This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of John M. Perkins (CN 367, #T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have made no attempt to phonetically replicate English dialect. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Christopher Easley and Paul Ericksen, and completed in October
Collection 367, #T3. Interview of John M. Perkins by Paul A. Ericksen on June 19, 1987.
ERICKSEN: Let's shift gears. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement on President Reagan's Task Force on Hunger?
PERKINS: Yeah, that was a great educational [pauses] opportunity for me. A quick crash course in political science and political operations, and how [pauses] the system worked and the pressures of the system. I was selected to...to serve, and we was commis-sioned to look at the [pauses] food distribution systems that the government supported in this country, and to see whether or they were sort of adequate for the task and whether or not they were doing a good job, and then to make a report back to the President, a recommendation on how they can be improved or if there was additional thing need to be done [sic]. We looked at that for about four months. We took about four months to do that. We got a research staff to do researching...to do research, and then we went out to different communities and held hearings and listened to people tell about the condition. Then we planned tours to visit feeding sites and to examine. And based upon what we already knew we would come together then and discuss what ought to...what needs to be done for that. I...I...I think we made some good recommendations, although I think that [pauses] what weakened us was (a lot of things weakened us)...I think it was a...it was perceived by the Democratic party that Reagan was...created the Task Force in order to justify his destruction of all the food delivering programs, which was...which was, I think, a mistake. I don't think he intended that. He didn't do that. It didn't happen. I don't think any food programs have been discontinued under the Reagan administra-tion. I think there have been other things discontinued. I don't think any food distribution programs [have been discontinued]. I think if anything, I think there have been a greater...our Task Force helped to bring about a greater awareness of the need for a broader base of food distribution. But I think that we probably strengthened organizations like [pauses] First Harvest and Second Harvest, and those kind of.... I think we str...we...we...we put a lot of emphasis on the private section being involved, the people who actually had massive amount of food that could be now brought, because much of this food had been dumped before, thrown away [tape recorder stopped and restarted], would now be distributed and given to [pauses] a food [pauses] distributors. And one of the people on our Task Force was one of the founders and the chairman of the board (might still be still the chairman of the board) of...of...of (What do they call it?) the Second Harvest, I think, Second Harvest. And [pauses]...and I...I guess...I would suspect that in every state of the United States, that institution has an opportunity for...for distribution of food. And so.... We also made recommendations too, like [pauses] to improve the food allowance for...for schools, to continue the breakfast program, because that way we're getting really to the people [yawns?] who really need the food the most are the kids. And...and...and...and...and, of course, I would like to lessen family dependance upon those kind of things and try to create opportunities where people can earn their...their way in life. So it was a...it was a...it was a.... Another good thing that we...I think we..we...we pushed for...we pushed for...for a raise in the amount of...of assets that a person could have in terms of a car, and still participate in the food stamp.... Originally that thing...if a person owned a car that cost more than $1500, this disqualified them from food stamps. That means that if you lost your job, and then had used up all of your [pauses] unemployment compensation, and...and you had a car that you had paid [pauses] $6000 for, before you got...lost your job, that means that you'd have to get rid of your car. And how on earth are you going to get to...find the...look for a place to work before you could...before you could get food stamps, which is nonsense. We dealt with that and tried to develop that. And see, I didn't...I didn't see no use for having no guidelines there at all. I mean, what difference would it make what...what... what car that person owned, you know. But we...we was able to get it up to, I think, maybe $5500, which was not enough. But it was...it's...it's a...it's a...a lot of the...the guidelines they had on food that we attacked and tried to get rid of. But, on the other hand, we did not recommend any more money for food, and that's what [pauses]...I think that's what got us...people didn't like. They expected us to recommend...and made us...to try to make us think that all that the food delivery system needed was just some more money. And what we was able to see that of the $22 billion, I think it was, of food money, only $11 million [sic?] of that was actually probably ever getting down to the people in terms of food purchase. So half of that money was being spent for the system, in which run the food. So...so, we made some recommendations, like [pauses] for senior citizens that their food stamps would be added, their food allowance would be added to their regular senior citizens [pauses] check. Now why should they have to go down to an office somewhere and sign up for some food stamps? Why should they have to go down and pick up food stamps and have them mailed out to them? Why should they go through all that extra kind of stuff? You...you...you...you...you know. Why do they...why create a whole new bureau just for that, and just with the changing of some numbers on a check on a computer somewhere, the person, instead of them getting $200 a month, they can now get $250 a month that included their food stamps? You know...you know, and it was a...a...we...we made those kinds of recommendations. But...but...but bureaucratic systems that's in existence resist that, because they always see that as...as [pauses]...as "not refunding the program as they exist, so that includes our position and our job." So, I...I think, while we recommended a lot more releasing of more money for direct food, we didn't recommend the more money, and that's...I think that's the only thing that people hear, that when you make a recommendation that you recommend more money to the...to the system.
ERICKSEN: You said that it was a quick education in political science. Is there anything you learned that you wished you had known [pauses] twenty years ago about the way the system works?
PERKINS: No. I think most of it was...was...was things that you had to learn within the process of doing it. Most of the things was [pauses]...was behavior things that you learned in the...in the process, and the pressures you'd receive from people and agents wanting you to just represent their opinion blindly. You could not know that because people would not come to you on that unless you was one of them. I mean nobody would come to you and...and...and...and...and want you to...influence you to...to support and to approve of things as they exist or the way they...people wanted them to exist. They would only come to you and you would only know that because you was involved in that. So there are some things you only can learn as you become a part of that [pauses]...part of that system. Sometimes people ask [pauses]...people ask me, "How did black people feel that I was on that Task Force?" You know, it was an amazing thing, I've never got a negative feeling from a black person for being on the Task Force. The only negative...you know, the only people who have ever said that to me has basically been very liberal white people who've said that to me. And...and I've always thought about it, you know, if I were ever asked by a black, "Why did I serve on it?" and I would have turned around and asked them would they have served. And...and...and I had another answer for that, too. And...and I...the answer could have been, "Probably you wouldn't have served because you never would have been asked." I don't know many people who have ever been asked to do something by the President of the United States, they didn't do it. But the biggest honor is to be asked [laughs]. The biggest honor is to be asked, I mean, you know, so....
ERICKSEN: Can you describe why you decided to move back to California?
PERKINS: Yeah. When we decided to leave Mississippi, we then began to look for where we'd be...be able to serve without taking away. We wanted to leave Voice of Calvary Ministry. We thought that we'd been in it long enough. We wanted to see it run without us. We wanted the privilege of seeing the ministry go on and have the possibility of going on once we was dead, once we was removed. And so we wanted that privilege of doing that. So we wanted to get far enough away to see it [pauses] go. Then we began to think about then, "Where would we go?" And we...we...we narrowed it down to three places: Philly - Philadelphia, Chicago, and California. And the board of directors of the Voice of Calvary Ministry created a task force to work with my wife and I, and that we had two meetings to just talk about where we would go. And our last meeting we had was in Chicago. And...and...and...and we had a facilitator, a person who [pauses] was on the board asking the questions and helping us to...to decide on what... what it ought to be. And so we looked at, first of all, "What...what is it we want to do, for it to be positive? What do we want to do?" And we then began to list on the [black]board what we wanted to do. And then finally, somebody said on the board, "Where you live has nothing to do with what you are figuring to do. If your job...if you're going to spend most of your time teaching and sharing with people around the country, where you live at don't make any difference. Then they turned to Vera Mae and said to her, "Where would you like to live?" And she said, "California." And so it was a f...one of the people who was on that task force, on our board, lived in Pasadena, had a guest house. And she said, "You can live in our guest house as long as you want to live." And so that's what we did, and lived in her guest house for nine months.
ERICKSEN: So what are you doing in California now?
PERKINS: Well after nine months...after being there for nine months, we began to see the problems up in northwest Pasadena, and we decided that we would move up there. And so in October of...of '82, we bought a house in Howard and Navara, and they call that one of the highest daytime crime areas in southern California. We moved into that area with dopes, dope and killing, crime was very high and we purchased a house there, started Bible clubs there, and started some prayer meetings there. And out of that has developed what we call the Harambee Christian Family Center. And that is [pauses] an education program for...for young people in school, and where we teach them computers, typing, sewing, cooking, all different types of skills, plus how to read and write. And then we have some business clubs sort of set up like Junior Achievement, where they...we help young folks to start business enterprises. And we got one, one that's going pretty well now. A t-shirt screening business, and it's a...and we gets these orders. And we work primarily on a Saturday. When we work in the summer we work all...everyday. But we get these...we get these very massive orders of t-shirts, because, you know, people are doing everything now, like they're doing these...these marches and they're doing these kinds of things and t-shirts becomes what people use for that. And so we imprint those [pauses]...those t-shirts. So we're in the...in the massive t-shirt selling business. [Laughs] People don't kn...realize that while we imprint those t-shirts, our biggest money, our biggest profit is coming form just selling the t-shirt. You know, that we...we get a t-shirt for $2.00 and...and $2.25, and imprint it, which would probably cost us a dollar, and sell that shirt for $5 or $6, you know. So it's a...we...we're in the heavy t-shirt [laughs] production business.
ERICKSEN: What kind of impact has the...the Center had in the neighborhood?
PERKINS: Well, the kind of drugs and...have ceased. There is still drugs there. There's drugs almost in every community. But the drugs as an out [?] public nuisance [?] to the community in what it was doing to the young people in terms of using them as runners and workers, that has ceased in the community. Young people are...are in our program. Some of the young folks who use to be in the drug pushing program is now in our program. Education-wise, we...we are seeing the kids stay in school, and I'm going to tell you what has happened. In addition to that, there have been a school organized in the community, pretty well for drop outs and that school is now housing our building. And although we don't have but three or four of our students in it, because our students are staying in school through our tutoring program, [plane flying overhead] those who dropped out of school dropped into that program, which means then that we are seeing right now (and we only talk about a year at a time with this kind of stuff)...we are seeing the kids in our community going to school, you know. And that's a big achievement. That's a big achievement to see the kids in our community going to school. We're providing jobs for our kids in our community [pauses]. Our program is well supported by local people, black and white, and by the local churches in Pasadena and in the surrounding areas. Our budget is met [pauses] pretty well, and we are...I can say now that we are...what you would say we are paused for the summer, which is.... In our kind of work, in most kind of ministries, the summer months are the toughest months, are the less financial months. For us at Voice of Calvary Ministry, the summer months have...I mean, in our kind of ministry, has traditionally been the greatest months for raising money. We had to do it because those was the time when our program was in the greatest need of resources, and...and consequently we usually make those time...that time of the year the greatest fund raising effort. And so consequently we have made the summer months very profitable, instead of being negative. So we are ready now for that in our program now. Our program officially begins this evening. Our volunteers begin to come in [pauses] this evening. We go with the California school system. The people back here go with the Mississippi school system. So Mississippi...California school system had just closed schools last week, and so we start our program next week. But we'll have one week of...of [pauses]...of staff orientation, and training, and then the re...then we're on our way. We'll go then, I guess, about eight weeks.
ERICKSEN: Dr. Perkins, thank you very much for your time...
ERICKSEN: ...and sharing your experiences.
END OF TAPE