The unlikely partnership of Joe and Charlie was all the result of McQuany’s tenuous beginnings in AA. Joe had been studying the book since 1962 when he first got sober. Since he was an African-American man living in Little Rock, Arkansas during that time, he was only allowed to stand in the back of meetings and had to leave as soon as they were over. He couldn’t participate in fellowship. So he got into the book.
After a few years, someone told him about a fellow Southerner who was equally enthusiastic about the Big Book: Charlie. He thought they were referring to another African-American man in the program, but he came to find that though Charlie was a different color, they both shared a love for the book. The two men began meeting to study the book and, over time, people started getting wind of what they were doing. Someone started taping them and by 1974, those tapes started to spread. It just blossomed from there.”
What fueled Joe and Charlie’s passion for spreading their interpretation of the book was a belief that a lot of people had a lot of misconceptions about AA and didn’t understand the difference between the fellowship and the program—which comes out of the book. When the federal government came in during the early 70’s to start spending money on rehabilitation services, treatment centers and the American Medical Association and the insurance companies and social workers got involved, bringing their own language and ideas into how people should work the program. Joe and Charlie continued to present the un-watered down version of AA—as it was outlined in the book.
One of the organizers for a recent AA conference said that AA quietly considers Joe and Charlie to have had the most significant impact on AA in the last 30 years.