Living in a capitalist society means that some people will be rich, while others will be poor. Even though we have the chance to become wealthy, we know that poverty will still exist. But can’t a rich country like ours, with lots of resources, a strong government, and smart people, find a way to get rid of poverty?
In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson tried to do just that. He wanted to create a Great Society where nobody was poor. People would have good healthcare, safe food, cars, and homes, and access to art and music. Anyone from around the world could come to America and be a part of this amazing country.
Some people thought this was too good to be true, but in the 1960s, Americans were excited about change and new ideas. Johnson convinced Congress to make his plans happen, and he easily won the election for president in 1964.
However, there is still poverty today, more than 50 years later. So we know that Johnson’s plans didn’t completely work. But maybe that wasn’t because of his ideas, but because of other things happening at the time.
So, do you think it’s possible to end poverty?
THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY
In November of 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. This terrible event had a profound impact on the United States and the world. Ask anyone who was old enough to remember that day and they will likely have a story to tell about where they were when they heard the news.
President Kennedy was a young and exciting leader who was well-liked by many Americans. He had won support from many African Americans because he had worked for civil rights, and his leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis had made him even more popular. However, Kennedy knew that he needed support from White Southerners if he wanted to win re-election in 1964.
On November 21, 1963, Kennedy traveled to Texas with Vice President Lyndon Johnson to try to get support in the South. The next day, he planned to visit several cities in Texas.
The President’s motorcade route through Dallas was published in local newspapers so that people who wanted to see the President as he passed by could plan where to stand along the route. Unfortunately, this also gave his assassin an opportunity to plan his attack.
On November 22, 1963, the President’s motorcade left for the trip through Dallas. Kennedy was riding in an uncovered limousine with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy, the governor of Texas and his wife. As they entered Dealey Plaza, three shots were fired.
Kennedy was seriously injured and was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Vice President Johnson, who was riding two cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade, was not injured. He took the oath of office and became President of the United States.
Primary Source: Newspaper
The headline of The Boston Globe captured the sentiments of the nation. Kennedy’s death shocked the nation.
The assassination of President Kennedy shocked the country. People cried, and schools across the country sent their students home early. Traffic in some areas stopped as the news spread from car to car. The state funeral took place in Washington, DC, where Kennedy’s coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol to lie in state. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the funeral, and Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
The shots that killed President Kennedy had come from the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of killing the President. Oswald said he was innocent and that he was being blamed because he had once lived in the Soviet Union. But Oswald did not get to go to court because two days later, a man named Jack Ruby shot and killed him when he was being taken from the police station to jail. Ruby said he did it because he was upset about the President’s death.
The Warren Commission, named after Chief Justice Earl Warren, investigated the assassination. The Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the President, and that Jack Ruby acted alone when he killed Oswald. However, many Americans did not believe this conclusion and suspected that there was a plot or cover-up involved. To this day, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a subject of debate and has given rise to many conspiracy theories.
In the years following the assassination, people all over the world continued to remember and mourn President Kennedy. His gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery is marked by an eternal flame, and thousands of people still visit it every year. The tragic events of November 22, 1963 will never be forgotten and will always be a defining moment in American history.
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The tragic image of Jaqueline Kennedy standing next to Lyndon Johnson as he took the oath of office aboard Air Force One. Johnson refused to leave Dallas until Kennedy’s body and the former First Lady were aboard.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
The new president was from Texas and was from a poor family. Before becoming a politician, he was a high school teacher. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, then to the Senate in 1948. He became the Senate Majority Leader in 1955. He was really good at convincing people to agree with him, and he knew how to get laws passed through Congress.
People called his way of convincing others the “Johnson Treatment.” It was a mix of reminding people of past favors, promising future favors, and saying bad things would happen if something he didn’t get what he wanted. Some people described the Johnson Treatment like standing under a waterfall of his words.
In 1960, Johnson had tried to become the Democratic candidate for president, but he lost to Kennedy. However, Kennedy asked him to be his running mate in the general election, and Johnson accepted.
After Kennedy died, Johnson continued many of Kennedy’s plans and kept many of his advisors.
Primary Source: Photograph
This image captures the infamous Johnson Treatment. The president, on the left, leans in as he makes his case to a reluctant member of congress. Johnson always made sure his chair was higher than those he was meeting with in order to maximize his ability to get the “yes” response he was looking for.
THE GREAT SOCIETY
Lyndon Johnson had some of his own ideas. One was that he wanted to make the United States a better place for everyone. He thought that the country was rich enough that no one should be left out. He wanted to end racial discrimination and poverty. He also wanted to create a country with beautiful art, a clean environment, and a government that cared for the people. He called his vision the Great Society.
THE WAR ON POVERTY
The centerpiece of Johnson’s plan to create a Great Society was the fight to end poverty in the United States. Johnson had seen poverty up close back in Texas and thought of it as a question of right and wrong. In his eyes, it was wrong that there should be poor people in a country that had so much. His War on Poverty was about giving people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty, rather than just giving them money.
In the 1960s, the economy was good, and there were jobs available. But many poor Americans didn’t have the skills they needed to get these jobs. So in 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act was passed. It gave money for programs to help the poor find jobs, such as the Jobs Corps which gave job training and work experience to those who needed it.
The new law also coordinated Volunteers in Service to America, a program that recruited people to provide educational and community services in poor areas. The Community Action Program helped people in disadvantaged communities improve their lives by creating organizations managed by locals. The law also provided low-interest loans to help people improve their farms or start businesses and gave housing and education to migrant farm workers.
The law created jobs in Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in America, and brought programs to Indian reservations. One of its successes was the Rough Rock Demonstration School on the Navajo Reservation. The school respected Navajo traditions and culture while also training people for careers outside of the reservation.
President Johnson had once been a teacher and he believed that education was the key to ending poverty and other social problems. In 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which gave money to elementary and high schools. This was the first time the federal government gave money to public schools.
The Higher Education Act gave scholarships and low-interest loans to help poor students go to college. Today, most student financial support comes from the federal government, and high school seniors fill out the FAFSA form to apply for grants, loans, or work-study to help pay for college.
Poor children often start school already behind other kids because their parents can’t afford to give them books, toys, and other learning experiences. Johnson created Head Start, a program that provides free preschool for low-income families. A study showed that children who went to Head Start did better in school and had better health than those who did not. They were less likely to need special education services, less likely to commit crime, more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, and less likely to suffer from poor health as adults.
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Lady Bird Johnson reads to students at a Head Start program. She was a champion of all of her husband’s Great Society programs, especially Head Start and his environmental initiatives.
MEDICARE AND MEDICAID
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security to give money to retired people. However, President Lyndon B. Johnson noticed that even with Social Security, many elderly people still had a hard time paying for medicine and visits to the doctor or hospital. So, he created a new program called Medicare to help pay for healthcare. Along with Social Security, Medicare has become one of the most popular and expensive programs run by the federal government.
Medicare is paid for by taking taxes from younger people who are working, just like Social Security. As more and more Baby Boomers retire and live longer, they will need more medical care. This means that the cost of Medicare is going up quickly. In the future, politicians will have to make difficult choices about how to pay for it. They might need to raise taxes on current workers or cut benefits. Because older Americans vote more than younger Americans, it’s likely that they will push to keep the benefits in place.
A year after Medicare was created, a program called Medicaid was also created. Medicaid helps poor people pay for healthcare. The federal government gives money to each state to run the program, and each state has its own name for it. For example, in California, it’s called Medi-Cal, in Massachusetts, it’s known as MassHealth, and in Hawaii, it’s called Quest. In 2010, a new law called the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was passed. This law made it so more people could get help from Medicaid by changing who qualifies for the program.
Secondary Source: Chart
A pie chart of the federal budget in 2015 shows the enormous expense of the entitlement safety net programs such as Social Security, unemployment, Medicare and Medicaid, which together account for well over half of all federal spending. As the Baby Boomers live out their long retirements, greater and greater allocations will be needed to support these programs. Either taxes on younger workers will have to go up, or the benefits the elderly receive will have to go down.
President Johnson supported the arts and humanities by creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. These programs provided money for artists and writers. Johnson believed that the arts and humanities should be for all people in the United States, not just for people who had enough money to spend on theater tickets or expensive museums. The government’s support for the arts was a way of saying that in a great society, everyone should be able to enjoy the arts.
In 1967, Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, which created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This organization helped start the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970. The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities have funded many art projects, including theater productions, literature translations, and art exhibits. They have also made it possible for millions of schoolchildren to experience the arts. For example, when elementary school students take a bus to watch a play, the cost of the bus ride is often paid for by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs have also recognized America’s great artists. The National Medal of Arts is an award given by the president to artists who have made important contributions to society. Famous painters, musicians, writers, and dancers like Georgia O’Keeffe, Johnny Cash, and Mikhail Baryshnikov have won the award.
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Sesame Street premiered in 1969, launched with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
During the early 1900s, writers like Upton Sinclair wrote books that drew attention to food safety issues in the United States. Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, was one of the many that led Congress to create the Food and Drug Administration. President Johnson continued to take steps to protect consumers’ rights during his time as president.
The Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required warning labels to be added to cigarette boxes. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and set standards for vehicle safety, including the use of seatbelts. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act required that product labels identify the manufacturer, address, and quantity of the product. The Child Safety Act of 1966 made it illegal to sell some extremely dangerous chemicals. The Flammable Fabrics Act of 1967 set safety standards for children’s clothing. The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 and the Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968 improved the safety of meat inspections. The Truth-in-Lending Act of 1968 made people who lend money honestly tell the full cost of interest being charged for loans and sales. The Land Sales Disclosure Act of 1968 protected against cheating, and the Radiation Safety Act of 1968 set safety standards for electronics.
Thanks to Johnson’s efforts, we can now find ingredient lists on food packages, feel safe eating meat products, and trust that our vehicles meet safety standards. We can also rest easy knowing that the products we use are not harmful to ourselves or our children.
The United States is a country made up of people who came from many other places. But after World War I, some people became scared of immigrants. They were worried about things like communist revolutions. So, Congress passed a law called the Immigration Act of 1924. This law made it very hard for people to come to the United States from other countries. It favored people from Europe who were white and stopped people from Asia from coming at all.
But in 1965, President Johnson changed this. He signed the Immigration and Nationality Act which made it easier for people to come to the United States if they had family here or if they had special skills. At first, people thought this law would mostly help white people, since most people in America at that time were white. But because the law helped families stay together, once one person moved to the United States, their family members also could come. This made it possible for new communities to form in the United States, like Chinatowns and communities of people from Vietnam, Korea, India, and other places.
Before the new law, most immigrants to the United States were from Europe and very few were from Asia. But since the law changed, more people from Asia and other places have been able to come to the United States. Hispanic immigrants had not been stopped from coming in the 1924 law because of the need for farm workers and 45% of all immigrants to the United States in the last 100 years have been from Latin America.
CIVIL RIGHTS & THE ENVIRONMENT
The fight for civil rights was an important part of Johnson’s goal of making America a Great Society. He used his talents to work with Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both of which we discussed in the last unit.
Johnson was also worried about protecting the environment, which we will discuss in our next lesson.
Primary Source: Photograph
President Johnson met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders in the Oval Office of the White House. His support was an important component of the effort to convince Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
THE END OF THE GREAT SOCIETY
During the 1960s and early 1970s, the United States fought a war in Vietnam. The war cost a lot of money and made it hard for President Johnson to pay for programs to help Americans who were poor. Johnson wanted to help these people, but he didn’t want to end the war because he was afraid it would make America look weak during the Cold War. This meant he had to choose between helping the poor and fighting the war. Sadly, he chose to fight the war and the programs suffered.
Despite this, Johnson’s programs did help many people. By the end of his time in office, fewer people were poor, especially African Americans. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid helped many people get the healthcare they needed, and more people could afford to go to college than ever before. However, some conservatives didn’t like these programs because they thought Johnson’s programs would encourage people to rely on the government and not take care of themselves. These people also thought that Johnson borrowed too much money to pay for these programs and the war in Vietnam, which would lead the country into debt.
THE WARREN COURT
Earl Warren was the leader of the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969. He was known for writing many important decisions that helped civil rights such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregated schools. He also made two very important decisions that helped people who are accused of crimes, especially those who were poor.
One of these decisions was about a poor man named Clarence Earl Gideon. Gideon was accused of robbing a bar in Florida, but he couldn’t afford a lawyer. He went to court and argued that the Constitution says all people have the right to a lawyer, and since he was too poor to pay for his own lawyer he should have been given a lawyer by the government. The Supreme Court agreed with him. The government hired a lawyer, Warren wrote in the case Gideon v. Wainwright, so to make things fair they should have paid for a lawyer for Gideon also.
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Clarence Earl Gideon was convicted of a crime although he was too poor to afford a lawyer to help with his defense in court. He took his case to the Supreme Court where he won. Today, everyone accused of a crime has the right to an attorney. Those who cannot afford their own lawyer will be represented by a public defender paid for with tax money.
The other decision was about a man named Ernesto Miranda. He was accused of kidnapping and raping a woman. The police questioned him without telling him that he had the right to remain silent or the right to talk to a lawyer. Miranda signed a confession, but his court-appointed lawyer said the confession was not fair because Miranda did not know his rights. In the Miranda v. Arizona case, the Supreme Court agreed with the lawyer and said that police have to tell people their rights.
This warning is now known as the Miranda Warning, and includes both the Gideon case and the Miranda case. Now when the police arrest someone, they have to say something like “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time.”
These two decisions, Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona, are important because they made sure that people accused of crimes, especially those who are poor, have the same rights as everyone else.
Some people did not agree with Warren’s decisions about criminal justice, saying they let criminals go free. Crime rates went up for a while after Warren’s time on the Supreme Court, but it’s not clear if Warren’s decisions led to more crime or if it was because of unrelated things happening at the time.
Many liberals think that the War on Poverty would have ended poverty if it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War. Conservatives, on the other hand, claim that the War on Poverty, while well-intentioned, would never have undone the natural order of the capitalist economic system, and in some ways might have made poverty worse. They argue that if people know the government will be there to help them, they may not try as hard to improve their own lives and get out of poverty.
What do you think? Can we end poverty?
BIG IDEA: The federal government joined in the efforts to remake American society in the 1960s. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs were meant to end poverty, protect healthcare and protect the environment. The Supreme Court handed down important rulings about civil rights and criminal justice and the immigration system was significantly changed.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding through Dallas, Texas in an open limousine. A man seeking to avenge the president’s death killed Oswald a few days later. The Warren Commission investigated the killing and found that Oswald had acted alone, but Kennedy’s death remains the subject of conspiracy theories.
The new president was Lyndon Johnson from Texas. Johnson was a long-time member of Congress and a master at convincing others to agree with him.
Johnson continued many of Kennedy’s programs. He also wanted to improve the nation and believed America should be a Great Society.
Johnson declared a War on Poverty. He signed many laws that were designed to end poverty, mostly by giving people the education or support they needed to find jobs, rather than just by giving away money.
Johnson signed the ESEA, which provided federal funding for education. This was the first time the federal government got involved in funding local schools. He also created Head Start for low-income preschoolers and increased federal scholarships and loans for college.
Johnson created Medicare to cover health insurance for the elderly and Medicaid to provide health insurance for the poor. Both programs remain popular and account for about a quarter of the entire federal budget.
Johnson’s Great Society included federal funding for the arts, including funding for public radio and television.
Johnson also passed laws to protect consumers, such as regulations on automobile safety, truth in packaging, and financial disclosures.
Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended national quotas for immigration and implemented a family reunification policy. This greatly increased immigration from Asia and Africa.
The Great Society and Johnson’s War on Poverty were limited because Johnson was also spending money to fight the Vietnam War. Conservatives criticize the Great Society programs as excessive government.
During the 1960s, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled on multiple cases that expanded civil rights, including Brown v. Board of Education, as well as cases that led to the creation of the Miranda Warning.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Lee Harvey Oswald: The man who shot and killed President John F. Kennedy. He was killed by Jack Ruby a few days later.
Warren Commission: Group who led the official government investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy. They concluded that Oswald had acted alone.
Earl Warren: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the 1950s and 1960s who pushed the Court to rule favorably on numerous cases related to civil rights.
The Warren Court: Nickname for the Supreme Court during the 1950s and 1960s during a period of time when handed down many civil rights and criminal justices rulings that historians view as particularly liberal.
Public Defender: Lawyer paid by tax dollars who defends people who cannot afford a lawyer of their own.
Miranda Warning: Statement made by arresting police officers advising people of their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney.
GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS & AGENCIES
The Great Society: Collection of laws and problems implemented by President Lyndon Johnson to improve life in America. They included his War on Poverty as well as programs to protect the environment and Medicare and Medicaid.
War on Poverty: Name given to the laws promoted by President Lyndon Johnson designed specifically to help the poor. These included the Jobs Corps which provided training, as well as education laws such as Head Start and college financial aide.
Jobs Corps: Program that was part of Johnson’s War on Poverty. It provides training so people can learn skills they will need to be hired.
Head Start: Preschool program for children from low-income families that was instituted as part of the War on Poverty in the 1960s.
Medicare: Program that provides health insurance for the elderly. It is a signature program created as part of the Great Society in the 1960s by President Johnson.
Medicaid: Program that provides health insurance for lower-income Americans. It is run independently by states and goes by different names in the different states.
National Endowment for the Arts: Program created in the 1960s as part of the Great Society that uses federal tax dollars to fund art exhibits, performances, and art education.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Program created in the 1960s as part of the Great Society that uses federal tax dollars to support public television and public radio programing.
Gideon v. Wainwright: 1963 Supreme Court cases that guaranteed a lawyer to all those accused of a crime.
Miranda v. Arizona: 1966 Supreme Court case which banned the use of confessions or statements made by a defendant before they had been advised of their right to remain silent. This case led to the now-famous Miranda Warnings.
Dealey Plaza: The location in Dallas, Texas where President Kennedy was assassinated.
Assassination of John F. Kennedy: November 22, 1963 – Dallas, Texas.
LAWS & RESOLUTIONS
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Law passed in 1965 as part of the Great Society and War on Poverty that greatly increased federal funding for school and made the federal government a major player in funding education.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Major revision to immigration law passed in 1965 that eliminated national quotas and instead encouraged family reunification. It led to a tremendous increase in immigration from Asia, Latin America and Africa.