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2014 President's Award
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2014 President's Award 
John C. Raines, PhD

Fifty years ago, John Raines boarded a bus that changed his life. It was the summer of 1961, and he was one of the 400-plus Freedom Riders who rode into the American South, white and black together, risking their lives to challenge legal segregation. 

The journey took Raines, now a professor emeritus at Temple University, from privilege to protest. “I just had no realistic grasp on the degree of violence that we would face down South,” he says. “For the first time in my life, I found myself on the other side of power.”

Speaking at the NASW-NJ Annual Board Installation and Membership Celebration on September 28, 2013, Professor Raines added to this recollection when, looking back on his experiences in the fight for civil rights, he said: “Freedom, political freedom, is built upon and preserved by equality—not absolute equality but that relative equality of common citizens sharing an equal voice in how things are run, and for whose benefit.”

More facts about Raines’ remarkable career emerged in January 2014 when the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about a group calling itself “Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI.” On March 8, 1971, the group, which included John Raines, his wife, Bonnie, and three other civil rights activists, broke into the FBI offices in Media, PA. They removed all the files, and mailed copies of the political information to selected newspapers and progressive politicians. The Washington Post made the files public.

This break-in and what followed are part of the subject of a newly released book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (Medsger, 2014), which details the unsolved mystery of the break-in. A secret held for more than 40 years, the details of their burglary include the group’s objective: to obtain evidence of the FBI’s nationwide campaign against opponents of the Vietnam War, the surveillance by the FBI of African American student organizations, and the infiltration of secret informants in schools and churches in Black communities. This event contributed to future changes in FBI practices. 

As Michael Kortan, an FBI spokesman put it: “A number of events during that era, including the burglary, contributed to changes in how the FBI identified and addressed domestic security threats, leading to reform of the FBI’s intelligence policies and practices, including the creation of investigative guidelines by the Department of Justice.”

“The distinction between being a criminal and breaking laws is very important,” John Raines says. “When the law, or when the institutions that enforce laws and interpret laws, become the crime as happened in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, then the only way to stop that crime from happening is to expose what’s going on.”

Raines, who spent the ensuing decades as a professor of religious studies, said the crime and its aftermath made this a Philadelphia story in a much deeper sense than just geographically.

“I am convinced it could not have been successful except in the Philadelphia region,” he said: We knew that there were literally thousands of war resisters in the Philadelphia area, and we knew that no matter how many agents J. Edgar Hoover threw out there to try to find us, they faced a very daunting task to sift through thousands of possible suspects.”

Professor Raines retired in June 2011 from Temple University but still teaches a course on social protest in the 1960s. He is the author/editor of eight books and numerous articles. His area of interest is religion and political economy. Raines has been chair of the Department of Religion, President of the Interfaith Council on the Holocaust of Philadelphia, and a Co-host of the award-winning Sunday morning ABC (Philadelphia) talk show “Dialogue.”

Still passionate about social justice he says: “Inequality is worse today than it was in the 60s.” He cites statistics that show 33 percent of personal wealth is in the hands of just 1 percent of the population. Ever committed to social action, Professor Raines remains a model for all of us. As one former student said: “I have realized the type of person I want to be and the type of world I want to live in because of him.”

For his remarkable career on the forefront of civil rights, social justice, and social activism, the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is proud to honor Professor John Raines with the 2014 President’s Award.

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