Fifty years ago President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Sargent Shriver to lead his “War on Poverty.” Sarge understood the scope of this ambitious undertaking. He explained that “if the War on Poverty means anything, it is a statement that we must look, not just to the poor–but to the whole cloth too–and even to the loom. The whole fabric of our society must be rewoven, and the patterns we must weave are patterns of justice, opportunity, dignity, and mutual respect.”
In 1964, Americans had a powerful can-do spirit about what could be accomplished through a collective national effort. They had seen the country conduct major public works projects to provide employment during the Depression, bring electricity to the countryside, win a world war, rebuild Europe, confront the Soviet threat, and commit to an effort to reach the moon. Revelations about Appalachian and inner-city poverty had shocked a self-satisfied country lulled by the 1950s-era image of suburban prosperity.