Making a New Federal Program: Model Cities, 1964-68

In Policy and Politics in America: Six Case Studies, Allan P. Sindler, ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1973), pp. 124-158. Reprinted in Edward C. Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays (Washington, DC: AEI, 1991).


During the evening of the first full day of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency—at 7:40 P.M. on November 23,1963, to be precise—Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, came to tell him that three days before his assassination President Kennedy had approved a suggestion that the council and the Bureau of the Budget develop a program to alleviate poverty. They were thinking, Heller said, in terms of pilot projects to be tried in a few cities. The president was enthusiastic, but he wanted something “big and bold.” A program for just a few cities could never be propelled through Congress and, in any case, it would be regarded as another example of “tokenism” by black leaders whose growing anger was a matter of concern to him. A few weeks later, in his first State of the Union Address, he declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was created almost at once.

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