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Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty has long been portrayed as the most potent symbol of all that is wrong with big government. Conservatives deride the War on Poverty for corruption and the creation of “poverty pimps,” and even liberals carefully distance themselves from it. Examining the long War on Poverty from the 1960s onward, this book makes a controversial argument that the programs were in many ways a success, reducing poverty rates and weaving a social safety net that has proven as enduring as programs that came out of the New Deal.

The War on Poverty also transformed American politics from the grass roots up, mobilizing poor people across the nation. Blacks in crumbling cities, rural whites in Appalachia, Cherokees in Oklahoma, Puerto Ricans in the Bronx, migrant Mexican farmworkers, and Chinese immigrants from New York to California built social programs based on Johnson’s vision of a greater, more just society. Contributors to this volume chronicle these vibrant and largely unknown histories while not shying away from the flaws and failings of the movement—including inadequate funding, co-optation by local political elites, and blindness to the reality that mothers and their children made up most of the poor.

In the twenty-first century, when one in seven Americans receives food stamps and community health centers are the largest primary care system in the nation, the War on Poverty is as relevant as ever. This book helps us to understand the turbulent era out of which it emerged and why it remains so controversial to this day.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780820331010
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Annelise Orleck (Editor)
ANNELISE ORLECK is a professor of history at Dartmouth College. She is the author or editor of four previous books including Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty.

Lisa Gayle Hazirjian (Editor)
LISA GAYLE HAZIRJIAN is an activist and independent scholar.

Table of Contents


Annelise Orleck
Introduction: The War on Poverty from the Grass Roots Up

Part I. Battles over Community Action

Guian A. McKee
"This Government Is with Us": Lyndon Johnson and the Grassroots War on Poverty

Rhonda Y. Williams
"To Challenge the Status Quo by Any Means": Community Action and Representational Politics in 1960s Baltimore

Wesley G. Phelps
Ideological Diversity and the Implementation of the War on Poverty in Houston

Marc S. Rodriguez
Defining the Space of Participation in a Northern City: Tejanos and the War on Poverty in Milwaukee

Part II. Poor Mothers and the War on Poverty

Laurie B. Green
Saving Babies in Memphis: The Politics of Race, Health, and Hunger during the War on Poverty

Christina Greene
"Someday . . . the Colored and White Will Stand Together": The War on Poverty, Black Power Politics, and Southern Women's Interracial Alliances

Adina Back
"Parent Power": Evelina López Antonetty, the United Bronx Parents, and the War on Poverty

Robert Bauman
Gender, Civil Rights Activism, and the War on Poverty in Los Angeles

Part III. The War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Movement, and Southern Politics

Kent B. Germany
Poverty Wars in the Louisiana Delta: White Resistance, Black Power, and the Poorest Place in America

Greta de Jong
Plantation Politics: The Tufts-Delta Health Center and Intraracial Class Conflict in Mississippi, 1965-1972

Amy Jordan
Fighting for the Child Development Group of Mississippi: Poor People, Local Politics, and the Complicated Legacy of Head Start

Susan Youngblood Ashmore
Going Back to Selma: Organizing for Change in Dallas County after the March to Montgomery

William Clayson
The War on Poverty and the Chicano Movement in Texas: Confronting "Tio Tomás" and the "Gringo Pseudoliberals"

Part IV. What Do They Really Mean by Community Development?

Thomas Kiffmeyer
Looking Back to the City in the Hills: The Council of the Southern Mountains and a Longer View of the War on Poverty in the Appalachian South, 1913-1970

Daniel M. Cobb
The War on Poverty in Mississippi and Oklahoma: Beyond Black and White

Karen M. Tani
The House That "Equality" Built: The Asian American Movement and the Legacy of Community Action

Annelise Orleck
Conclusion: The War on the War on Poverty and American Politics since the 1960s



What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Makes an extremely significant intervention into several literatures—on social movements, on domestic policy, and on local government and power structures. It shares both a strong point of view and a clear commitment not to oversimplify or romanticize the grassroots activism it depicts, and this combination makes it convincing and, at times, gripping. The fact that the book treats civil rights activism among Mexican Americans, Indians, and Asian Americans is particularly attractive."—Linda Gordon, winner of the Bancroft Prize for Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

"The essays in this exciting collection bring to life the War on Poverty at the grassroots, where it was really fought. They emphasize the interpenetration of the poverty war and civil rights movement and highlight the energy unleashed by the commitment to the 'maximum feasible participation' of the poor. Annelise Orleck’s introduction provides one of the best overviews of the War on Poverty ever written, and her stunning conclusion offers a measured, reasoned defense of the program’s achievements and legacy—a message needed now more than ever."—Michael B. Katz, University of Pennsylvania

“Contributors to the volume chronicle vibrant and largely unknown histories while not shying away from the flaws and failings of the movement. . . .This book helps readers to understand the turbulent era out of which it emerged and why it remains so controversial to this day.”—Bob Edmonds, McCormick Messenger

The War on Poverty: A New Grassroots History, 1964-1980 offers a powerful collection key to any social issues collection and covers poverty and civil rights battles at the grassroots level. . .provides a powerful survey of the movement Johnson began. Very highly recommended!”—Midwest Book Review

“[A]s these essays collectively argue that the War on Poverty was more successful than historians—and certainly most Americans—have commonly recognized, [The War on Poverty] makes a valuable and insightful contribution.”—Sean P. Cunningham, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

[The War on Poverty] is history, not economic or political theory, and its power comes from its empirical approach . . . The stories contained in this volume of how its battles have been lost and won can help us see how it might be fought more successfully in the future.”—Duncan Richter, Studies in American Culture

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