Saul Alinsky Biography

(Community Organizer)

Birthday: January 30, 1909 (Aquarius)

Born In: Chicago

Featured on New York magazine’s list of 'the purest Avatars of the populist movement' and widely hailed as 'the father of community organizing', Saul Alinsky dedicated his entire life to help improve the lives of the disadvantaged. This tough yet passionate lover of humanity pioneered innovative methods in helping the poor, scattered to improve their communities and raise their social and economic status. He combined urban theories he had learned in university and the street smart ways of growing up in Chicago to work with communities. He worked in prisons, unions, churches and other social communities. He would go to a neighbourhood, listen to their needs and problems and work with them in order to help them achieve what they want, either by bringing it to the notice of the government or the corporates. He worked with poor communities across North America, African-American ghettos, California, Michigan, New York City and many other troubled and poor communities across America. One of his acclaimed publications ‘Rules for Radicals' provides guidelines for future community organisers. His legacy continues to live on and inspire countless people.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 63


Spouse/Ex-: Helene Simon Alinsky, Irene Alinsky, Jean Graham Alinsky

father: Benjamin Alinsky

mother: Sarah Tannenbaum Alinsky Rice

siblings: Harry Alinsky, Max Alinsky

children: David Alinsky, Kathryn Alinsky

Humanitarian Writers

Died on: June 12, 1972

place of death: Carmel-by-the-Sea

City: Chicago, Illinois

U.S. State: Illinois

Founder/Co-Founder: Industrial Areas Foundation

More Facts

education: University of Chicago

awards: 1969 - Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award

Childhood & Early Life
Born on January 30, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois, Saul David Alinsky was the only surviving son of the Russian Jewish immigrant couple, Benjamin Alinsky and Sarah Tannenbaum Alinsky.
He had such a strong and orthodox Jewish upbringing that he feared that his parents will compel him to become a rabbi. He later went on to major in archaeology from the University of Chicago.
After a two year stint at graduate school, he took up a job as a criminologist for the State of Illinois. He also worked part-time as an organiser for the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
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Around 1939, he actively took part in general community organising activities, aiming to unite the poor in Chicago to voice out their rights collectively. By this time he put a pause to labour movement activities.
He devoted much of his time helping the slum communities across the nation for the next ten years of his life. He worked in communities in Kansas City, Detroit and California, to name a few.
Later in the 1930s, he worked with the industrial neighbourhood ‘Back of the Yards’ in Chicago. This led to the initiation of the ‘Industrial Areas Foundation’, dedicated to empower poor communities.
Around 1950, he devoted his time to improve the social and economic status of the African-American ghettos based in Chicago. His actions incited the hatred of Mayor Richard J. Daley.
On the request of the San Francisco Bay Area Presbyterian, he travelled to California, where he aimed to organise African-American ghettos in Oakland. However, upon hearing the news, the Oakland City Council banned his entry.
In 1971, his book titled, 'Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals' was published. This book contained guidelines for future generation of community leaders.
Major Works
His book, ‘Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals’ is one of his seminal works that created a blue print for future community leaders and organisers. His principles have been widely applied by the government, over the last four decades.
Awards & Achievements
In 1969, he received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married three times. His first wife, Helene Simon died while rescuing their daughter, who was drowning in Lake Michigan. He later married Jean Graham and then Irene McGinnis.
He adopted two children during his first marriage, Kathryn and David.
He died on June 12, 1972 at the age of 63, after he suffered from a heart attack in Carmel, California.
Sanford D. Horwitt authored his biography titled, 'Let Them Call Me Rebel: A Biography of Saul Alinsky.'
A documentary made on his life, 'The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy', depicts how he came out with new and innovative ideas to organise the poor across America.
His teachings have inspired many American leaders and politicians including, Ed Chambers, Barack Obama, Tom Gaudette, Ernesto Cortes, Michael Gecan, Wade Rathkeand Patrick Crowley.
He influenced community leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
During one of his protests for better rights for impoverished communities, this community leader and organiser instructed his volunteers to occupy all of the bathrooms in the O'Hare International Airport for an entire day to show the elite how it is to live without this facility. This brought the issue to the notice of the Mayor.
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