Smithsonian Examines the Legacy of the War on Poverty

National Museum of American History Convenes National Youth Summit April 28
March 31, 2015

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will convene a National Youth Summit April 28 at 1 p.m. EDT to link high school students across the country in an engaging live webcast on the history and legacy of the War on Poverty. Participants can visit for more information and to register.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “all-out war on human poverty,” pledging “the most federal support in history for education, for health, for retraining the unemployed and for helping the economically and physically handicapped.” Yet in September 2014, the Census Bureau reported that 14.5 percent of Americans live below the poverty line. The National Youth Summit will help students to consider such questions as: How do we assess the legacy of the War on Poverty? Do we need a new War on Poverty? What can and should young people do about this issue?

Participants will consider these questions with a panel of experts, including Peter Edelman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University, faculty director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality and a former aide to Robert Kennedy; Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history at Georgetown University and creator of the #fergusonsyllabus Twitter discussion on teaching history and contemporary events; Melissa Boteach, vice president of Half in Ten and the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress; and Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

“This is such an important ongoing issue,” said Christopher Wilson, director of the museum’s Program in African American Culture. “The mission of the museum is to help people understand the past in order to shape a more humane future. To build that humane future, we need to invite young people to participate and to learn from the past in order to generate new ideas for their generation.”

This program is the fifth in the National Youth Summit series, which regularly draws students from across the country and a variety of countries worldwide. Previous National Youth Summits addressed the 1961 Freedom Rides, the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project (also known as Freedom Summer), the Dust Bowl and contemporary environmental issues, and abolition and modern-day slavery. The National Youth Summit was developed by the National Museum of American History and aligns with the Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening.

Panelists and the audience will explore the history of the War on Poverty and contemporary approaches to addressing poverty and economic inequality. The program will also focus on the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future. Classroom teachers and other participants will receive a conversation kit, designed to provide ideas for leading discussion topics in age-appropriate ways. The project is funded by the Smithsonian’s Youth Access Grants and the Verizon Foundation.

The National Youth Summit on the War on Poverty is presented in collaboration with Smithsonian Affiliations, a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums, and educational and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources. More information is available at Five Smithsonian Affiliate organizations will join to simultaneously host Regional Youth Summits with local poverty activists, scholars and youth. Affiliate Summit sites enable young people from across the country to participate in the conversation originating from the Smithsonian, allowing them to submit questions for the national panel through the webcast’s online chat. 

      Participating museums are:

Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, Michigan)

Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, Ohio)

HistoryMiami (Miami, Florida)

Museum of History and Industry (Seattle, Washington)

Oklahoma History Center (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.