Did we "win" the War on Poverty?

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring what would come to be known as the War on Poverty. In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson outlined a number of ideas that were meant to level the playing field for Americans. Many of the programs created or enhanced by the Johnson Administration are still in action, including Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare, and Medicaid. While poverty today is very different from the poverty of fifty years ago, the fact remains that a significant number of Americans face some economic threat to their livelihoods.

On Tuesday, April 28, 1–2 p.m. EDT, we will host the National Youth Summit: The War on Poverty, a live webcast discussing the history and current state of the War on Poverty and its related initiatives. During my museum internship, I’ve been lucky enough to work on this project since the beginning, and I'm beyond excited to see it come to life.

Logo image for the National Youth Summit: War on Povery, featuring Pres. Johnson shaking a man's hand

A number of local experts on poverty and the economy will join us for the discussion. We will begin the program with history professor Marcia Chatelain and law professor Peter Edelman, both of Georgetown University. They'll share insights on the history of the War on Poverty and discuss President Johnson's and other legislators' intentions behind the laws. I'm especially excited about this part, because not only am I really into presidential history, but Johnson is my favorite American president. I've always thought of him as one of the most sincere and compassionate presidents—I admit I even wrote a poem about him when I was an undergraduate. Just consider these words from a speech he gave in Cumberland, Maryland, in 1964:

"I have come here today to ask for your heart and your hand, to ask you to join us in a similar cause. Help us to build a better land. Help us to build a greater society. Help us to open wide the doors of opportunity and invite all to come in, for when we have done this, it will one day be said of America that she was a burning and shining light in man's journey on earth."


At the Summit on Tuesday, we'll also hear from policy experts Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Center for American Progress' Half in Ten, and Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, about ways that poverty is still present in the United States and what ordinary Americans can do about it. Students and teachers from across the country can log on to watch the conversation and ask their own questions through a chat feature on our website.

Earlier this week, in preparation for the Summit, I got a sneak peek at some of the museum's objects that are related to the history of the War on Poverty. Harry Rubenstein, curator and chair of the Division of Political History, showed us objects that illustrate how Americans, both in government and as private citizens, have worked for equal rights. We saw copies of posters outlining Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, and Harry discussed how Johnson's Great Society was an outgrowth of the New Deal. We saw campaign literature from Johnson marking his commitment to the War on Poverty, as well as opposition to his work in the form of an anti-Johnson comic book. Harry will share other objects from the collection on Tuesday afternoon, so be sure to tune in to see more.

Pres. Johnson dressed in super hero outfit with cape, pointing at earth, text says "Great Society"

The webcast will also be archived on our website afterwards, but wouldn't it be way more fun to watch live? To see the action as it unfolds, be sure to join us on Tuesday, April 28, starting at 1 p.m.. You can watch and listen here as well as send in your own questions. Please register for the event so that your participation in this important conversation is counted!

White pennant flag with photograph of Johnson

Stephanie Maguire is an intern in the Office of Programs and Strategic Initiatives. She recommends this episode of our Founding Fragments video series to learn more about political comic books.