A Unique Collection of Decentralist Literature

Bob Swann’s hand drawn plan for the Schumacher Center Library expansion project.

Dear Friend,

I would like your help. I am now seventy-six years old, and I have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to completing the E. F. Schumacher Center and placing it on solid financial ground. I need the help of long time friends and supporters of my work to accomplish this task.

For most of my life I have been an activist. In the late 1950’s I worked in Philadelphia as a home designer and builder for Morris Milgram, who was the first private developer in this country to build an interracial housing project. When nuclear testing was underway in the Pacific in 1962, I supervised construction of a sailboat, the Everyman, which gained national media attention and sympathy for a test ban when we attempted to sail into the testing zone. During the height of the violence by Southern racists against black churches, I organized volunteer interracial crews to rebuild bombed out churches in Mississippi. In 1966, together with Ralph Borsodi, I organized the International Independence Institute to promote the concepts and work of J. P. Narayan, Vinoba Bhave, and the Gramdan land reform movement in India, inspired by Gandhi. We decided to apply these concepts here in the United States and soon developed the first community land trust in this country, organized with members of the civil rights movement in Albany, Georgia. New Communities was a 5,000 acre farm, secured to provide a way for black farmers to gain access to land use. In 1972, Ralph Borsodi and I issued the “constant” in Exeter, N.H., as an experiment to test the viability of independent regional currencies. The eighteen month experiment drew wide media attention and set legal precedents for local issue of scrip.

Those who know me will recognize that these themes of land reform, monetary reform, and a peaceful planet have continued to shape my life and actions. Along with the pressing concern for environmental accountability, they shape the programs of the Schumacher Center.

My motivation to take on such a life work came from a very particular source.   During World War II I served in Federal Prison in Ashland, Kentucky, for refusing to co-operate with the draft. Arthur Morgan, retired President of Antioch College, offered a correspondence course to conscientious objectors in prison. The course was called “The Small Community.”   The readings from that course, and my continued reading and discussion with associates (including Fritz Schumacher), first motivated and then sustained my activism for a more just society.

The Schumacher Center is a library and resource center devoted to presenting the very themes treated in that course on the small community. Over five thousand books, unpublished papers, and pamphlets have already been computer indexed, resulting in a unique collection of decentralist literature, and providing a window on an area of literature largely ignored by scholars. For me it means that young activists will have ready access to the kinds of material that shaped my own life. It is this which motivated me to work with the board of directors to establish the Schumacher Center. And in turn, each one of the members of the board brings his/her own personal stamp to the collection of the Center which further enriches it as a resource.

The Schumacher Center is fortunate to have many friends, co-workers, and volunteers who have helped build the Center. Media attention on a community problem can help rally temporary interest groups, but to sustain commitment and action requires a continuous dialogue with those who envisioned and shaped and built working communities. The Center is a place where dreams of an economy of permanence (to use Fritz Schumacher’s phrase) are shared, elaborated, and given a practical base.

I am writing to ask for your help with this project. The Schumacher Center is a small organization with a dedicated staff who donate a significant part of their time. The Center’s income last year was only $76,000. We do much with very little because we know how to build a building ourselves. Volunteers helped to replace the roof. When new shelves are needed, we bring out a hammer and get to work. Our plumber donates his time on any installation; and lends us his computer when he is away. A wonderful “revolving fund” of young people who come to visit for a day and then stay for months as volunteers, take on projects of cataloging and creating bibliographies and getting material “on line.”

I feel the urgency to complete the building and establish the Center on a strong foundation. We need funds for materials to finish the lower office and archival storage area and we need funds to hire a permanent staff to keep the material accessible to a new generation of community activists.

The Schumacher Center members have been the backbone of support from our beginnings in 1980. If each one of our 500 members contributed an additional $20 per year it would mean an additional $10,000 in yearly income; if each one of our 500 members found one new member, it would mean an additional $15,000 per year in income; an additional $25,000 per year would go a long way toward making the Schumacher Center sustainable.

Please help me build for the future by making an additional donation for the Schumacher Center and by encouraging a friend to become a member.


Robert Swann

P.S. Included is the registration form for the Fourteenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures. You might want to introduce friends to the Schumacher Center by inviting them to attend this year’s Lectures at Yale on October 22nd.