Doubt …

More thoughtfulness in the world would make it such a better place. JoAnn Wypijewski’s “Woody, Dylan & Doubt” [March 10/17] is beautifully crafted—fair, compassionate, insightful. “The techno age meets the eleventh century” is a brilliant summary of the public’s involvement in an ongoing family tragedy. Kudos for an advanced twenty-first-century commentary.
Jane Myers
ann arbor, mich.

There’s nothing radical or liberal about giving an accused sex abuser the benefit of the doubt outside of a courtroom. Most patriarchal societies now and throughout history have given the accused rapist/child molester the benefit of the doubt, without such benefit to the (always) less powerful accuser. Sad to see such a reactionary premise masquerading as liberal in The Nation. But too many so-called progressives enjoy Allen’s movies.


I began reading “Woody, Dylan & Doubt” goofily thinking it was about Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and metaphysical uncertainty. I was pleased as well as surprised by JoAnn Wypijewski’s intelligent, thoughtful and fair-minded piece on the latest innuendos concerning Woody Allen.
David Lehman
new york city

Al From in Mississippi

During the 1960s, I was a senior field representative for the Office of Economic Opportunity, the official War on Poverty agency—the only federal OEO employee to be stationed in Mississippi, my home state. I had planned with the legendary Jim Draper and several activists to seek employment with OEO so that the movement-related Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) would have a friend in the bureaucracy. OEO was all too eager to employ a young, native, white Mississippian, a former Baptist preacher thrown out of his church for getting involved in civil rights activities. I was in a unique position to know firsthand from the inside the OEO strategy of maximum participation of the poor in controlling the programs and resources of the anti-poverty effort.

Al From, who was assigned to the OEO Office of Inspection in Washington, stayed in my home in Jackson several times on his trips to Mississippi, and I have followed his career with great interest. In view of Rick Perlstein’s mostly deserved pillorying of Al for the reactionary role he has played in national Democratic Party politics in the years since the ’60s [“From & Friends,” March 3], I felt I should set the record straight about his participation in the poverty program struggles in Mississippi.

Although the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 required approval by the governor of a state before programs could be funded there, OEO found a loophole, by which programs could be funded through an institution of higher education. In the summer of 1965, the first Head Start programs were funded to local groups growing out of the civil rights movement by passing the grants through historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs): Mary Holmes College and Rust College. Subsequent struggles with the white power structure over who would control the incoming funds resulted in many of these groups continuing on a volunteer basis under the umbrella of the Friends of the Children of Mississippi until the control issue could be resolved.

Senators “Big Jim” Eastland and John Stennis urged local white leaders to organize Community Action Programs, which the law required all funds to pass through. Where CAPs were not set up, CDGM and Friends of Children were funded through HBCUs to operate black-controlled programs. In counties where CAPs were set up, including Sunflower and Bolivar counties in the Delta, the movement-based groups were legally made subsidiaries to these power-structure-controlled CAPs. Neither Al From nor OEO could do or say anything about that legality.

This was the setting for From’s claim that “Shriver sent me to Sunflower County to investigate a dispute between two Head Start programs, one run with federal funding by the white powers of the county—the Eastland forces—the other run on a volunteer basis by civil rights activists.” Those of us in the OEO committed to empowering local people held strategic discussions for keeping the resources and consequent political power of OEO funding in the hands of the black communities. Ultimate implementation of OEO strategy was up to the Atlanta OEO office, and Al From’s presence and participation were limited. But when he came to Mississippi representing the national office, he participated in those discussions and was on the side of the angels. His statement in his book that the fight was for “an important prize in the political balance of power in the county” was correct, as these were the first substantial institutional funds and jobs the black folks of these counties had ever controlled. In Sunflower and Bolivar counties, two Head Start programs were funded, one to the CAP and one to the local groups: Associated Communities of Sunflower County and Associated Communities of Bolivar County. By law, the funds had to flow through the CAP agencies, but in both cases OEO required that the local movement group be funded as a separate subcontractor of the CAP, with its own board, controlling structure and staff. Under the circumstances, this was the best possible outcome, and OEO relentlessly protected the independence of these groups until 1969, when Head Start funding was removed from OEO.

I have no interest in defending Al From. While I was continuing to pursue every third- party and independent left initiative we could stir up over the years and working in community organizing and advocacy, Al was busy at a much higher level, doing perhaps irreparable harm to the political and economic plight of ordinary Americans by helping to restructure the party system so that no real Democratic alternative was on offer, leaving us—still—with a Clintonite-flavored administration somewhat to the right of Eisenhower Republicanism.

But you could not ask for a more likable or collegial person to diminish the hopes of your grandchildren than Al From. For a short time, though, he played a positive role in empowering the black communities and children of Sunflower and Bolivar counties.
Don Manning-Miller
Vice president, Rust College
holly springs, miss.