President Johnson announced America’s “unconditional war on poverty” on January 8th, 1964, but he didn’t name Sargent Shriver as the Director of that effort until February 1st. In fact, the announcement came as a surprise to Sarge, because for virtually the entire month of January, he had been engaged in a round-the-world trip at the behest of LBJ.
On January 3, Shriver had set off to the Middle East and Asia, conducting Peace Corps business but also carrying messages from the new President to Pope Paul VI and heads of state in Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Thailand. Shriver returned on January 31, and on the following day, he was playing ball outside with three of his children – Bobby, Maria, and Tim – when he received a phone call from the President.
This is the tape of that phone call, and it is fascinating to listen in on this historic moment.
Sarge was reluctant to accept the post; LBJ refused to take “no” for an answer. The personalities of both men are on display in the exchange, and the mettle of Sargent Shriver is evident in the way he embraced the yoke of service LBJ placed upon his shoulders. Three days later, on February 4th, Sarge began working night and day to pull together a team of experts and advisors to help him brainstorm the programs and policies that would be required to launch and win a war on poverty.