is determined. This means that he has no sense of doing anything that will make any difference. This refers of course to arrangement of voting districts, to entrenched political machinery, to the power of crime combines-all of which disenfranchise in a fashion the inner city people. The state of powerlessness is further occasioned by the inferior educational opportunities and limited economic opportunities in the slums, which cut off any hope that things in time will be any different. Finally, the absence of local social structures in the deprived areas means that the disadvantaged person has no way of participating even in the smallest issues affecting his destiny.

Black Power has risen out of this deprivation of power. It is important that we understand that it is here to stay, in one form or another. Either it will be give form within the existing structures of society, or it will manifest itself in violent protest against those channels. Today the cry of genocide from the central city is the comment of a vulnerable people who have elected to understand that without grassroot power structures, they are the subject of both intentional and unavoidable destruction. We are dealing with a people whose future is cut off and no amount of counter force-which intensifies the hopelessness-can long secure them. There is no reformulation of the inner city which ignores the issue of no-power-to-decide.

  • 1. The first operating presupposition has to do with geography. Comprehensive reformulation begins with a carefully defined area, set apart by clear boundaries. This reduces the sense of chaos created by the seeming impossibility of the task. It curtails dissipation and duplication of effort. It enables penetration in depth that reaches to the last citizen. It makes possible a clearer picture of the maze of problems that paralyze the citizens. The delimited area fosters a sense of community identity which is essential to the comprehensive approach.
  • 2. The second presupposition demands that the depth human problem in the community be filtered out and radically dealt with. This is crucial to comprehensiveness. All other facets rest directly on this foundation. In the Negro ghetto this basic issue, as indicated above, is the self­depreciating image. Unless the imagination of these citizens is refurbished, re­programmed, if you please, nothing else can lastingly be altered for the black disadvantaged of the central city.
  • 3. The third operating principle is that all the human problems in the community must be attacked simultaneously and co­ordinately. Piece­meal approaches never get at the real issues and cannot create the needed morale for action. Indeed they tend to cultivate the victim image. Though staggering sums are involved, the benevolence concept is devastating to the inner city spirit. Furthermore, ghetto problems tend to re­enforce one another. In order to move one problem toward significant solution it is finally necessary to move them all. The education, economic, social, political, and cultural problems cannot be radically disjoined from one another if effective resolution is intended. Inner city folk are total human beings.
    1. Fourth, all age levels among the citizens must be dealt with at once. Just as community problems reinforce one another so the postures of the various age groups radically influence each other. If the elders are neglected they will unintentionally communicate their images of submissiveness to the young. Programs must be created that will operate from the cradle to the grave. The comprehensive approach to community reformulation requires a network of interrelated and coordinated projects which deal with all the various levels and groups representing the beginning, rising, emerging, established, and elder generations.
    2. The fifth operating principle, the use of symbols, may be the most important even though its function is also the most difficult to articulate. One difficulty is that it cannot be clearly separated from anything else in community reformulation in that it permeates every principle, model, strategy and structure. Every effort that deals with substantial body of people is deeply dependent upon symbols. In creating a community large or small, a sense of commonness in mission must be created. A task and a corporateness relative to the task defines community, and this is mediated through living symbols. These include songs, festivals, the geographical area itself, its distinguishing name, landmarks, art pieces, rites, insignia, local leaders and respected persons and on and on. Symbols are crucial to the morale and expectation that makes the difference between social despair and creative society. Symbols are foundational to inclusive social change.


    In the brief compass of this statement the indication of a practical solution must be even more sketchy than the analysis of the fundamental problems. Inner city reformulation, it cannot be reiterated too frequently, is "comprehensiveness" in both scope and depth. The underlying problems relative to self­image, social constructs and local power must be met in the broadest and deepest sense. In June, the Fifth City Community Reformulation effort will complete its first four­year experimental phase. During that time an impact and penetration has been made, ensuing in an awakening and commitment of a core of the citizenry. The imaginal education forms, the social constructs, and the community organization are established. The next four years of actualization hopefully will put the flesh and blood upon the experiment. The following is a description of this method of inclusiveness.


    Reformulation of the black inner city rests upon imaginal education. This is where the attack must begin. It is the crucial problem of the ghetto. It involves first of all, de­programming the mind­set described earlier as the victim image. Secondly, there must be a re­programming with images of possibility, adequacy, and dignity. In brief, imaginal education endeavors to explode and expand the imagination to provide new tools whereby the individual can reconstruct an image of self significance in relation to his actual situation which will release his unique creativity into history. Imaginal education aims at motivating free, intelligent, responsible involvement in society.

    Such a process in the Negro ghetto involves the individual's becoming proud of his blackness and then moving on to grasp himself as a global individual participating in the formulation of the new world of tomorrow. It is a matter of being enabled to appropriate the limits, possibilities and unrepeatable creativity of his own uniqueness. This educational endeavor must be an integral part of all formal structures of schooling in the community, and it must be undertaken through a multiplicity of extra­formal means.

    It is imperative that imaginal education begin early. Schools must be created for the infant in the crib and continue until the first grade. It must be an essential part of public schooling and occupy a signal place in adult education curricula. It is a must in all senior citizen programs in the ghetto. Perhaps even the extra­formal approaches to re­programming ghetto men are important. This has to do with the use of symbols described earlier. It is effected by their employment in a variety of situations through an almost unlimited variety of means including theater, forums, assemblies, posters, community decor and the like. Imaginal education provides community motivation which is essential to the rebuilding of the inner city. It is fundamental to comprehensive community reformulation.


    Second to imaginal education in import is the creation of the "grassroot" social construct. This begins with an inclusive analysis of the human problems in the area, the constant problem being a lack of adequate structures. In Fifth City a problem mat was constructed which identified over six hundred surface problem areas and organized them under five rubrics: economic, political, education, arts and life style.

    The next step was to bring into being a web of local social constructs to deal with the identified problems. Four such structures were created under each of the five major problem areas. Under the economic are the local Employment Bureau, Redevelopment Corporation, Consumers Association, and Health Clinic. Under education there is a Preschooling Complex, a Public School Auxiliary, a Citizenship Training School and a Continuing Education Program. Similarly, four constructs exist under the political, style, and arts areas. This makes a total of 20 major local community structures. Each of these twenty has four projects under it making a sum of 80 in the whole community. Finally, each of the 80 projects has at least four finely­designated functions.

    This complex is obviously crucial to the comprehensive reformulation method. These local structures are the channels whereby the benefits of urban society become available to the inner city. Here is the key to the local structures concept. They do not replace existing structures. They serve them. They make the broader machineries on the city, state and federal level effective for the inner city citizen. For instance, the local health outpost uses the massive health facilities our total society has created. Or it brings them to the people and the people to them. It mediates between the bread public means and the local community. The same is true of the Redevelopment Corporation. This structure is a bridge between the great state and federal housing programs and the people for whom they were intended. One of the great tragedies is that the disadvantaged do not even know about such programs,let alone understand how to take advantage of them. Then there are the areas of education, culture, legal assistance, and endless other areas when you think comprehensively of humanness and the problems of total man. Finally, these local structures give the people power to do something about what needs are not being met at all. This brings us to community organization.


    Community Organization is basically the instrument which insures the operation of the twenty social constructs. It is thereby the decision­making means of the community. It is creative thrust in the inner city impacting the total social vehicle. It is the force of social change operating from within the patterns of society. It is black power flowing into and through the legal processes toward radical alteration of the situation. This form of community organization in intent involves the total community. In the comprehensive model of Fifth City the organization itself is comprised of a Congress, a Council or Presidium, a Stake complex and a construct of Guilds.

    Rational effective community organization must embrace both the concern that penetrates to the last problems and needs of the individual citizen and the action that issues from the unity of the total citizenry. The State complex is the penetration instrument. The community is broken down into five Stakes each of which is divided into four quads. The quads are then further broken down into units consisting of four, five to ten families. The whole community has 160 such units. Some 200 specially trained volunteer citizens assume responsibility for these community units. These "Iron Men," as they are termed, disseminate crucial information to the units and collect data relative to social and individual needs which are-by means of a simple computer system-made available to the Guilds of the community for proper action.

    A Guild in the community organization is the action unit. There are five Guilds in Fifth City. They are the forces which operate the twenty or rather eighty local community structures described above that relate economic, political, educational, cultural and social areas. Each of the Guilds is divided into four Boards which preside over the twenty operations. One Board oversees the Employment Bureau, another Urban Student Union, and still another the Legal Assistance Clinic or the Urban Services Center. The Boards are made up of 100 citizens from the community who at the moment volunteer their time and effort. The significance here is that in and through the operations of the Guild these inner city folk are beginning to sense after what it means to participate in the decisions and action that influence their destiny. The Guilds are a crucial means of organizing the power of the community.

    Representatives of the Stakes meet bi­weekly to pool and co-ordinate their efforts. On alternative weeks the Guilds and Boards gather to receive reports and plan required action. The Fifth City Congress is the third dimension of the community organization. It meets quarterly to hold the Guilds and Stakes accountable for accomplishments and makes the decisions and plans that become the guidelines for the ensuing quarter. The Congress is open to all the citizens like a New England town meeting and up to the present has been comprised of approximately ten per cent of the total community. Representing the Congress when it is not in session is the Executive Council or Presidium composes of the chairman of the twenty Boards. The Presidium is fundamentally responsible for overseeing the administration and execution of the program outlined by the Congress, and carried out by the Stakes and Guilds.


    Comprehensive community reformulation is in our opinion the only strategy for dealing with the tragedy of our inner cities. There are no short cuts. Fragmental approaches will not do. To make this a political game is disaster itself. If we are concerned with human resources, if we want human community in the inner city, if we wish to avoid the blood violence sure to come, there is no other way. The details of the strategic model may differ from the one here laid out but the comprehensive job must be done. Furthermore, this approach is not a temporary expedient. It is building the new form of corporateness which the urban world of today requires. Long before the year 2000, before we have wasted our funds and energies in patch­up efforts, this task of rebuilding total community in the super­cities of our world must be done.