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John M. Beam Papers

Identifier: MC 780

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content Note

Correspondence, programs, printed material, and other papers. The papers pertain to Beam's work with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). He served as field organizer in Jonesboro and as lead organizer in Little Rock; as head organizer in Memphis in establishing Tennessee ACORN; as unemployment agitator for the United Labor Organization (ULO); and as regional director for the Mid-South and Mid-West regions of ACORN (Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas).


  • 1974-1983


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Information

Please call (479) 575-8444 or email at least two weeks in advance of your arrival to ensure availability of the materials.

Use Information

No Use Restrictions Apply.

No Interlibrary Loan.

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).

Biographical Note

Born February 10, 1950 in Yakima, Washington, John M. Beam earned a B.A. degree in both political science and history from Northwestern University. After graduating from college, he began his career as an organizer for social change. In 1972, he worked full-time with Cornucopia, a non-profit cooperative warehouse serving between seventy and ninety food cooperatives in metropolitan Chicago. During the summer of 1973, Beam volunteered as a staff worker with the United Farm Workers Safeway Boycott in Dallas.

In August, 1973, Beam began his seven year association with the Arkansas community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). He initially worked as a field organizer in Little Rock. His responsibilities in Central Arkansas included organizing farmers in England (Lonoke county) against the construction of a coal-fired generating plant having no emission control system. The following year, Beam opened and supervised an ACORN office in Jonesboro (Craighead County).

Beam returned to Little Rock in 1975 as head organizer for Little Rock ACORN. During his tenure, Beam coordinated 150 ACORN Justices of the Peace and worked for the election of an ACORN member to the reorganized fifteen member Quorum court. other programs organized by Beam included working with neighborhood groups, developing the Lifeline ballot initiative and working with the Health Systems Agency in improving emergency medical services for low to moderate income neighborhoods.

From July, 1976, Beam served as head organizer for Tennessee ACORN in Memphis. In two years, Beam expanded the organization into a coalition of twenty community groups. Beam's additional responsibilities included managing three experienced organizers, seven trainees and three volunteers; working with political, press, and non-organizational community contacts; and working directly with Memphis area neighborhood groups and the Tennessee ACORN Executive Board. Beam was also instrumental in developing the Tennessee ACORN Jobs Action Council.

In 1978 Beam moved to New Orleans as the regional director of the Mid-south and Mid-West areas (Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas), and also acted as an unemployment agitator with the New Orleans United Labor organizations (ULO). In August, 1980, Beam resigned from ACORN. He was the third most senior person of a staff of almost 200 people.

Arkansas community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was established in Arkansas in 1970. ACORN is a grass roots, multi­issue organization of low to moderate income people, seventy per cent of whom earn less than $7000 annually. In five years, ACORN expanded to twenty staff members, maintained ten area offices, and had sixty-two community groups statewide with 5200 member families.

The Institute for social Justice was created by ACORN in 1972, with offices in Little Rock, to provide training for community organizers from all over the country based on the ACORN model. In three years, the Institute also operated and managed two food cooperatives at North Little Rock and Jonesboro.

ACORN became a multi-state organization in 1975. The acronym remained the same, but ACORN was reorganized as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN expanded first into South Dakota in February 1975. In two years, South Dakota ACORN had regional offices in Sioux Falls and Huron and membership of over 200 families. Texas ACORN began organizing in August 1975 with regional offices in Dallas and Fort Worth. In December, 1975, sixty elected delegates representing the new multi-state organization met in Little Rock and organized the Executive Board of ACORN, the governing body of the organization.


2.25 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Arrangement of the Papers

Material is arranged and described in three series:

  1. Series 1. Arkansas ACORN Files
  2. Series 1. Subseries 1. Correspondence
  3. Series 1. Subseries 2. Little Rock Neighborhood Affiliates
  4. Series 1. Subseries 3. ACORN Actions
  5. Series 1. Subseries 4. Printed Material
  6. Series 2. Tennessee ACORN files
  7. Series 2. Subseries 1. Correspondence
  8. Series 2. Subseries 2. Tennessee ACORN Executive Board
  9. Series 2. Subseries 3. Memphis Neighborhood Affiliates
  10. Series 2. Subseries 4. Memphis ACORN Programs
  11. Series 2. Subseries 5. Printed Material
  12. Series 3. Louisiana ACORN files
  13. Series 3. Subseries 1. Office Files
  14. Series 3. Subseries 2. Printed Material

Acquisition Information

These papers were donated to Special Collections by John M. Beam on April 8, 1988.

Processing Information

Processed by Fon Louise Gordon; completed July 1988.



John M. Beam Papers
Fon Louise Gordon
July 1988
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Department Repository

University of Arkansas Libraries
365 N. McIlroy Avenue
Fayetteville AR 72701 United States