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Hear from HEOP: The War on Poverty

For several years, the students entering MMC’s HEOP program have studied the history of the program itself.  This summer was also the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the war on poverty, and so it was decided that this summer the HEOP students would focus on putting MMC’s HEOP history into the larger context.  Accordingly, the students followed the standard chronology of a U.S. history course, from Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty in January 1964 to the establishment of the Office of Economic Opportunity under Sargent Shriver.  The students then used MMC’s own archives to expand that chronology to include MMC’s participation in the events of the day, and its own innovations in addressing the economic barriers to a college education.


  • Jeremy Dominguez ‘18: Malcolm-King

    Marymount Manhattan College took other actions similar to the Community Leadership Program. In 1968, the Malcolm King Harlem College extension program was created because of the community need. It became a free two-year program that offered up to 60 credits to adults ages 25-40 in the Harlem community. The first institution to sponsor Malcolm-King was Marymount Manhattan College. Malcolm King gave students the skills to be politically active and help their communities grow. It was very much an institution of its time, reflecting Michael Harrington’s call in The Other America, for political voice for the poor, and Sargent Shriver’s efforts in the Office of Economic Opportunity to teach effective community action. In 1987, Mattie Cook the administrative director died, and Malcolm-King ended soon thereafter. In years since, the “War on Poverty” has changed. Some programs and practices developed in the 1960’s still exist; such as Head Start, HEOP, civil rights, and health care, to name a few. MMC’s “War on Poverty” shows us the importance of student action individually and as organized groups. MMC’s history should empower us to continue to be committed to programs like HEOP because they are crucial in winning this war.


  • Professor Mary Brown: Community Leadership Program

    This photo of the Community Leadership Program ran in a local newspaper, Park East, September 11, 1969. It is now in the MMC Archives.

    In 1967, Marymount Manhattan College launched its own war on poverty by contacting Sister Marie Thomas of Fort Greene’s Dr. White Community Center.  Later, MMC connected with Mattie Cook of East Harlem’s Addie Mae Collins Community Center.  Both women identified promising girls in their senior year of high school.  Twenty girls received tutoring at the neighborhood centers during their senior year and the summer afterward, leading to their admission to MMC in fall.  Twenty more students were enrolled in the Community Leadership Program, as it was called, in the fall of 1968 and 1969.  In 1969, New York State introduced its Higher Education Opportunity Program.  MMC joined HEOP immediately, and has participated ever since.  HEOP allowed MMC to reach out to traditional-age students who would need both financial and tutoring assistance to attend college.


  • Annelisse Guillen ‘18: MMC in 1965

    New York Times, November 14, 1965. MMC Archives.

    This blog is about the New York Times calling Marymount Manhattan College a “Rebel” college. Actually the newspaper wrote about Marymount’s plans to build a library. The article provides a snapshot of what students do on a typical day.  Marymount was an all-girl Catholic school that gave a liberal arts education, which influenced the young women to “reveal their social consciences.” The girls used knowledge to better their communities by speaking their minds and volunteering. College president Mother Jogues Egan was in favor of her students thinking critically about controversial topics. When Roger LaPorte committed self-immolation in front of the United Nations, she brought in a speaker to talk to the students.  The MMC community experimented with new forms of education in which students and faculty didn’t just think critically about the issues of the day, but put thoughts into action.


  • Danny Martinez Bastilla ‘18: Economic Opportunity Act

    USA. Texas. 1990. Head Start program, a legacy of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. Elliott Erwin/Magnum Photos. MMC ARTStor.

    In January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, which was to eliminate poverty, provide educational opportunities, create more jobs for the poor and unemployed, and lastly help the elderly financially. Johnson placed Sargent Shriver in charge. Shriver at first refused, but Johnson made a public announcement stating that Shriver would lead the War on Poverty, forcing Shriver to take on the task. The Economic Opportunity Act had different sections, including Head Start, which provided pre-K for children, work study, which provided jobs in school for college students, job training, which covered young adults and minorities. This act decreased the number of poor people in America. It helped give an equal opportunity to the disadvantaged. It set precedents for what New York State later did in the Higher Education Opportunity Program.


  • Daivon Adams ‘18: The Gulf of Tonkin

    New York Times (March 10, 1965), MMC ProQuest.
    During the mid-1950s American soldiers were sent to South Vietnam to provide the anti-communists with military training. John F. Kennedy continued this mission to keep his promise of protecting South Vietnam from communist influence and invasion by the North Vietnamese. Even after Ngo Dinh Diem’s assassination, America tried its best to keep its word. However, in 1964, an American ship entered North Vietnam’s ocean boundary and reported coming under fire, creating an international incident. President Lyndon Johnson was torn between domestic and foreign affairs. Eventually Johnson made the decision to do both, using the budget that he got for ONLY the war on poverty. It is unclear if this had negative effects on Marymount Manhattan College, but we do know from a 1965 newspaper article that students were already attending the college with federal tuition assistance. The college was affected in another way. As the accompanying news clipping shows, President Jogues Egan was already involved in the peace movement. Over time the war became a bigger issue at MMC.

  • Jillan Mahmoun ‘18: The Civil Rights Act

    Rediscovery #: 02233HD1-98834942WR1-9899106111-A1-179 Docs Teach

    Before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a civil rights bill.  It still wasn’t passed in May 1964, when MMC’s student newspaper Corviae ran a letter showing how much, and how little, students knew about it.  The letter denounced a recent protest at the opening of the World’s Fair as a “weak” way of getting action and argued for writing one’s Senators and Representatives as the proper way to effect legislative change. But, students so far from the South failed to realize that Southern blacks couldn’t vote and didn’t have representatives. Over the next few months, Freedom Summer taught students how much had to be done in the field of civil rights.

    During this time, the Peace Corps arrived at MMC to recruit students for its travel and volunteer program. Mr. Weeks, a volunteer from Dallas, discussed his experiences being at a site in North Borneo, teaching students English, history, and Geography. This was another example of how much MMC students were learning about contemporary issues and their abilities to affect them, which positioned the students to respond to calls for a War on Poverty and a Great Society. 


  • Christel Mitchell ‘18: Freedom Summer

    Corviae (June 1, 1964). MMC Archives.

    Freedom Summer was designed to send college student volunteers to Mississippi’s African American community. Its primary goals were to ensure the community knew black history (not taught in school then), and that eligible people registered to vote.

                Freedom Summer attracted numerous college students.  Despite attacks by local community members, the college students ran Freedom Schools.  They taught adults about their right to vote, helped them to register, organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and sent representatives to the Democratic Convention.  They not only supported President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and Great Society, they wanted Johnson to go further.

    In the short term, Freedom Summer ended in tragedy and disappointment. Even before it officially began three civil rights workers went missing.  In August, their bodies were found; they had been killed by Klansmen. They Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party failed to replace the racist regular Mississippi Democratic Party at the Democratic convention.  Johnson lost Mississippi to Barry Goldwater by a huge margin, 12.86% to 87.47%.

    However, participants in Freedom Summer did provide Johnson support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and it provided an example for the future.


  • Julissa Nunez: The Great Society

    Political cartoonist John Fischetti sketched Lyndon Johnson about the time of the Great Society speech. MMC ARTStor AFICHETTIIG-103126719645.jpg

    President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the phrase “Great Society” at the University of Michigan. Johnson’s Great Society idea flowed from his desire to end poverty and racial discrimination. Johnson described the Great Society as a place where individuals were more concerned with the quality of their lives than the quantity of their good. Johnson challenged Americans to start building their Great Society in specific places in the United States. He called for greater attention to planning and carrying out reforms in cities.  He argued that a Great Society would need the refreshment and renewal that came with contact with nature, and announced a campaign against the litter and pollution that created an “ugly America” in the countryside. Finally, he campaigned for education for all Americans, and not just so they could hold jobs but so they could enjoy their lives. A Great Society meant starting a community and eliminating loneliness and boredom and emotionlessness. It encouraged people to take action and understand their rights that were fought for in events such as Freedom Summer.


  • Karla Castro ‘18: Kennedy Assassination

    Corviae (December 10, 1963), p. 1. MMC Archives.

    Appalachian job legislation was left on President John F. Kennedy’s desk when he was assassinated at 1:00 p.m. local time on November 22, 1963. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson became America’s leader after Kennedy’s sudden death, and was later elected to be America’s President in 1964 by a landslide popular vote. In his 1964 annual message to Congress on the State of Union; Johnson declared a War on Poverty. He described how by cutting nonessentials from the federal budget, the United States could afford to address the issue of poverty. Johnson promised redevelopment programs, youth employment legislation, a broader food stamp program, job training, educational advancement programs for the low income, and more. Johnson hoped for a better America, an America that would bring happiness to all its inhabitants. As America’s president he wanted to ensure that all Americans were taken care of, this is when he decided to mold America into a Great Society.


  • Sindelt Flores ‘18: March on Washington

    Leonard Freed. March on Washington, 1963. MMC ARSTor.

    The fight for rights, the fight for a change! The March on Washington started August 28, 1963. The protest’s point was for the poor to emerge from poverty’s shadows. Michael Harrington, the author of The Other America, described the poor as politically invisible. The March on Washington helped them become visible. Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin believed in human power, equality, and justice. Rustin read his demands in front of many Americans, stating that the civil rights bill then before Congress needed strengthening. He listed demands to combat poverty by ending segregation between African and White Americans and by withholding federal funds from segregated programs. He also demanded the disapproval of segregation in schools, housing programs, and employment. Another issue was income. Therefore, Rustin demanded a minimum wage and job training for all black and white men to end unemployment; and a stronger Fair Employment Practices Commission. Many African Americans were excluded from protection under the 14th Amendment, Rustin demanded enforcement, which meant the right to vote, which would be the most effective way to change society.


  • Maliha Mannan ‘18: The Other America

    John F. Kennedy discovered poverty in America when he campaigned in West Virginia and visited many poor people. In 1962, Michael Harrington’s The Other America had a big impact on Kennedy. The book described how the poor were “invisible,” because they did not have a political voice. The 1930s New Deal had focused on jobs. The 1960s needed to focus on education, both for job training and for political action. Kennedy started to focus on the poor, but he was assassinated in 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson replaced Kennedy. Johnson graduated from college into the great Depression, so he was prepared to extend Kennedy’s war on poverty even further. 


  • Ilana Garcia ‘18: MMC in 1960 Election

    Corviae (November 1963). MMC Archives.

    John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were toe-to-toe on this election. According to Dave Leip’s website, Kennedy won the election by 112,827 votes. John F. Kennedy was a young Roman Catholic who, many people presumed, would take the Catholic vote. In a very close election Richard Nixon took Marymount Manhattan College by only three votes. In this all-girls Catholic College, the November 4 1960, newspaper shows the girls’ lives revolved around school clubs, classes, career plans and performing arts events. These middle-class college students definitely favored the Republican Richard Nixon! The ironic turn begins when later on MMC becomes more interested in the great changes in the 60s that Kennedy helped to start.


  • Cheidy Perez ‘16: Poverty Amid Prosperity

    Bruce Davidson, USA, West Virginia 1963, Coal miners. MMC ARTStor.

    During his 1960 presidential campaign John F. Kennedy became aware of the need for federal assistance in West Virginia and in Appalachia as a whole. The region’s governors presented their concerns, and Kennedy observed the residents’ living conditions, convincing him even more of Appalachia’s  urgent needs.

    Appalachia’s poverty was caused by the rise of technology that took the jobs of area coal miners. Without jobs, people lost the ability to provide for themselves and their families. The employers also stopped providing healthcare to their employees and hired non-union workers to do the work of the union workers, resulting in an outbreak of riots in the mines.

    Kennedy made a plan to assist Appalachia’s residents, but his program took too long to implement. This resulted in a movement of residents from West Virginia into cities such as Chicago, where there was more promising work in factories.

    The Appalachian Redevelopment Act signed in 1965 was just one of the many attempts to prevent poverty in the United States.  It was typical of the approach of the entire War on Poverty, recognizing victims of the economy of the day and tackling the problems that kept those people poor.


  • Erick Matos ‘18: Before the War on Poverty

    Like other post-WWII Americans, MMC students enjoyed a decent standard of living. MMC Archive Photo #001146.

    On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered, ending World War II. After the U.S. won, many citizens were able to transition into the middle class. Although the Cold War commenced soon after World War II, the U.S. economy was enjoying its prosperity. Regardless of Cold War tensions, by 1955 America started to produce 50 percent of the world’s goods. Government officials believed that America would never be below the poverty line and that this economic growth placed families in the middle-class security. Yet, poverty became an issue in the 1960 election.  The poor who lived in Appalachia were living in an underdeveloped part of the country and it was recognized by the upcoming president John F. Kennedy.  The other candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon disputed the extent of poverty, and charged Kennedy with providing grist for Communist mills.  The issue of the extent of poverty in America what to do about it, and whether one should focus on domestic poverty or the foreign Cold War were to become bigger issues in the future.