Sixty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered his first state of the union address, only weeks after assuming the presidency following the national trauma of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He used the speech to announce a sweeping legislative agenda, which he dubbed the “War on Poverty.”
At the time, nearly 20% of Americans lived below the poverty line.
The speech marked the initiation of Great Society agenda items that would go on to transform American life and endure today despite decades of attempts — some successful — by Congress to winnow them down. They include the Food Stamps Act and legislation creating the Peace Corps, both signed into law in August 1964, and the Social Security Act, which was signed in 1965 and put in place both Medicare and Medicaid.
President Johnson gifts a pen to Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver Original caption: 8/20/1964-Washington, DC: President Johnson hands a pen, used in signing the $947.5 billion “War on Poverty” bill, to Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, whom Johnson will nominate to head the program. At right, looking on, is Robert Weaver, administrator, Housing and Home Finance Agency. President Johnson signs into law the ‘War on Poverty’ bill Original caption: President Johnson uses several fountain pens to sign into law the “War on Poverty” bill, budgeted at $947.5 billion. He forecasted that the bill would bring forth a “new ear of progress” for the poor. President Johnson proudly holds out the Economic Opportunity Act Original caption: President Johnson proudly holds out the Economic Opportunity Act, which he signed into law on August 20, 1964. The act, also called the “War on Poverty” bill, had a budget of $947.5 billion. Johnson forecasted that the bill would bring forth a “new ear of President Johnson smiles as he holds up the ‘War on Poverty’ bill Original caption: 20th August 1964: President Lyndon B Johnson smiles as he holds up the ‘War on Poverty’ Bill after he signed it into law at the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, DC. (Photo by Arnold Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images) President Johnson signs the war on poverty bill Original caption: 20th August 1964: American president Lyndon B Johnson signs the war on poverty bill during a ceremony outdoors at the White House Rose Garden, Washington, DC. (Photo by Arnold Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images) Shriver Meets with the Minority Original caption: Shriver Meets with the Minority. Washington: Sargent Shriver (right), Pres. Johnson’s choice to lead the “war on poverty,” met in closed session today with ten GOP members of the House Education and Labor Committee which is considering the legislation. One participant described the outcome as a “draw.” Shriver is shown with Rep. H.B. Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., ranking Republican member of the committee, who called the meeting with Shriver “useful.” President Johnson meets with political figures from New Jersey Original caption: United States President Lyndon Johnson meets with African American and white political figures from New Jersey, discussing aspects of his War on Poverty legislation, May 2, 1964. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images) AG Robert F. Kennedy testifying before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee Original caption: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, (L), is shown testifying before the House Education and Labor Subcommittee, strongly endorsing President Johnson’s “war on poverty” as the way to translate into action the late President John F. Kennedy’s own plans to face the same problem. Poverty hearings open Original caption: Poverty Hearings Open. Washington: Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, President Johnson’s choice to head the “war on poverty,” is shown, (left), as lead-off witness today before a House Education and Labor Subcommittee’s hearing on the Chief Executive’s long-awaited anti-poverty program. At right is Walter Heller, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. President Johnson meets with four leaders of the Civil Rights movement Original caption: President Johnson meets with four leaders of the civil rights movement, discussing the president’s war on poverty, and the effect of poverty on the African American population. Meeting with the president are: Roy Wilkins, Director of the National Associa
Trainees arrive for a counselor course in a war on poverty program Original caption: JUL 14 1964 Trainees Arrive For Counselor Course In A War On Poverty Program Donald B. DeVoe, left, State Employment Department training supervisor, and Dr. Bernard Hyman, right, assistant professor of psychology, discuss program with two of the trainees, W. D. Garrison of Cheyenne, Wyo., and Judy Adkins of Artesia, N. M. DU Counselor Training Class Opens in Antipoverty Drive Credit: Denver Post Photo (Denver Post via Getty Images)