Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fifty Years Later: The Other America and the Origins of the War on Poverty

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

At Gracie Mansion, Mayor Robert F. Wagner (left) stands with two other participants in ceremonies announcing the new Mobilization for Youth Program, June 12, 1962.

Fifty years after the writer, activist and democratic socialist Michael Harrington published The Other America: Poverty in the United States, the New York Times recently reported poverty rising to 21% in New York City, a sad commentary on our government’s and nation’s lack of commitment to addressing poverty.  Harrington chronicled the lives of the poor, a group largely invisible in the 1950s.  His book, which estimated a 25% poverty rate, found its way to the Kennedy White House and increased interest in fighting poverty.  The Other America became an inspiration for President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which turned to New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s Mobilization for Youth program on the Lower East Side as a model for reducing poverty. 

Mobilization for Youth (MFY) was an anti-juvenile delinquency project organized by Columbia University Professors Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin.  The MFY sought to empower youth through job training, education, public employment, and neighborhood centers for social services.  It also became involved in rent strikes, support for the civil rights movement and a school boycott by supporters of integration.  By August 1964, the Daily News was accusing MFY of Communist influence and the NYC Department of Investigation was also looking into MFY activities.  The Department of Investigation and an investigation by Mobilization for Youth found little truth in the Communist charges, but did suggest the reorganization of MFY.  Click here to read documents about the investigation. 

MFY’s programs became a model for LaGuardia Community College’s co-operative education programs.  One of the staff members of MFY was Martin Moed, a founder of LaGuardia Community College, who served as a vice president and acting president of the College.

To learn more about the Mobilization for Youth, click here to read a speech by Mayor Wagner.  If you are interested in learning more about the War on Poverty and Mobilization for Youth, please feel free to contact me.

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