NOW was formed in July 1966 as a human rights organization. It used non-violent direct action in an effort to achieve political, social, and economic reform. NOW's community action program focused on the improvement of the most pressing socio-economic problems faced by African Americans in Mobile, Alabama, such as education, employment, healthcare, and housing, with minimal intrusion into the arena of civil rights. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968, the organization was reformed in an effort to provide more effective civil rights leadership in the Mobile area and to instill pride in black identity.
NOW's first major accomplishment was the staging of the April 7, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative march. Some have viewed the march as breaking the veneer of racial peace in Mobile and seen the emergence of NOW as a challenge to traditional African- American leadership. NOW became a target of suspicion to others in Mobile, including the city's Special Advisory Commission (SAC) and to the FBI.
No evidence has been uncovered as to why and when the FBI initiated the surveillance of NOW. It may have been part of the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). The only evidence of this is circumstantial, as the FBI materials concerning NOW inquire about organizational ties with known COINTELPRO targets such as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. Also, the materials concerning NOW abruptly end in April 1971, the month of the official discontinuation of the COINTELPRO program.
SAC was formed in May 1963 at the request of the Mobile City Commission and its official status was established by City Ordinance 03-259. Organized as an integrated commission, SAC consisted of eight white members, four African-American members and the city commissioners served as Ex-Officio members. SAC replaced the ineffective Bi-Racial Committee, created in 1956 in response to the backlash that accompanied Brown vs. Board of Education. SAC was commissioned for the purpose of giving the city commission the "benefit of the counsel and advice of well-informed citizens of our community, who are devoted to the task of solving peacefully the problems of the present day. These advisors not only give recommendations and advice to the City Commission on how to solve problems that arise, but they bring to the administration's attention matters that can be corrected before they become problems." To this end, SAC received copies of the Mobile, Alabama, FBI's memorandums and informant reports concerning NOW and race relations in Mobile.
Highlights of NOW Activities
1966 -- Officially
organized with charter on file at the Mobile Courthouse
The Neighborhood Organized Workers FBI Files,1968-1971, obtained via a U.S. Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act request, includes memorandums, informant reports, newspaper clippings and copies of handbills gathered by the Mobile, Alabama, FBI Field Office's investigation of NOW and its activities. The FBI's primary correspondent was Mobile's Special Advisory Commission (SAC).
The information contained in the memorandums and reports were supplied to the FBI by numerous unidentified informants. Typical information gathered included summary reports of NOW meetings, the composition of NOW leadership, and an interpretation of the African- American community's attitude towards NOW, civil rights, and race relations. As a result, the collection contains rich information on topics related to African-American leadership, race relations, civil rights activities, school desegregation, voter registration, economic boycotts, and black nationalism in Mobile, Alabama, and surrounding areas. The following individuals are prominently named in the investigative files: Stokely Carmichael, Hosea Williams, James Finley, Jerry Pogue, Fred Richardson, and Noble Beasley. Principal organizations targeted during the FBI investigation included NOW, Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, American Friends Service Committee, and the Progressive Organized Workers (POW). To a lesser extent there is information in the collection about NOW's possible connection with gambling, drug trafficking, and extortion of local downtown merchants. The geographic scope of the FBI investigation includes Mobile, Prichard, Citronell, and Mt. Vernon, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.
Material deletions have been made to protect information that is exempt from disclosure. The exemptions used to withhold information are derived from Subsections of Title 5, United States Code, Section 552. Primary exemptions used in the collection are B2 - "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency," B7C - "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," and B7D - "could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a state, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in case of record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation, or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source."
Material is housed in one box (.5 cu. ft.) and is arranged in chronological order.
1 April 1968