Community Members And Experts Reflect On Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War On Poverty’

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It has been 50 years since Lyndon B. Johnson announced the "War On Poverty." On May 7, 1964, he envisioned his idea of a "Great Society" at the Ohio University campus.

An Ohio University alumnus was traveling with the President as a White House Correspondent. Sid Davis graduated from OU in 1952, 12 years later he came back to cover Johnson's speech.

Before they flew into Athens, Davis read a copy of the speech and he was wondering: Who would care about poor coal miners in southeastern Ohio? But Johnson would make people care, and Davis remembered the speech. He explained that Johnson had seen poverty when he was working as a teacher in Texas. Later, as President, that experience made him take the issue seriously.

Having the vision of a "Great Society," Lyndon B. Johnson implemented programs to strengthen the local economy and to support low income families with getting education and healthcare. With Head Start, Medicaid and Medicare, he found lasting programs.

Davis thinks LBJ's campaign was successful:

"There are millions of Americans today who have education, are in better health and have jobs because of Lyndon Johnson and the War On Poverty."

Conference: A Region Reflects

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Johnson's visit in Athens, community members and experts discussed the impact of the War On Poverty in the area. On a tow-days conference called "A Region Reflects" participants had the chance to listen to speakers and to join thematic sessions about poverty, health and education.

The conference also included a bus tour to old coal mining towns, so called 'boom-to-bust towns,' in the former Hocking Vally Coalfield. John Winnenberg organized the tour, which included stops in Rendville, Shawnee and New Straitsville. He has been trying to improve the quality of people's lives in the region for almost 25 years. 

For him there is not one simple answer to the question about whether or not the War On Poverty has been successful. There would be too many different stories and projects.

"Our goal was to serve up as many examples of the way things were done in the early War On Poverty, the way things are now and give people an opportunity to make their own conclusions," Winnenberg said of the tour's purpose.

The War continues

One of these examples was the Corning-Monroe Civic Center, which includes a food pantry and a head start center. The center was founded in the 1960s. Four decades later, more than 200 employees and volunteers at the center provide food to low income families and comprehensive services to their preschool children.

Executive Director Doug Stanley said there would be still a lot of poverty in the region.

"But through all these different initiatives over these 50 years we have improved the lifes of countless low income, poor people," he said.

Telling these regional stories related to poverty has helped participants to understand LJB's War On Poverty in the region. For the Nelsonville native Sue Maxwell it was very informatory.

"It kind of passed me by when I was a younger and I didn't think about these things," she said.

Participant Hunt Brown explained that he would have been doing research on the War On Poverty for several years. "But today's speakers have really open my eyes to many things I didn't know," he said.

Interview with Sid Davis:

Watch the full interview with Sid Davis.

Part 1: Get to know how Davis became White House Correspondent and which stories he can tell from covering John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Part 2: Listen to Davis' view on Johnson's War On Poverty. Who was Lyndon B. Johnson and how did he 'sell' the War On Poverty to the nation?

Part 3: How did Davis experience LBJ's speech at Ohio University? What does he think about the speech's impact?