Freedom Is Not Enough: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas

Freedom Is Not Enough: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas

Freedom Is Not Enough: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas

Freedom Is Not Enough: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas


Led by the Office of Economic Opportunity, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty reflected the president's belief that, just as the civil rights movement and federal law tore down legalized segregation, progressive government and grassroots activism could eradicate poverty in the United States. Yet few have attempted to evaluate the relationship between the OEO and the freedom struggles of the 1960s. Focusing on the unique situation presented by Texas,Freedom Is Not Enoughexamines how the War on Poverty manifested itself in a state marked by racial division and diversity--and by endemic poverty.

Though the War on Poverty did not eradicate destitution in the United States, the history of the effort provides a unique window to examine the politics of race and social justice in the 1960s. William S. Clayson traces the rise and fall of postwar liberalism in the Lone Star State against a backdrop of dissent among Chicano militants and black nationalists who rejected Johnson's brand of liberalism. The conservative backlash that followed is another result of the dramatic political shifts revealed in the history of the OEO, completing this study of a unique facet in Texas's historical identity.


In March 1965 television audiences got a jarring glimpse of the violence that enforced segregation in the Jim Crow South. Mounted sheriff’s deputies and Alabama state troopers, menacing in protective masks, trampled and beat young marchers in a cloud of tear gas on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Such brazen racist violence captured on the television news seemed to discredit the recent legislative triumph of the Civil Frights Act and pending voting rights legislation for southern blacks. To reaffirm the nation’s commitment to civil rights, Lyndon Johnson responded with a speech that compared the bravery of the marchers, who risked their lives for the right to vote, to the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord. The speech endeared him to civil rights activists across the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. admitted that he shed tears when the president echoed the clarion of the civil rights movement: “We shall overcome.” Richard Goodwin, who wrote the speech, recalled, “God, how I loved Lyndon Johnson at that moment.”

Later in the speech the president reflected on his brief career as a teacher at the “Mexican” school in the small South Texas town of Cotulla. Johnson’s tenure at Cotulla gave him firsthand experience with the effects of racism and poverty on children. First to his speechwriter Goodwin and then to the nation, Johnson recollected his time in Cotulla with a sense of commitment to his former students:

Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you
see its scars on the face of a young child … It never occurred to me in

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