Region Reflects On 50 Anniversary Of LBJ’s ‘War On Poverty’

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President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Athens in May of 1964 marked the beginning of his revolutionary War on Poverty and Great Society campaigns that changed America forever. Fifty years later, a unique partnership between campus and community will allow Ohio University and the Southeastern Ohio region to reflect upon his visit, and its impact on an area that the president identified as the impoverished Appalachian Region during his term.

On April 3-4 a commemorative gathering titled “A Region Reflects: The 50th Anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty Speech” will be centered in Athens while also visiting the surrounding countryside. The event will allow residents of the region, students, faculty and visiting history and social movement buffs to take stock of the many programs that were instituted following Johnson’s historic speech and that now ingrained in American society.

The roots of the event can be attributed to Ohio University Patton College of Education professor Frans Doppen, a native of the Netherlands, who has become a student of southeastern Ohio history since joining the faculty at OU in 1994. On a casual drive into the coal mining communities that surround the OU campus, he met up with a group of local historians who were using their history as an asset for community redevelopment. Since then he has connected hundreds of students preparing to become Social Studies educators with the region’s provocative boom-to-bust coal mining story.

The gathering will begin on April 3 with a guided bus tour into the Little Cities of the Black Diamonds region where participants will visit a Head Start program, an acid mine drainage clean up site in the Monday Creek watershed, and various historic sites. At lunch, guests will hear Patton College Cultural Studies instructor Michael Hess question the “Appalachian” label as a way to label people in a particular part of America as different and less than able.

That evening, the event’s opening session will feature music of the region from Adam Remnant and a visit from distinguished OU Scripps School of Journalism alum Sid Davis. Davis was one of three journalists on the plane when Johnson was sworn in to office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He also traveled with Johnson into Appalachia during his highly documented visits in 1964, including his speech in Athens on May 7.

On April 4, Ronald Eller, a University of Kentucky historian and author of “Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945,” will address participants. Eller has extensively studied the quality of life in the region, with particular emphasis on the successes and failures of LBJ’s poverty-fighting programs. Following Eller, a lineup of regional leaders will share their observations and join with participants to look to the future of the region around eight different themes: fighting poverty, economic development, public education, environment and extraction, cultural heritage and the arts, higher education, innovation, and health and wellness. At the end of the day, input into each of these themes will be shared. Conference organizers will use the proceedings from the conference as a resource for further activity on campus and in the region.

All events during the gathering are free and open to the public. For a complete schedule or to register online for any portion of the event, visit