Mayor Bill Bell, in his recent State of the City speech, said he plans to use his office to raise the visibility of poverty in Durham. Segments of Durham have higher than normal levels of poverty that have worsened during the 12-plus years Bell has been in office.
Bell references Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty 50 years ago. Johnson’s declaration, in an article by Guian McKee, was spawned by “two streams of policy development, one long-term and the other short-term.”
The long-term strand stretched back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s, when liberals sought to establish programs that would ensure economic security for all Americans. The Social Security Act of 1935 provided old-age insurance (which now bears the name of the legislation itself, Social Security), unemployment insurance, direct assistance to the elderly and blind, maternal and child health programs, and payments to dependent children with an absent or deceased father – the program that became popularly known as welfare.
Liberal efforts to secure employment for Americans as a right failed as attempts to fill the loopholes in Social Security Act were initiated. The Act made no guarantees on employment or health care as more and more Americans, especially poor whites and African Americans, found refuge in it. Today, two generations of Americans have lived under a system that does not promote freedom but rather dependence upon government.
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While Johnson was the Texas director of the National Youth Administration (NYA) during the New Deal he suggested that the best approach to fighting poverty lay in equipping young people, and specifically young men, to take on responsible and productive positions in the national life and economy. Second, he suggested such efforts be facilitated by relying on innovative local and state administrators of the type that he had been with in the Texas NYA.
Johnson’s early thinking about the War on Poverty had two primary currents. The first consisted of equipping the poor to take advantage of opportunity while demanding that they then help themselves. On the morning of the State of the Union speech, he told former Eisenhower Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson “What we’re trying to do – instead of people getting something for nothing – we’re going to try to fit them where they can take care of themselves. ... That’s our program.”
As a proud African-American member of the Durham GOP I believe that the citizenry of Durham regardless of race or political affiliation believe that if you give someone a fish they will come back for more, but if you show someone how to fish they will have enough to be sufficient.
Can anything good come out of Durham? I say yes. It starts when we once again believe that there is true hope in tomorrow and that our families can stand on their own two feet. Hope is not an agenda that reduces us and make us slaves to the system. At its height Rome gave its poor the loaves and fishes and provided entertainment to quiet them as they lived in squalor. The Great Roman Empire, over time, fell from outside and inside foes. Today the same is happening in our cities, states and countries. It comes today in the form of welfare, Obamacare and the chains that its citizens place on themselves when all hope has been lost.
As a black conservative I am not a sellout or someone who has forgotten the past. Rather I propose that all people look at the past 50 years (or the most recent 12 years in Durham) to see if promoting equality by the transferring of wealth is the answer or if believing and working hard and being responsible is the stone that must be turned over.
Terry McCann is an 18-year Durham resident and teacher in the Durham Public Schools.