Saul David Alinsky was born to Benjamin and Sarah Alinsky on January 30, 1909, in Chicago. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. When Saul was 13 years of age, his parents were divorced.
After his parents split up, Saul lived in Los Angeles with his father. Later, he came back to Chicago to pursue his studies at the University of Chicago. He went on to acquire a doctorate in archeology from the university.
Alinsky's first activities began in various prisons, where he worked as a juvenile delinquency researcher. In the latter part of the 1930s, his work was mainly confined to the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago. He motivated the poor and the working class masses in different communities to work for their common interests.
He provided all the necessary assistance to several unions, churches, and social groups, so that they could empower themselves and win their basic needs, right from streetlights to jobs.
He took special efforts to resolve the differences among the various divided groups and unite them, so that they could stand up for the causes that led to the betterment of the entire community.
He obtained financial assistance from the Marshal Field Foundation to establish the Industrial Area Foundation, which enabled him to spread his activities to many other cities around the United States.
Alinsky had a very tough, but pragmatic approach towards his work as a community organizer. He had zero tolerance towards militants. He believed that the power that comes by the means of the barrels of guns has no worthiness.
Instead, he considered stable local organizations with active participation of socially aware ordinary citizens more important to bringing about reforms in the society as a whole. He had firm faith in the American democracy. His method of community organizing annoyed many leaders in the United States.
As a result, in the latter part of the 1960s, he found himself alienated. In such a situation, it became quite tough for him to work with the local African American groups, as they refused to work under a white leader. Then he began unifying the middle class citizens of white communities.
Saul Alinsky married three times. First it was to Helen Simon, then to Jean Graham, and his third wife was Irene McGinnis. During his first marriage, he adopted two children: Kathryn and David.
Alinsky's books, Reveille for Radicals, released in 1946, and Rules for Radicals: A Political Primer for Practical Radicals, published in 1971, was based on neighborhood reforms.
He also wrote a biography of the well-known labor leader John L. Lewis in 1949, whom Alinsky admired for his organizational skills. He died on June 12, 1972 in Carmel, California, after he suffered a heart attack.
Saul Alinsky had committed his life for the ordinary citizens of America. He was always there to hear out their needs, troubles and tribulations, and found out ways and means to rectify them.