January 8, 1964: President Johnson Declares War on Poverty

Jan 8, 2019

The resulting initiative featured a wide range of programs, including training for unemployed coal miners to learn new skills. Most controversially, it provided funding to community action groups, many of which failed to accomplish their objectives.
Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson called on Congress to declare an “unconditional war on poverty.” Combatting poverty had been a big thrust of John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960. Johnson introduced the War on Poverty legislation less than seven weeks after his predecessor’s assassination.

The resulting initiative featured a wide range of programs, including training for unemployed coal miners to learn new skills. Most controversially, it provided funding to community action groups, many of which failed to accomplish their objectives. But some were more successful and ran into resistance because of it. For instance, community organizers in Mingo County and other parts of southern West Virginia fought to clean up their local governments. In the process, they drew the wrath of powerful politicians.

Overall, the War on Poverty failed to achieve its lofty goals. By 1965, political opposition and the escalating Vietnam War were cutting into program budgets. Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, dismantled the agency overseeing the effort. However, many of the programs continued under other agencies. Many of these still exist today, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Job Corps, Head Start, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.