In his 1964 inaugural speech, President Lyndon Johnson first discussed his initiative to wage a "War on Poverty." Throughout his administration, his domestic policy was centered on his commitment to the creation of a "Great Society," which he believed was attainable only through combating poverty and providing civil rights to disenfranchised black Americans. In a speech given at the University of Michigan in May of 1964, Johnson called upon all individuals to dedicate themselves to the eradication of poverty and injustice. He spoke broadly about the goals of the national government: by increasing federal spending for social welfare programs and by promoting opportunity through community action, Americans could begin to better society one city at a time.
At the same time, PAGE, Inc. (Progress and Action by Citizens Efforts), a private, nonprofit organization in St. Louis, was unveiling plans for community action and urban development in East St. Louis, perhaps the poorest and most dilapidated neighborhood located just east of the Mississippi River. Other such initiatives included the Community Renewal Program, a federally funded program that worked locally to research factors contributing to poverty in urban centers in America and sought to enact a set of criteria for effective means of improving city life. They too cited East St. Louis as an example of a city in need of community action and financial support. This paper offers a comparison of local efforts in East St. Louis with the wider aims of Johnson's War on Poverty at the federal level to provide a deeper understanding of the complexity of poverty reform in the 1960's and to examine the ways in which Americans sought the creation of a truly great society.
[...] Thus, engrained in all efforts of urban renewal was an attempt to merge the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights movement into a singular effort to improve the quality of life for black Americans. Lastly, educational reform often coincided with Johnson's War on Poverty and local attempts at urban renewal. Not only did reformers see education as an equalizer in society, but they also viewed education as a breeding ground for the molding of self sufficient young adults. Katz suggested that community action was most effective when administered by the people instead of for the people. [...]
[...] Schwartz and Van Hoefen Architects. PACE Plan for East St. Louis, Illinois.” Five Section News Release Issued at the Illinois Club, Thursday, December Remarks at the University of Michigan, May (as excerpted), Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-64, Vol (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1964) Ibid Katz, Michael B. In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America 10th ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1996) 267. Ibid O'Connor, Alice. [...]
[...] According to Katz, combination of a tight labor market, a shift in white opinion, increased educational attainment, and civil rights legislation did improve blacks' occupational and economic achievements.” Most notably, the proportion of black males in white collar jobs increased drastically during the 1960's, and the median income of black male employees increased comparatively to that of whites. Nevertheless, poverty among black Americans remained high due to increasing numbers of children and the high numbers of single parent households. O'Connor recounted the struggle for black Americans since emancipation when she wrote, initial impact of slavery was compounded by segregation, urbanization, persistent poverty, and, especially, male unemployment rates of catastrophic proportions.” Because of their history of subordination, the War on Poverty had particular implications for black Americans. [...]
[...] Katz, in particular, noted that despite the massive increase in funding for public schools especially those economically deprived areas there was no significant impact in the urban education. Nevertheless, educational reform comprised a noteworthy amount of attention at both the national and local level. In some ways, it is impossible to gauge the success of Johnson's War on Poverty. While many neighborhoods remained severely impoverished and many cities continued without the community action needed to improve living conditions, Johnson indisputably succeeded in vocalizing his wish for change. [...]
[...] By implication, it defined powerlessness as one key source of poverty and created direct links between local activists outside established urban political structures and the federal government.” Even in the event of a failed effort which occurred often with such an arduous task community action programs succeeded in creating the professional reformer, one who dedicates his life to the type of reform Johnson advocated. In this way, many of Johnson's ideals were carried achieved by local efforts across the nation. [...]
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