Read Hillary Clinton's 1971 letter to Saul Alinsky

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Citizens awards ceremony for the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 (CGI) in New York, September 21, 2014. The CGI was created by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2005 to gather global leaders to discuss solutions to the world's problems. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT)

A letter from Hillary Clinton to the late community organizer Saul Alinsky in 1971 was published Sunday by the Washington Free Beacon.

In it, Clinton, then a 23-year-old law school graduate living in Berkeley, Calif., informs the Chicago activist that she had “survived law school, slightly bruised, with my belief in and zest for organizing intact.”

“The more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them," Clinton wrote, "the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead, — if the commitment to a free and open society is ever going to mean more than eloquence and frustration."

Clinton first met Alinsky when she was at Wellesley working on her 1969 thesis on his controversial theories on community organizing, many of which were outlined in his 1946 handbook, "Reveille for Radicals."

In the book, Alinsky encouraged community organizers to "fan the latent hostilities" of low-income, inner city residents and "search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them." His 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals," published a year before his death, expanded on that theme. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it," Alinsky wrote.

“Dear Saul,” Clinton wrote in the 1971 letter. "When is that new book [Rules for Radicals] coming out — or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation? I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille and need some new material to throw at people."

She thanked Alinsky for the advice he gave her about campus organizing.

“If I never thanked you for the encouraging words of last spring in the midst of the Yale-Cambodia madness, I do so now,” Clinton wrote.

She also asked if they could meet the next time he was in California.

“I am living in Berkeley and working in Oakland for the summer and would love to see you,” Clinton wrote. “Let me know if there is any chance of our getting together.”

She added: "Hopefully we can have a good argument sometime in the future."

Alinsky's longtime secretary, Georgia Harper, sent Clinton a letter in reply informing her that he was away on a six-week trip to Southeast Asia, but that she had opened the letter anyway.

“Since I know his feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks,” Harper wrote in the July 13, 1971, letter. “And I’m glad I did.”

“Mr. Alinsky will be in San Francisco, staying at the Hilton Inn at the airport on Monday and Tuesday, July 26 and 27,” Harper added. “I know he would like to have you call him so that if there is a chance in his schedule maybe you can get together.”

The correspondence between Alinsky and Clinton was discovered in the archives for the Industrial Areas Foundation — a training center for community organizers founded by Alinsky — housed at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to Clinton's 2004 memoir, "Living History," Alinsky had offered her a job after her graduation from Wellesley, but she turned him down.

“He offered me the chance to work with him when I graduated from college, and he was disappointed that I decided instead to go to law school,” she wrote. “[He] said I would be wasting my time, but my decision was an expression of my belief that the system could be changed from within.”

 

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