Address to the United Church Women

"Without that sense of community, Job Corps can only be a small and beleagured outpost in a world where most of the poor find little compassion or love. With that sense of community, Job Corps will be only one of many sanctuaries where men and women come together to discover the true meaning of society and of themselves."
New York City • February 28, 1966

On Christmas Eve the Governor of Arkansas issued a press release and sent me a copy. This is how the release started off:

“The Federal Government’s ‘War on Poverty’ program, working in partnership with state government, has had about the same effect as a ‘blue chip’ industry coming into the state during the past year.”

Eight months before his release I had been invited to speak to a joint session of the Arkansas Legislature. That was March 8, 1965. I was the first federal official ever invited to address the legislature. After I spoke there, some people said I might well be the last.

But the important event -- the really important event -- took place two days before. I visited. In Little Rock, I spoke on a Monday – but on the Saturday before, Mrs. Faubus had a tea in the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock. You may remember that mansion -- its picture was on the first page of virtually every paper in the world back in 1957. But that Saturday, up the steps of that mansion, one by one, came black and white together -- Negroes and whites -- Negro Civil Rights leaders and white segregationists. And together they had tea in the Governor’s Mansion. Such a meeting had never before occurred in Arkansas history.

A few weeks after that, Governor Faubus dedicated the first Job Corps center in Arkansas -- and one of the first in the nation. Speaking to his racially integrated audience, Governor Faubus extolled the Job Corps and asked us to open more. So when Governor Faubus said that the poverty program in Arkansas was as good as getting a blue chip firm with a triple A credit rating, he was talking about more than dollars.

He was talking about more than the economic health of his State.

He was talking about the social health and the spiritual health of Arkansas. We’ve pumped more than 25 million dollars into Arkansas -and over two billion into programs across the nation. But some of the most important victories we’ve won can’t be measured in dollars.

Take the religious issue -- the church-state issue.

Just three or four years ago, it was practically impossible for a federal agency to give a direct, grant to a religious group.

People said there was that “wall between Church and State.” But we said that wall was put there to keep government out of the pulpit, not to keep the clergy away from the poor! That wall protects belief, and even disbelief! It does not exclude compassion, poverty, suffering, injustice. That is common territory -- not exclusively yours, or mine -but everybody’s! With no wall between! And so we said, “Reverend Mr. Jones, or Father Kelly or Rabbi Hirsh,” if you’re not afraid to be seen in our company, we’re not afraid to be seen in yours, because we are all about our father’s business!

So -- as of today -- we have given hundreds of grants to religious institutions or religiously affiliated organizations to run poverty programs without violating the principle of separation of Church and State.

In doing so we’re fulfilling the mandate of Congress -- expressed in the law establishing our CEO -- to mobilize “all the resources of the nation.” And all denominations are working together. In San Antonio, Texas, a Jewish synagogue rented a hall to a Lutheran church group to conduct pre-school classes for kids from a predominantly Catholic area! And the United Church Women are to be congratulated for their pioneering efforts with the: National Council of Jewish Women, the National Council of Catholic Women, and the National Council of Negro Women to work not as four organizations but as one -- for a common goal. WICS, with its 27 million members, has handled the application of each of the 50,000 girls who has applied thus far, screened 2,500 of them, and done everything imaginable for the 1,500 girls presently in the Women’s Job Corps. As if that were not enough, you all, as part of WICS, are now beginning a broader program in conjunction with the Community Action Program. And all so naturally, it hardly even seems historic.

Take the race issue -- in mid-September Martin Luther King, Sr., came to our office in Washington along with other members of the local Community Action Program -- white and black. The mayor of Atlanta, Ivan Allen, was there. A press briefing was scheduled for 4 p.m. As the hour approached, the biggest press assembly we ever had was milling around -- waiting to see whether “it” would really happen, and “it” did. Elevator doors opened and out stepped Herman Talmadge and Richard Russel of Georgia to shake hands and have their picture taken with Negro leadership. White and black had joined hands in the War Against Poverty.

That has never happened before in the history of this country. And Senator Richard Russell had never come to the Executive Branch to announce any grant in all his years in Congress.

Take the birth control issue. Eighteen months ago practically no public official could discuss it in public. Today, our agency, OEO, is the first agency in the history of the Federal Government to give public money directly to private agencies for family planning purposes. We’ve been doing it for a year. We’re still the only one. We’ve been reproached by some religious organizations for doing it at all, and we have been criticized for the careful and precise criteria we established to prevent abuse. So far we appear to have done it in a way which avoided arousing the sensitivities or religious convictions, in such a way as to block the program altogether.

Let’s turn for a second, to that hot political issue -- the Governor’s veto. As of midnight last night the 5.0 different governors had been standing behind us for 18 months calling “safe or out.” They’ve had over 8,000 chances to say “no.” And only five times have they used their veto.

And I did some figuring -- some long-division -- on the plane coming here. And I figured the percentage and suddenly realized: We’re purer than Ivory soap.

These aren’t dollar achievements, but two years ago, no one could have bought them with the entire federal budget!

And there are other divisions -- deep spiritual divisions -- which are slowly healing. That’s what the issue called involvement of the poor is really all about.

Many poor people feel that nobody cares about them or understands them - that nobody really wants to help them or values their opinion. And some of them think this whole War on Poverty is just a farce, sop, something to keep them quiet.

And so they withdraw – in isolation, defeat, and in bitterness. And there Are others who charge that involvement of the poor means class warfare -- they say we want the poor to fight City Hall or the county or the governor!

None of these ideas is true.

We believe that involvement of the poor is our way, and Congress’ way, of saying that the poor are not second class citizens. The poor have aright, a human and a civil right, to participate in shaping their own destiny.

We believe that to listen to criticism, and to respond to the needs of the people, especially the poor and the helpless, is the heart of democracy -- not to listen undermines democracy.

We won’t penetrate the wall of isolation and frustration unless we are willing to listen to statements like this one, given to us by Robert Coles about a 15-year old Boston boy -- from the Boston ghetto – with a history, of delinquency and poor language, but very bright. He was “discovered” by a Harvard student who was tutoring him. Listen to this boy:

“My father, he tried, and he tried. My mother, she tried, too. My father, he would put his head on the kitchen table and he would cry, all six foot three of him would cry. And my mother would tell him to stop, and say it wasn’t his fault; and we would stay alive somehow. But my brothers and I. we knew she wasn’t so sure. She tried to make it easy for us by lying, but we knew.”

Those are the voices we’re listening to. And we’re hearing the poor speak out, often for the first time, from every part of the country.

Three months ago, I was down at the bottom of Cataract Canyon -- that’s right next to the Grand Canyon. Two thousand feet down, that’s where the Havasupai Indians live. They have lived in this deep canyon since before the white man came to America. And they talk about us, the people who live on the surface, as the people on top. When I went down to the bottom of that canyon, do you know what those Indians wanted to know more than anything else? Could they have their own bank account and draw checks on that account themselves? All their lives they had been required to go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ask permission to use their own money. They were treated as children by the Great White Father who knew best. But now they have that bank account. They made their first withdrawal on November 22, 1965, from the first Navajo bank in Kingman, Arizona. And I predict they’ll soon learn to get just, as much in debt as the rest of us.

We are involving the poor in every aspect of the program

  • By seeing that they are represented on the Boards of these programs,
  • By providing jobs for the poor in the administration of the program,
  • By education and training for greater opportunity.

Some people have called this a social revolution. If it is a revolution, it’s not a revolution in the old sense -- like the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution -- class warfare spawned by hatred, blood shed and barricades in the streets. The head of a small neighborhood settlement house in Washington put it this way:

He said, “This revolution is too good to waste only on people who hate.”

The people of good will in our country are the ones who are making this revolution work. And it is working. Adam Clayton Powell; after all his investigating work, said yesterday that it “has been going quite well all things considered”...and that “The Office of Economic Opportunity comes out smelling not of scandals but of the sweet smell of success.”

Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself when I repeat these facts to make sure I’m not dreaming. It reminds me of the story of the fellow who sold bonds for Israel. He was the best bond salesman in the whole country, and each, year he won the prize and finally they said this fellow is so good at selling these bonds and describing what is going on in Israel and so on, and selling bonds, that we are going to have to give him a trip to Israel. So he went over to Israel and he saw all the trees that had been planted in Israel, all the hospitals that had been built, the roads that had been constructed and the irrigation that’s gone on, and he looked around there and his eyes grew as wide as saucers, and he said to his companion, “My God, all those lies I’ve been telling all these years are true.”

These victories in our War vs. Poverty -- these “spiritual” or psychological victories -- should not dim our eyes, or minimize the specific, measurable victories.

We’ve been in business only fifteen months! What concrete results? :


  • No one was in the Job Corps -- Today over 20,000 boys have been touched.
  • No one was in Head Start -- Today 109,000 are in the program and ¾ million will have benefitted this year.
  • There were 10,000 in the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Today there are 257,000 and it will be 1/2 million this year.
  • No one was in VISTA -- Today there are 2,500 volunteers.
  • No one was in the Migrant Program -- Today there are 150,000.
  • No one was in “Upward Bound” -- Today there are 3,500 -- Soon there will be 30,000.
  • No one was in “Work-Experience” -- Today there are 25,000 -- This year here will be 130,000.
  • No one was in the Rural Loan Program -- Today there are 20,000 families -This year there will be 100,000 persons.

I could go on and on -- Foster Grandparents, 15,000 Americans on CAP Boards.

But we still have huge, “un-met needs”. We still have a backlog of requests for Job Corps, Head Start, Neighborhood Youth Corps, Legal Services, Health Services, VISTA, and Migrant Services.

The actual dollar needs of the poor come to $11.5 billion.

These unmet needs rare dramatically illustrated by our experience with the Women’s Job Corps.

Starting this program involved all the ordinary problems:

  • Skepticism from experts
  • No facilities -- no faculty
  • No trained personnel
  • No American experience like CCC camps for young men

We had orders from Congress and admonitions, too, implicit or explicit -like these:

Design an institution for young women to equip that woman to be a wage earner, a wife, and, a mother, because to eliminate poverty, we have to strengthen family life, prevent marriage breakups and improve the quality of child-rearing!

But make sure that in teaching that young girl how to be a better wife and mother you don’t teach anything about sex or family planning that would offend anybody.

Don’t forget that girls from 16 through 21 have a wider range of maturity, than the same group of boys, make sure that you have a wider range of programs for the girls than you plan for boys.

Don’t forget, too, that during the military days, we found out that women refuse to be quartered in huge barracks and military installations. So remember, these girls have the kind of surroundings, the privacy, the facilities they need to feel secure and feminine. But don’t build anything critics could call “country club.”

Don’t forget that girls need recreation, the same as boys -- but remember that girls won’t wear themselves out swimming and playing basketball, because that will ruin their hairdos. Don’t forget that girls need to date, but remember to make, sure that no girl is accused of going out with “the wrong kind of boy.”

Don’t forget to provide the girls with decent clothes, make them employable and teach them housekeeping, family health and safety, clothing and fabric maintenance, consumer education, child development, sewing and cooking and family life -- but remember don’t provide any “frills”!

Don’t forget to provide the extra counselling and supportive services a girl needs to deal with her anxieties and fears about medical examinations, clothes, pregnancy, home, boys. Don’t forget to have the extra staff to deal with the complaints over little things that your deans of women’s colleges say characterize girls’ dormitories. But remember - keep the costs down!

And by the way, we want this whole new system of education to be operating full blast tomorrow!

Obviously we have not done all of these things. Perhaps not even half of them. But we have 1,528 young women in 6 centers and contracts have been signed for 4 more centers. By June 30, 1967, we expect to have 11 centers in operation with a total capacity for 6,300 women. Still not enough. What else can be done?

WICS has already made a beginning on some experiments outside the Job Corps which have the potentiality of reaching many more thousands than we’ll ever be able to help within the Job Corps. For girls waiting to join Job Corps -- and some who have not even applied, WICS has inaugurated:

  • The Post-Partum Aide Program
  • The special dropout reading and arithmetic program
  • Special cultural tours
  • Clubs for Job Corps applicants
  • Nursery school and day care positions
  • Special sewing, cooking nutrition programs
  • Charm courses, recreation programs, private counselling

WICS has done, them in various, different cities. But put them all together in one community, you’d reach thousands.

Plato once wrote that “society was the individual writ large.” Well, the community you live in. is a set of relationships -- and this city, your community, could be “Job Corps” writ large! Warmth, compassion, reaching out, understanding, special opportunities -- those are not impossible, even in a giant metropolis. The Job Corps ideal could become the heart of a new city and a new society.

That’s the challenge of Job Corps -- and of the entire War on Poverty. Not to help some youngsters in centers -- and a few waiting in line -- but to create a Job Corps attitude and ideal that embraces every youngster in need. We have part of the basis in our Neighborhood Youth Corps -- and in Upward Bound. But if you come in with a project to setup a special program -- like the six weeks intensive training they give in the reserve -- followed by regular, periodic, and frequent “drill” sessions -- we’ll fund it. And in no time, our army of poverty fighters will be swollen to many times that are now in the Job Corps centers.

And so today I call on you -- on every person in this audience -- and on the United Church Women:

  • To help in the creation of an auxiliary.
  • To duplicate the relationships and experiences we are creating and refining in Job Corps.
  • To restructure society so that the laboratory world of each Job Corps center becomes a model for your community -- a community that is tightly-knit and warm and compassionate -a community where the “other America” is welcome, not excluded.

Without that sense of community, Job Corps can only be a small and beleagured outpost in a world where most of the poor find little compassion or love. With that sense of community, Job Corps will be only one of many sanctuaries where men and women come together to discover the true meaning of society and of themselves.

The poet T. S. Elliot put the choice and the challenge this way:

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads, And no man knows or cares who; is his neighbour Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance, But all dash to and fro in motor cars. Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere. Nor does the family even move about together, But every son would have his motor cycle, And daughters ride away on casual pillions. Though you have shelters and institutions, Precarious lodgings while the rent is paid, Subsiding basements where the rat breeds Or sanitary dwellings with numbered doors Or a house a little better than your neighbours; When the stranger says: What is the meaning of this city? Do you huddle close together because you love one another? What will you answer? “We all dwell together to Make money from each other”? Or, “This is a community.”

Can we answer: This is a community? Because that’s what community action means.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox