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HARRIS WOFFORD: A LEADER IN COMMUNITY SERVICE

Harris Wofford has been a major force in the shaping of the American community. He began the journey as a teenage in Scarsdale, New York, during World War II, when he formed the Student Federalists, a national organization preparing for the anticipated world government. While a private in the U.S. Army Air Force early in 1945 he even managed to secure and invitation to the White House with the organization's national secretary, Emmy Lou (Clare) Lindgren, and spent an hour at tea with a very enthusiastic Eleanor Roosevelt. Harris and Clare would marry in 1948, a union that produced three children and continued until her death in January 1996. The Woffords became involved in the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950's and he ultimately served in the U.S. Senate, representing the state of Pennsylvania.

Harris Wofford and President John Kennedy

Harris Wofford served as an adviser to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. When Martin Luther King was imprisoned shortly before the election, Wofford persuaded Kennedy's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to race to O'Hare airport to persuade Kennedy to call King's wife, Coretta Scott King—who feared for her husband who was being moved to Georgia's Reidsville prison for a minor traffic violation. Kennedy told her that he would do whatever he could and that he would, with his brother, try to use his influence to get him released. Robert Kennedy called the judge to find out about the bond. Kennedy was angry and said to the judge, "Why can't he be bonded out?" King was released the next day. JFK's help shifted the African American vote decisively in Kennedy's favor and probably won him the election.

Wofford's resume has many significant achievements including helping to launch the Peace Corps in 1961, then serving as its Special Representative to Africa in 1963-64 and as its Director from 1964 to 1966. He held the post of Special Assistant to President John F. Kennedy, as well as Chairman of the White House Sub-Cabinet group on Civil Rights from 1961 to 1962. He also served as counsel for the U.S. Committee on Civil Rights, Trustee to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change and many other challenging and important jobs. Harris Wofford has dedicated his career to citizen service, and believes that service should be expected and experienced by all Americans. He has built a legacy and a model for every American to live by. Today he heads the Corporation for National Service, an organization created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, landmark legislation Wofford helped launch. As CEO of the Corporation, he helped develop and organize the President's Summit for America's Future, held in Philadelphia in the spring of 1997. He has also pledged the support and participation of the Corporation for National Service in the post-Summit campaign--America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth, led by General Colin Powell. These achievements alone make Harris Wofford of America's greatest leaders and most important figures, but--as Chet Cooper, Editor and Publisher of ABILITY Magazine learned during a drive through Selma, Alabama and subsequent talks with Mr. Wofford--there is far more to the man than just his accomplishments.

They were in Selma for the "Building Beyond the Bridge," a 20-house Habitat for Humanity blitz build. Although the drive through this rural area of Alabama was peaceful, Selma's history is a tumultuous one. Late Civil War battles virtually destroyed the town. Re-birth into a burgeoning cotton shipping port and the establishment of a Naval base led to cultural and economic growth, as did the opening and dedication of the Edmond Pettus Bridge, which became the focal point of the struggle of Black Americans to obtain the right to vote and subsequently an historic landmark of the Civil Rights Movement.

Today, Selma offers a warmth and comfort unlike many other cities. Mr. Cooper felt a sense of nostalgia and homecoming as they drove through the town, as it is also his birthplace, and a town he hadn't visited since he was an infant. Mr. Cooper had the good fortune of spending some uninterrupted time with Mr. Wofford, discussing his book, Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties, as well as some of the magnificent events and experiences Mr. Wofford has seen over the course of his life and his career.

Harris Wofford Interview

Harris Wofford: How are you?

Chet Cooper: I am good. How are you?

HW: Good.

CC: Well, actually I heard that you had some rib problems.

HW: (laughs) I also have a rotating cuff problem. Our friend Andy who was with me, as I was fussing over my minor little problems of course and there he sits with no command over his bottom half of his body and I am worried about three or four little ribs.

CC: I'll try to keep the jokes to a minimum.

HW: They are not hurting me at all now. It is amazing. They say they are mending very fast. I'm all for laughing so go ahead and try.

CC: You might fracture another rib. (laughs)

HW: Let's give it a try. (laughs)

CC: Hmm... Well, we will see what happens. The first time we met in Selma, Alabama you told us of a story of a son and his father lying on his death bed. Can you briefly tell that story?

HW: The young man was the Cardinal from a Catholic Church in Philadelphia who was telling me that on his father's death bed that he wanted some words of wisdom. So, he asked his father and his father answered, "get up earlier." He was very disappointed, but ever since then, year by year, those words have stuck and he has gotten up earlier and earlier and it has made a great difference for him because it's when he does his walking or jogging and it is when he does his reading and meditating and he was recommending it to me.

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More stories from Art Metrano issue: 1999

Max Gail: Running LAPs Part II

Interview With Art Metrano

Harris Wofford: A Leader In Community Service

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