The Professors and the Poor

"The Professors and the Poor," Commentary, August 1968.

Excerpt: Not long ago, a Negro poverty worker from the Roxbury section of Boston came to see me at the Joint Center for Urban Studies, directed there by a liberal business executive who had thought I might be of help in her effort to raise a large sum of money to establish a cultural center for the disadvantaged. I was not especially sanguine and said as much: the federal poverty program was then being cut back rather than enlarged, and in any event redirected toward employment as against community programs. My visitor’s reaction, however, was one not of resignation, but of exasperation. Once again, or so it appeared to her, the demands of the black community were being rejected by the white power structure, in this instance represented by me. In the manner of professors I resorted to reason: was it not the case, I asked, that a very considerable number of poverty programs had been launched in Roxbury in recent years? (The Boston Globe was shortly to publish a special supplement describing 262 such programs spread throughout the city as a whole.) “Exactly,” came the retort, “but do you notice they only fund programs that don’t succeed?”