Texas poverty and liberal politics: the Office of Economic Opportunity and the war on poverty in the Lone Star State
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This dissertation represents the only historical study to date to recount the history of the War on Poverty in Texas. The study describes the dimensions of poverty in the state in the mid-twentieth century; explains the development of the various programs of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the primary anti-poverty agency of the Johnson administration; and traces how these programs were put into practice in Texas. The agencies analyzed include the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Headstart, the Neighborhood Youth Corps (NYC), and the Concentrated Employment Program (CEP). The study devotes special attention to the Community Action Program (CAP) as the largest and most controversial program of the OEO. Separate chapters recount the history of the CAP in San Antonio, Houston, and El Paso. The study emphasizes the association between the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty. Although the OEO billed the War on Poverty as a "colorblind" effort, many politically vocal black and Chicano Texans, along with most white conservatives, viewed the program as a civil rights effort. Because of this perception, and because of the OEO's rhetoric of "maximum feasible participation" of the poor, Mexican American and African American civil rights activists demanded control of War on Poverty funding within their respective communities. As the Chicano youth and Black Power movements emerged, the agenda of civil rights activism changed from integrationism to militance. Calls for self determination from the state's barrios and ghettoes led to conflicts between militants and liberals allied with Johnson over control of federal anti-poverty dollars. Because of militant involvement in some Community Action Agencies, the War on Poverty also became associated in the minds of opponents with the street violence that swept the nation's cities through the 1960s. The history of the War on Poverty in Texas reveals how these factors coalesced to contribute to the collapse of the political and social consensus that had informed the liberalism of the Johnson era.