Fighting poverty page by page
Explore the 1964 meeting notes covering the outline of a prospective book on poverty by Nelson.
This document sketches ideas for a book Gaylord Nelson proposed to write about poverty during his first Senate term.
The book was to be titled “To End Poverty” and ghost written by James Ridgeway (who would go on to become a leading investigative reporter). It sought to explain the economic roots of the urban riots and propose policy solutions.
Poverty was a recurring theme for Nelson. In his remarks to the National Association of Internal Revenue Service Employees in Milwaukee following the 1963 March on Washington, Nelson argued that even after Congress approved President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act, much “unfinished business” would remain. “Negroes can never be fully accepted into life in America,” he told his audience, “until they have jobs, and incomes which will allow them to eat and live and play in a manner Americans have a right to expect.”
One of Nelson’s proposals in the book proposal was unique. He advocated attacking simultaneously “the problems of cities” and “the problems of conservation” by creating “a Federally-funded program, administered by the states, which will put unemployed people to work to repair the environment in which they live.”
The publishing house Doubleday would eventually reject Nelson’s prospectus on the ground that the market was flooded by poverty books. Though he could not sell the idea to publishers, he had better luck in Congress as President Johnson began waging his War on Poverty in 1964.
Nelson successfully attached an amendment to the landmark Economic Opportunity Act, passed in August 1964, launching “Operation Mainstream,” making millions of dollars available to government and nonprofit job-creation programs. The Farmers Union’s Green Thumb initiative used Nelson Amendment money to create hundreds of conservation jobs across five states.
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