As president and founder of NumbersUSA, Roy Beck credits his upbringing for the sense of economic justice he brings to the organization. Growing up in the Ozarks, he witnessed firsthand the struggles of the working class to earn a living. His father was a long-time member of the Teamsters union, which gave him insight into the importance of group action in the cause of economic justice.
Beck has also been a supporter of racial equity throughout his career. As a student during much of the Civils Rights movement in the 60s, he participated in the movement for racial equity. More recently, he has played an active role in major community assistance programs at his church designed to help residents, many of them African Americans, in nearby neighborhoods.
Both of these ideas, economic and racial equity, feature prominently in Roy Beck’s recently published book, Back of the Hiring Line: A 200-Year History of Immigration Surges, Employer Bias, and Depression of Black Wealth. In it, Beck describes how economic opportunities for African Americans, especially those in the working class, have been negatively impacted by waves of immigration through the years.
In an interview, Roy Beck explained how his experiences as a youth gave him a strong belief in the value of economic equity for all Americans. His father owned a dairy and was eventually driven out of business by a bigger competitor. He then went to work driving a wholesale milk truck as a member of the Teamsters union. Beck describes his father as a quintessential member of the World War II generation. “He was a joiner,” Beck explained, “his duty drove everything.”
His father would never shirk his duty, Beck said, whatever it was: whether his role in the Army reserves, the American Legion, the Teamsters Union, etc. For instance, he would lead all the Honor Guards for the military funerals in their hometown. He was also a nationally recognized leader in the Lion’s Club.
As Beck recounts, by the time he was in seventh grade, he would get out of school early to play taps at these funerals. His father also started the recycling process in the town, which resulted in the local recycling center bearing the name, “Warren Beck Memorial Recycling Center.”
“This is the stuff I come by naturally,” Beck said, “this type of patriotism, the sense of duty to community and the realization that there is an environmental side to all of that.”
Another influence from his upbringing is his love for journalism. His grandfather was a self-taught farmer whose big claim to fame, according to Beck, was writing a column for the weekly county newspaper for over thirty years. His determination to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a journalist took him to the University of Missouri school of Journalism.
Beck describes how all his influences came together in a way that would eventually contribute to the founding of NumbersUSA, the largest grassroots organization focused on immigration reduction in the U.S., with more than eight million participants including conservatives, liberals and moderates.
“Coming from the Ozarks, I’m a populist. I had a dad, who’s both a small business owner and a Teamster and a union man. Then, the World War II generation represented by my grandparents. So, you just tie all that together, and my dad’s environmental work, and I’m there working on the newspapers when the environmental movement is born and exploded.”
After graduating, Beck served a stint in the army, after which he joined a paper in Grand Rapids where he mainly covered environmental and urban issues. Eventually, he took on a role covering major stories all over the country and, at times, internationally. After doing that for a number of years, he took a job covering politics in Washington D.C.
Just before he left that job, the 1990 immigration act was passed. “I covered that law, and after everything I’d done on environmental and on economic justice issues, I thought, quadrupling immigration from what it was before 1965, this is really undercutting all the efforts on the environment and economic justice issues.” Beck didn’t see anybody doing much about the issue, and this, along with the results of two major national commissions, led to the founding of NumbersUSA.
One of the commissions which helped inspire Beck to start NumbersUSA was a bipartisan congressional commission chaired by former Rep. Barbara Jordan, while the other was a commission created under presidential authority and chaired by former Senator Tim Wirth. Both commissions found that reducing immigration numbers towards their historical average was in the best interest of the United States and its authorized residents.