|University of Baltimore School of Law|
From the conference website: "In May 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson unveiled his revolutionary plan for a “Great Society.” As he explained it, Americans had 'the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. … The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice.'
According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, Johnson’s Great Society would be based on “progressive action” and the “possibilities for human fulfillment.” These ideas meant Americans needed to regain control over their society and end policies that threatened and degraded humanity.
With the passage of Johnson’s Great Society reforms—including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, the Equal Opportunity Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Higher Education Act, Head Start, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965—America’s official poverty rate declined throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, reaching a low of 11.2 percent in 1974, down from 19 percent in 1964. (The rate was 15.1 percent in 2010.)
According to Washington Post reporter Dylan Matthews, who in 2011 wrote 'Poverty in the 50 years since ‘The Other America,’ in five charts,' Johnson’s Great Society programs—which included the War on Poverty—made a 'real and lasting difference.'
But some of Johnson’s less fortunate legacies are still with us: the effects of the Vietnam War, which Johnson escalated, as well as racially concentrated poverty. In the decades since his presidency, America has weathered several recessions, the 1990s boom years, the 2008 financial collapse and the continuing slump brought on by banking policies and Wall Street’s disastrous gambit of issuing mortgage-backed securities, as well as the national security apparatus’ encroachment on civil liberties, the rise and fall of the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring, and the wars since 9/11.
It is clear that Johnson’s Great Society programs saved millions of Americans from the depth of official poverty. It is also true that Johnson’s great plan failed as his presidency was rocked by opposition to the Vietnam War and urban unrest across the country, notably by the 1965 Watts riots. Johnson never did redress poverty in America."
Scholars of color will examine and address the promise of Johnson's grand proposals and examine where we stand today and what challenges remain.