The decades immediately following World War II were prosperous but filled with great inequalities. Many social change movements, including the War on Poverty, attempted to eliminate these inequalities. Yet, programs as large and far reaching as these required many changes to the society itself. President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Julius Richmond, director of Head Start, agreed that certain societal factors were necessary before social change could occur. Johnson felt that these conditions were "a recognition of need, a willingness to act, and someone to lead the effort" (Johnson The Vantage Point 70). The widespread existence of poverty in Post World War II America's affluence helped America recognize the need that existed among its poor. Books such as John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society, Harry Caudill Night Comes to the Cumberlands, and the most influential of all, Michael Harrington's The Other America showed the affluent society the existence and the need of their poor counterparts. Many changes had to occur before the American people were willing to help the poor. These changes began in the 1930s with the programs of the New Deal. The acceptance of the concept of structural poverty, poverty that was intertwined within the system and not the fault of the individual, increased the public's willingness to help the underprivileged. The inequalities brought to light by the Civil Rights movement raised social consciousness about many oppressed groups, including the poor. Finally, President John F. Kennedy's assassination touched the hearts of the American people and made them more willing to help their fellows. Lyndon Johnson saw himself in the role of strong leader, his final requirement. He felt that his poor background and work with poverty-stricken children helped qualify him for this task. His work with the National Youth Administration also prepared him to fight poverty. Gallup polls showed that before the War on Poverty began many people favored fighting poverty over balancing the budget (Schwarz 159). As the programs expanded, support for them grew. Statistics show that these programs significantly reduced poverty in America.
Advisor(s) or Committee Chair
Dr. Charles Bussey
Politics and Social Change
Davis, Julie, "Prelude to the Great Society: Cultural Change in the 20th Century America" (1994). Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects. Paper 78.