THE HISTORY OF COMMUNITY ACTION

What is Community Action?

In 1964, The Great Society, as envisioned by President Lyndon Johnson, was a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of their circumstances. Inspired by President Kennedy and his New Frontier, Johnson pledged to fulfill his promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting several comprehensive changes within the federal government. In August of that same year, the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law by President Johnson creating the nationwide Community Action Network.

EOA_signingPresident Johnson signing the EOA, August 1964

 

The War on Poverty

In 1963, shortly before he was assassinated, President Kennedy had asked his economic advisors to draw up some proposals to address the problem of American poverty. Johnson took up this charge after he succeeded Kennedy as President. In Johnson's first State of the Union address on June 8, 1964, he called for an unconditional war to defeat poverty. He expanded and revised the proposals given to Kennedy and developed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The act included a variety of initiatives:

  1. Head Start
  2. Job Corps
  3. Work-Study program for university students
  4. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) - a domestic version of the Peace Corps
  5. Neighborhood Youth Corps
  6. Basic education and adult job training
  7. CAPs (Community Action Programs) - CAPs turned out to be the most controversial part of the package, as it proposed the "maximum feasible participation" by poor people themselves to determine what would help them the most. CAPs were a radical departure from how government had run most social reform programs in the past.

The Economic Opportunity Act was innovative legislation, but it received only about $1 billion to divide among the various programs and remained critically underfunded. By 1966, Congress appropriated $4 billion for the programs.

 

Check out this video of Sargent Shriver and Pastor Billy Graham visiting a North Carolina Community Action Agency in 1965.  Skip ahead about 9 minutes for a riveting discussion on what it really means to help the poor!