Address at the Governor's Conference on Community Action Programs

Des Moines, IA | January 21, 1966

Now these achievements don't have anything to do with dollars and you can't measure them very well in terms of economics, because two years ago, you could not have bought these results with the whole Federal Budget. These are samples of the kind of progress that's being made in the War Against Poverty. It's progress between human beings, and that's the kind of progress that counts.

Some of you may know the story about the fellow in 1903, who was down at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when the Wright Brothers wheeled out their airplane. This fellow stood there with the small group watching the flight, or watching the attempt, I should say, and he said to the other guy, "You know, they'll never make it. They've tried everything. For 2,000 years they've tried everything. They've tried feathers; they've tried all kinds of gadgets; and now these fellows are coming along with this new-fangled contraption out there. They're not going to be able to fly. Man has never been able to fly." Then the Wright Brothers rolled the contraption out and Orville got up there behind the motor and they got the thing going and it ran down in the sand. It took off and flew about 600 feet, and then bumped down onto the sand again. That old-timer standing there turned to his friend and said: "See, I told you it wasn't worth the effort; it only went 600 feet."

Well, that's a little bit like the War Against Poverty. It was only two years ago that everybody was standing around, at least down in Washington. They were saying, first of all, there wasn't any poverty; and second, that the contraption that we had rigged up, you might say, to fight poverty wouldn't work. And now, eighteen months later, they are all saying, "Well, it isn't reaching the right people." There's no longer any question about whether it works. It's just a question about miscellaneous subjects, such as: Are you reaching the poor people, or are you wasting a little bit of money here and there? In fact, I remember in the last presidential campaign when the Republican candidate, General Goldwater, said that he was asked a question: "What would happen if the Republicans won? Would they stop the War Against Poverty?" And he said that that probably would happen because he had traveled all around the country and he hadn't seen any poor Americans. In fact, the charge was then made that the War Against Poverty was just an election-year gimmick. It was something that a wheeler-dealer, a Texas politician, had dreamed up to buy the election, and people said that if a person was poor in the United States, it was just because he wanted to be poor, or that they were lazy, they were no good, that if they really wanted to work, they could get a job. Then people said: "Well, these new programs--they're just a rehash; they're just a rehash of old-time New Deal things." They said, "You know what's going to happen -- it's going to be just like that Edsel automobile. We are going to spend a lot of money to produce a new product and nobody's going to buy it."

And other people a year ago, said: "Well, you knew Southern Governors ----- Southern Governors, they're against racial integration. They will never authorize a program in the South which involves racial integration." And other people said: "You know, under this War Against Poverty, they are thinking of giving grants to religious organizations. Well, that will never happen. We all know about separation of church and state. There will be injunction suits all over America. The Federal Government can't give any money to an organization that has religious motivation."

As I repeat these things to you, they sound to me like ancient history even though -it was only fourteen, fifteen months ago, because the record is completely the opposite from -what these charges maintain. It's completely the opposite from these fears which were expressed less than two years ago. Let's take the religious issue--the church-state issue. Just four or five years ago, it was practically impossible for a Federal agency like ours to give any money to a religiously related organization to do anything. But, Congress passed this law and they told us in the law that we had to mobilize all the resources of the community – just the way you do in a military war. They said everybody and every organization has got to be in it. I testify today that our office has financed a thousand---a thousand different efforts, programs, being run by religious organizations and nobody has said anything by way of criticism. There hasn't been a boo out of anybody. In fact, down in San Antonio, Texas, a Jewish synagogue rented a hall to a Lutheran church group to conduct pre-school classes for kids from a Catholic neighborhood.

In working with migrants in our country, which is one of the most impoverished groups in the United States, it's been an extraordinary thing to me to see that in Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan, California, Florida, religious groups have gotten together to organize new programs to help migrants--health programs, educational programs. They've gotten together to do this when, in many of those communities, they've never gotten together to do anything before. In fact, in some places, it is the first time the Protestants and the Catholics ever talked to each other.

There is a new organization called WICS. It means Women in Community Service, and this organization is composed of the four largest women's organizations in America. It is the United Church Women, the National Association of Negro Women, the National Catholic Women, and the National Organization of Jewish Women. Now those four organizations have been in existence in this country for quite awhile--maybe twenty-five, fifty years. They've never done anything together until they, all got together to participate, cooperatively and jointly, in the War Against Poverty. They've done a fantastic job and we have financed them. They've been helping out, for example, with all the girls in Women's Job Corps centers all over this country--Los Angeles, Omaha, St. Petersburg, Charleston, out in Missouri, up in Maine. Thousands of these women have given their time free, at no cost to the taxpayer, to help these young girls who need help. The question of religion has not been successful in separating Americans one from the other when Americans wanted to go to work on a problem like the problem of combating poverty.

The same thing is true on the race issue. I'll never forget as long as I live, how they told me in Washington that the Southern Governors would not okay these programs. So, when, about a year ago, I received an invitation from Arkansas, from Governor Faubus, I looked at it very carefully. This invitation asked me to come to Little Rock to address a joint session of the Arkansas Legislature. I asked a few people around Washington -- "Was this a customary thing?" Then I asked a few people in Arkansas, and I found out that no Federal official had ever been asked to address a joint session of the Legislature in Little Rock, Arkansas. Needless to say, I accepted, and after my speech, somebody told me that I might be the last ever to get that invitation. But the extraordinary thing wasn't really that I was asked to come down and talk. The extraordinary thing wasn't really that I was asked to comedown and talk. The extraordinary thing was this: I talked on a Monday, and the Saturday before I got to Little Rock, Mrs. Faubus had a party-she had a party to get the women of Arkansas together in support of Project Head Start, our program for little kids. And up the steps of the Executive Mansion in Little Rock and into the living room of the Governor's Mansion went these women for tea and coffee and cookies to talk about Head Start and for the first time in the history of Arkansas, black Americans went up those steps and into those rooms and had coffee and tea and. cookies with white Americans in Arkansas--the first time. Mrs. Faubus had broken the color barrier in Little Rock in the same mansion which used to be on the front page of every paper, all over the world as the citadel of Orville Faubus in the segregation – integration fight.

About two or three months later, we opened up a Job Corps Center at Ouachita, Arkansas on the river. There were young Negro Americans and young white Americans at this camp, and who gave the inauguration address? -- Orville Faubus. There are four of these Job Corps Centers in Arkansas, and on Christmas Eve, Orville Faubus put out a press release saying that the War on Poverty was the greatest thing that ever happened to Arkansas. It was like having a blue-chip corporation, he said, come down there, because it had created so many jobs, so much training, and had created a new atmosphere in his state.

I had the most extraordinary experience, I think, of many a Federal official in a long time just a few months ago in Washington. There is a small town called Clarksdale, Mississippi. It has a population of about 20,000 people. It's in the delta country--the black delta, they call it. Sixty-eight per cent of the people in the county are black. They started a Community Action Program and I invited the members of the Committee to come up to Washington because I wanted to see it myself -- I could hardly believe what I read on the piece of paper. Sure enough, up they came and I stood at a podium like this and there was a table out here with seats behind it, and sitting next to me right here was the Vice-President of the bank in Clarksdale – a white man; and next to him was the President of the Mississippi NAACP - a black man, Aaron Henry, a very famous Negro leader; and next to him was the President of the White Citizens Council. I introduced the bank president and when he stood up, he said: "You know, I've lived in Clarksdale, and my family has lived in the Clarksdale area for five generations. We've only got 20,000 people in Clarksdale and Mr. Henry is probably the most famous citizen in our town, but until the War on Poverty started in Clarksdale, I had never spoken a word to Mr. Henry. Mr. Henry got up and said that when the black people in Mississippi started their fight for civil rights, they looked around to see where their white friends were to get help from their white friends, and nobody came forward; but in the War Against Poverty --- for the first time -- the black people and the white people of Mississippi are getting together to wage a common fight against a common enemy -- poverty. Just last week, Mr. Henry came to my office and he gave me a little diploma, and I said: "What's this for?" He said, "Mr. Shriver, on Christmas Eve, we had a party in Clarksdale and I was authorized to bring this certificate of appreciation to you." I said: "Why? What was the party?" He said, "Well, we had a party for the people in the Community Action Program of Clarksdale and, for the first time in the history of our town and our part of the State, Negro Americans joined in a social gathering with white Americans from the same town, and we had a toast on Christmas Eve to the War Against Poverty."

Take the birth control issue. That's another issue everybody said, that was going to split us into a million pieces. Well, our office has financed about twenty Family Planning Centers across the United States. We're the only organization ever to finance even one privately sponsored family planning agency, and so far we have managed to do this without upsetting anybody too much either one way or the other. A year ago, nobody would have given you ten cents for your success in trying an effort like that. And then, a year ago, they were saying: Those Governors -- they're going to be against everything you try. Well, Governor Hughes is typical in that respect. He is very careful about what he okays and what he doesn't okay. We are very pleased that he gives such careful attention to everything that is done. But, as of today, we have started more than 7,000 new programs, new grants, each one of which could be vetoed by a Governor. 7,000--and there have been three vetos. Now, that's almost like Ivory soap -- in fact, we're purer than Ivory soap. I have figured that it is 99.6 thousandths of a per cent.

Now these achievements don't have anything to do with dollars and you can't measure them very well in terms of economics, because two years ago, you could not have bought these results with the whole Federal Budget. These are samples of the kind of progress that's being made in the War Against Poverty. It's progress between human beings, and that's the kind of progress that counts. In fact, when I look back, those old charges are like the man who watched the Wright Brothers take off down at Kitty Hawk. Those fellows have got a whole lot of new doubts and fears and suspicions.

My good friend, Jerry Ford--Congressman Ford from Michigan -- we were in school together -- came out with one a couple nights ago on the former Eve and Charlie show, and Jerry said: "You know, we Republicans, we are very much interested in fighting poverty, too, but the trouble with this program is that the poor people are not getting any help - they are not being reached." Well, last year there weren't any poor people that needed to be reached, but the problem this year is that we are not reaching enough of them. Well, in fact, I could prove to you very easily that we have already reached, in one year, a million and one half poor people. We know them by name, address and I wish I could say phone number, but they don't have phone numbers. We have reached a million and a half poor people directly with a job, with education, with training, and we've reached three and one half million more poor people indirectly.

Let me give you an example. There are 177,000 men, who, last year, had no job and whose children were on Aid to Dependent Children, and they were sitting around the house. This year, they've got jobs and instead of their children being on welfare or ADC, their fathers are making some money, and supporting those families. So for each one of those 177,000 men, you could add the people in the family who have been indirectly affected.

The Job Corps. That's the program where we take youngsters away from the community to a residential center and try and teach them ABC's and a job skill. Those youngsters can send home $25.00 a month if they want to. We pay them $50.00 a month and, if they want to, they can sign $25.00 and send it home. We thought that was worth while encouraging that sense of family solidarity and family responsibility, so we said, if you send $25.00 home, we'll match it--the Federal Government will match it, and we'll send $25.00 home to your mother and father. Well, in the first year, there are about 15,000 youngsters in this program. In the first year these kids sent $2 million home to their parents. Now their parents are poor --desperately poor. The average family income of these families is $1,500 per year. So, when I say average, remember that there are a lot below the average. Now, each one of these youngsters is sending home over a year, $600. If your income -- if all the cash you've got, is $1,500 for the whole year- six hundred new dollars is a lot of money. That's what the kids in the Job Corps are doing. So we are reaching the poor directly and we are reaching many more indirectly.

Another charge which you read in your news papers -- it's easy to make -everybody loves to make it--waste. My goodness, they're wasting our money. Taxpayer's money is getting wasted. It is all being swallowed up by bureaucrats. They're paying those fat salaries down there in Washington. In fact, Shriver's office is in a poverty palace. You laugh, but Walter Cronkite had a fellow on his show a year ago that said that, so I invited him into the palace and he was able to inspect my 39 - cent waste paper basket. And then I added up the total salaries of the twenty top officials of the War Against Poverty in Washington - what they were making now that they are working for the Federal Government and what they were making before they came to the Federal Government or in their previous job. If you added it all up, these twenty men were making $3,719 less per annum than they made a year ago. These were the people who were getting rich down there at the taxpayer's expense.

I have made a computation, after Jerry Ford said that on the television that, of the total amount of money that we have been given for obligation --- if you added up all the money that anybody has made any charge about, proven or unproven, -- if you add it all up --- it adds up to less than one-half of one per cent of all the money that we are authorized to spend. In fact, volunteers in this War Against Poverty have already contributed $124 million in goods and services, which is about a hundred times more than all the money that we are supposed to have wasted.

I added up, for an example, the allegations about the Job Corps. I am sure here in the paper you have heard about riots in Job Corps Centers. You have heard that these kids in Job Corps Centers are fighting with each other. They're shooting each other, they're smoking marijuana, they're corrupt. The girls are all prostitutes or something. I am sure you must have read that. Haven't you? Sure you have. Yes, it's been all over the paper. Well, I added up all the youngsters in the Job Corps. There are 17,000 of them there now. I added them all up to find out how many there were that have ever been involved in anything that attracted any public attention whatsoever. There were less than 250 out of 17,000. That's the extent of the trouble in the Job Corps. And remember that in the Job Corps, we are dealing with youngsters that are out of school, who are out of work, who have come from broken homes, who have never had a chance -- the kids that President Conant of Harvard, sometime ago said, were the social dynamite in American life. Let me say, and I hate to make this analogy, but it's true. Let me say that the total waste, I don't think that's a fair word, but let me use it. The total waste in the War Against Poverty in one year is a lot less than the cost of one B-52 bombing raid from Guam to Viet Nam and back. And when they miss the target, which they sometimes do, they have wasted more money in one day than we've wasted in one year.

It really isn't fair to talk about these things as wasteful, any more than the Texas Oil Company says that they wasted their money when they went out exploring for oil and they dug a well and it was a dry hole, and they went on and dug another one and it: was a dry hole, and then the third one they dug, they struck oil. Those first two were necessary in order to get to the third one. In business, we call that research, exploration, development; -- in politics, the other guys call that waste.

I could go on with dozens of these examples of things that you read, but let me tell you that President Johnson said -- and he's been in Washington for forty years or thereabouts -- that he didn't know of any Federal program since he'd been in Washington that got so many new things going so fast and which reached so many poor people so quickly as this program. In fact, some people think we're going too fast, but I say, if you're poor and you're hungry and you don't have a job, our speed is not too fast for you. The way this program should be judged and the way you should approach it, I think, is on the, basis of what can you do in your communities -- in Council Bluffs, in Cedar Rapids, in Dubuque, in Des Moines, wherever you are from -- from Davenport – I don't want to forget Davenport, from Davenport--what can you do in your community to combat poverty? We're not telling you from Washington what you've got to do. We're trying to tell you that some things have worked in other places, and perhaps you'd like to try them in Des Moines. But it's up to you, the local leaders in each community in Iowa, to come to us with proposals. But we do think that you don't have to start from scratch every time, because we have learned a few things.

For example, take Head Start. Do you know Head Start was launched, it was first presented to the American people on January 19 last year. So it's just a year old, and in one year 761,000 youngsters five-year olds have been in Project Head Start. We think we have enough evidence now to know that that works, and so we suggest you consider that program. We know, for example, that the Job Corps works. When we started that, there was a lot of criticism of it, but five hundred kids have already graduated from the Job Corps. Believe it or not, six of them have gone to college from the Job Corps. I never believed that would happen. I used to say it might, but I really thought that it never will happen. It reminds me of the story of the fellow who sold Jewish bonds for Israel--did you ever hear that story? The fellow sold bonds and he was the best bonds salesman in the whole country. 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, 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 are true."

So, the fact is that the Job Corps, despite any exaggeration I might have made about it -- it's true. It works and it's incredible. For example, of these first 500 kids that got out, thirty-five per cent of them have gone into the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It may surprise you to know-- it did me-- that most of the youngsters or young men in the Job Corps want to get into the armed forces. They can't get in because they don't have the education, or the physical condition, or the mental development to get in. But after nine months or a year in the Job Corps, they can get in. They're just the opposite of the kids who burn their draft cards, or the young fellows who don't want to get into the Army--these fellows all want to get in. The Job Corps is making it possible for them to get in. About twenty per cent of them have gone back to school--the same schools that they dropped out of. But they've got a new attitude about those schools and about fifteen per cent of them have gone and gotten jobs. (fellows who couldn't get a job before.) Now by June, we hope to have 40,00 people in that program. There are about 150 youngsters from Iowa in it right now, but we want to make it bigger, so that the young men and women from this State and from all of our country can participate in this new form of training.

We started some local health centers -- different from the ones that exist usually in the country. You know how the hospitals have gotten! Well, you hardly can get a doctor to come to your home anymore. You have to go down to the hospital, and let me tell you, if you are poor, you can't get a doctor to come. In public housing projects in a place like Boston or New York or Chicago, you cannot get a doctor to come. I am not trying to be critical of doctors -- don't misunderstand me. They have to work or it has been thought that they have to work out of these big hospitals and the patients can get better treatment if they go to the doctor. But these patients, these very poor people – they don't want to go down there -- they're scared, and they don't go. So Tufts University Medical School, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Yale Medical School, Colorado Medical School, and Kentucky Medical School have started to organize neighborhood health centers using our money. And they put the health center -- it's a little bit like an out-patient clinic -- put it right down where the poor people are. This means that the poor people can get out - patient care right where they live. If they need the services of the hospital, then they can be taken down to the hospital, usually by volunteers. Up in Boston, Tufts has been doing this only for a couple of months now, but the doctors themselves are astonished at what they are finding. Just as in Head Start where the doctors were astonished to find the number of children who needed glasses, the number of children who had T.B., the number of children who couldn't hear, so in the slums they are finding out the number of children who need better food, the number of children whose mothers need better pre-natal care, whose mothers never got any pre-natal care, and who don't even know what it is to go to a pre-natal clinic for help in bringing up a little baby. They don't read and they never even heard of Dr. Spock.

These Neighborhood Centers are bringing this information to the poor, so when you talk about the War Against Poverty, what are you talking about? You are not talking about some giant bureaucracy down in Washington. You are not talking about something that I run or President Johnson runs. You are talking about something that you can run right in your hometown. It can be a health clinic. It can be a pre-school program like Head Start. It can be a program of bringing legal services to poor people who can't get justice because they can't get a lawyer. It can be any one of those or all of those together.

A big city like Detroit, they have fifty different programs for poor people running. It means more work by the YMCA, more work by the churches, more work by the YWCA, more work by the settlement houses. It means better schools. But none of it's going to happen unless you want it to happen and unless you're willing to go to work in making it come true. That's why I am so pleased to be here. This calendar year, in this State, five times as much money is available for Iowa as there was last year for community action work. We're not forcing it on anybody. We're not insisting that it be spent. We're not even telling how it should be spent. But we are saying that Iowa, like every other state in this Union, has poor people, and those poor people need help. But, most of all, they need your interest, your personal interest, in their welfare.

In the Peace Corps, I have had some fabulous experiences, but I suppose none will ever touch me more than the story I heard about a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. It epitomizes the spirit not only of the Peace Corps, but the spirit which should permeate our work in the campaign against poverty. The story goes that a Peace Corps volunteer was walking down a dusty road outside of an African village up country. As he got near to the village, there was a mother and her child sitting alongside the road, the child said to the mother: "Look, Mother, there's a white man." And the mother said to the child: "No, darling, that's not a white man -- that's a Peace Corps volunteer." That's what we're trying to work for in the War Against Poverty and in the Peace Corps. We're working toward the day when nobody will say: "Look, there's a white man," or "Look, there's a rich man," or "Look, there's a poverty-stricken man," but only: "Look, there's an American."