Address to the National Conference on Law and Poverty

Washington, D.C. | June 23, 1965

The support from professional organizations like this indicate without any doubt that there is awareness of the poor in our prosperous American society. In a nation that prides itself on new housing starts, record car sales, and a zooming gross national product, this is no small achievement.

Although many things change, I'm happy that one important thing in our national life has not changed. Lawyers have always been citizens first, lawyers second.

Whether it was as delegates to the Constitutional Convention that shaped the legal and moral destiny of these United States — Whether it was as soldiers defending those principles — Or whether in later years as dollar-a-year men in this city, the lawyer has consistently placed his country above his practice. This meeting here today is further testimony to this spirit of national service.

This significant effort that brings together the leaders of the bar to see how one profession can help the poor provides an interesting contrast with the stormy, emotional meetings of another profession that is holding court in New York's Americana Hotel.

The poor are the silent spectators and the unannounced subjects of those discussions as well. But the question at these New York meetings is not whether to voluntarily aid the poor, but whether to cooperate with the laws of the Congress of the United States or to go on strike against them.

I am pleased as a lawyer that my profession endorsed the War on Poverty.

Under the leadership of Lewis Powell, a distinguished southerner from Richmond, Virginia, this endorsement came last February. There are no hidebound, do it the same old way, keep the same old attitudes in the ABA forum and it is Mr. Powell's own commitment to citizen first, lawyer second, that has led to this meeting.

The American Bar Association has been one of the leaders among many significant groups throughout the country whose endorsement has encouraged us to believe firmly that the War on Poverty has gone far beyond this city, far beyond the state capitols, and far beyond the city halls of these United States. The support from professional organizations like this indicate without any doubt that there is awareness of the poor in our prosperous American society. In a nation that prides itself on new housing starts, record car sales, and a zooming gross national product, this is no small achievement.

And it hasn't been restricted to the United States.

The problems of the poor are now receiving attention by the Government of Canada; a new program has been advocated for Great Britain by Prime Minister Harold Wilson; and poverty is the subject of government attention by Ludwig Erhard in Germany and at the Vatican in Rome. In short, men of good will throughout the world are considering a new and dramatic kind of warfare that can be justified in the heart of every citizen regardless of his color and regardless of his birth — the warfare that has as its enemy the disease called poverty.

Now every government official relishes the opportunity to stand before an audience and review the history of his agency. Some are able to reach back to the previous century, to the previous decade, to a few years ago. But I have no such lengthy time span to belabor you with. The history of the Office of Economic Opportunity carries dates that many of you can find on the calendar pad on your own desks. We are barely at the normal gestation period. We are 8 months and 16 days old this afternoon.

And with the government year about to come to a close in the next few days, I am sure many of you are asking:

"How goes this War on Poverty that we have been hearing so much about?"

In the new parlance on the Washington scene, we have been called "The Fastest Draw in Town." Here are some of the targets we have hit in the first 259 days.

As of noon today, we have obligated approximately $650 million of a $793 million budget. This has not been willy-nilly spending. Grants have been held up. Proposals have been recommended to be revised. Some have been turned down. I am sure many of you have read about those latter cases which endears one to so few.

We have directly reached 1,167,000 impoverished Americans in these 37 weeks. We have indirectly assisted nearly another two million Americans.

Permit me to give you some of this countdown. In slightly more than eight months we have built, staffed, and organized an important adjunct to the American education system, the Job Corps. Within a few days there will be a total of 10,000 young men and women in these Job Corps Centers receiving education and training.

We have directly assisted 600,000 Americans through 530 Community Action grants in programs in the smallest of rural areas to the largest of cities in these United States. Furthermore, today 90% of the cities with populations of 50,000 or more have a local War on Poverty organization. More than 4,600 community leaders serve on these boards without a penny of remuneration and I am sure that some of you in this audience are among them.

We have organized and launched a significant project to give 560,000 American children a head start this summer for the formal education they will begin this fall. Their number is virtually matched by more than half a million part- and full-time volunteers who will give them health care, dental care, nutritious food, and above all that discovery of learning that may be found in as small an object as a picture book. The Neighborhood Youth Corps by June 30 will have provided employment and job training for 265,000 young men and women.

Work Experience Programs are giving new hope and new skills to 88,000 unemployed parents, many of them on relief.

More than 35,000 adults are receiving literacy training that will open the doors to future employment.

More than 1,000 Americans will be in the field or in training in VISTA, the domestic version of the Peace Corps.

Nowhere among these highlights is there a parade of checks or simply a dispensing machine of money. Everyone of the programs I have enumerated is geared to service. Their total represents the establishment of a new and vital service industry in a space of 8 months and 16 days — a record for which no American needs to make apologies.

But, as I say, these are the highlights of our program. Permit me to tell you of some of the new thrusts in this War on Poverty. Sometimes significant new breakthroughs are obscured by popular subjects of controversy - like salaries, involvement of the indigenous poor.

Head Start, of course, is the publicity leader of these innovative programs in the War on Poverty. However, there are other smaller and equally exciting efforts.

For the first time in our nation's history the migrant workers are receiving attention from the Federal Government. There are now housing, sanitation, education and day care programs for 73,000 migratory agricultural workers.

"Upward Bound" is another new program. We are seeking out talented youths who are denied a college education not because they don't have the brains, but because middle-class tests, the culture of poverty and repeated personal frustrations have made them lose hope in themselves.

The Univ. of Oregon, Ripon College, Columbia Univ., Dillard, Fiske, St. Mark's, Colorado Academy, Dartmouth, Exeter Andover and Independent Private Schools are among the seventeen colleges which have been given initial grants of $2.2 million to find these promising high school students.

In a related program, christened Operation Discovery, run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, special skills will be developed among 400 school youths to promote their leadership abilities.

In the drab, mine-scarred hills of Appalachia we have joined with the Appalachian Regional Commission, the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky State Health Department in a significant medical and health program. We have provided $1.2 million to keep 10 former United Mine Worker hospitals operating.

The meaning of medical care in Appalachia is somewhat different. In Menifee County, Kentucky, for example, there are 3,471 persons and one physician. In Martin County, Kentucky, there are 10,201 residents and one - yes one - physician - and he is over 65 years of age!

We have provided new hope elsewhere — not with "business as usual" — but with new, experimental efforts. In New York, Operation Apex is taking 60 slum boys this summer who will begin a five-year college program that will lead them to a teaching career. A few years ago we might have labeled them simply as "social discards," or in a different parlance, "street corner punks".

But we are not content to experiment with the young. We are seeking new ways to utilize the talents of the old. We have a new "Foster Grandparents" program. We intend to hire grandparents to visit and work in orphanages, foundling homes, and state institutions — 20,000 babies.

But whether it is a grandmother finding new meaning in her life as she provides new meaning in the life of a child, or youngsters in the Job Corps and Neighborhood Youth Corps, the War on Poverty in eight months and sixteen days has been more than a service industry!

We have contributed chemicals for social change that go far beyond just providing a social service. Our programs have provided important forward motion along the difficult and complex road to integration.

Operation Head Start has been unusually effective in this area. It has underscored that truism that we can find in the Bible in Chapter II of Isaiah II.:

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."

It is particularly significant that "a little child shall lead them." This morning, Washington newspapers announced on page one that Prince Georges County, Maryland, which has a long history of difficulty with integration has adopted a desegregation plan for its schools. This office held up a Head Start grant of $171,000 until these problems were resolved. We worked with the officials and now I approved and signed that program shortly before I came to this meeting.

Such honest and meaningful attempts to conform with the civil rights law are not restricted to a few states on the periphery of the deep south. We have Head Start programs in Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, where men of good will are conforming meaningfully with the civil rights law — conforming with the civil rights law in order to give opportunities to children who desperately need them. But the most important question that remains is, of course, the subject of this conference. With all these activities how much has been done to provide legal services to the poor. Let me give you the unfortunate picture:

Of the community action programs we have funded:

— 73% have had education components

— 64% have included preschool and day care programs

— 45% have had employment and counseling components

— 40% included health projects

— 27% called for neighborhood centers

— 1% requested a consumer education program.

But less than 1/2% included any legal services. Of 530 community action programs that we have funded, only 12 have any legal services. All but two of these are in large cities.

The task of this great conference is clear.

Before you seal off your hearts, before you close your eyes to the 14,600 West Virginia children who need a "Head Start" in life, it would be well for all of us to recall the words of St. John in the Apocalypse - where he quotes our Lord as saying these words:

"I know of thy doings and find they are neither cold nor hot! I would thou were one or the other! Being what thou are, lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, thou wilt make me vomit you out of my mouth!"

West Virginia, fortunately for America, is not a lukewarm state.

No state percentage-wise has given so many of its sons — wounded and dead — to our country's wars for freedom.

In the Presidential primary campaign of 1960, West Virginia struck the most essential blow for religious freedom in 150 years of American history.

Now, West Virginia in the War against Poverty has a new chance to strike an essential blow for the economic freedom of all Americans.

True to your pioneer traditions you will strike that blow — not against a foreign foe — but for the children of your own state and our whole country. When you do, West Virginia will become synonymous — not with poverty, but with opportunity — and we in Washington will have to arrange a different kind of tour for the Toledo Blade.

We will bring those reporters here to see that the spirit of freedom lives on in West Virginia — that no state surpasses West Virginia in its compassion for the poor.