President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Great Society Program

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  • 0:05 Continuing the Initiative
  • 1:09 A Better America
  • 2:38 Combating Poverty
  • 3:57 An Impractical Dream
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Great Society was an ambitious legislative program which attempted to eliminate poverty and racial inequity within the United States. Learn about the creation of the program, its endeavors and its ultimate legacy.

Continuing the Initiative

Upon assuming the presidency in 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson was tasked with the monumental assignment of continuing the initiatives of not only President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, but of the welfare state that was created under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Johnson was successful in implementing New Frontier goals, such as a major tax cut, the creation of VISTA (which was the domestic version of the Peace Corps) and ensuring the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which officially prohibited racial discrimination in the United States. Yet, that was only the beginning.

After securing a resounding victory in the 1964 presidential election over conservative rival Barry Goldwater, Johnson embarked on a mission to permanently end poverty and racial inequality within the United States. Johnson named his program of sweeping legislation (close to 400 pieces) to combat the national societal ills the Great Society. The legislation of the Great Society aimed at tackling poverty, racial injustice, urban decay, unemployment, national beautification and education reform, just to name a few.

A Better America

One aspect of Johnson's Great Society program was to improve the overall quality of American life. This meant addressing racial inequality as well as halting the decline of the American landscape. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a powerful foreshadowing to Johnson's Great Society's goal of ending racial inequality. Yet, while the legislation prohibited discrimination, the Act still failed to address the black fear of voting, especially in the Deep South.

Johnson decided to address this looming issue by supporting the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark piece of legislation officially prohibited voter discrimination by preventing polling stations from issuing literacy tests prior to voting.

Another powerful piece of anti-discrimination legislation sought under the Great Society was the Immigration Act of 1965. This Act prohibited discrimination against immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Improving life for Americans did not stop at anti-discrimination legislation. Johnson pursued sweeping legislation that focused on water quality, the environment, park renewal and beautification, highway safety and child safety among others.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in order to begin the revitalization process within the inner cities. Johnson also ushered in a renaissance of the arts with the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Arts. The overarching goal was to reduce the amount of concerns by Americans over uncontrollable issues, which would allow them to refocus their attention on helping create a stronger America.

Combating Poverty

Johnson made the battle against poverty in the United States the foremost goal of the Great Society. After issuing a proclamation that he would begin a 'War on Poverty', Johnson began the process of creating remarkable legislation, such as the Economic Opportunity Act, which, as you will soon see, provided a platform for massive social improvement and services. The goal was to end economic suffering throughout the nation.

Johnson began with revamping the healthcare system. The Great Society created two programs that would be nationally funded and benefit two groups of individuals: Medicare, which supplied coverage for the elderly, and Medicaid, which provided healthcare for those with a low income. Johnson also increased the welfare program in the United States.

The expansion of welfare included the beginning of the Food Stamp Program and aid to those families who could claim dependents. Additionally, the Model Cities Program helped provide cleaner, safer and cheaper living conditions for low-income families.

Johnson's Great Society also reformed education and the workforce. The Head Start Program was created to help students develop skills necessary to thrive within the academic community. Programs, such as the Job Corps, which helped transition youth into workers, and the Community Action Program, which subsidized grassroots community projects, helped remove the destitute from the streets and place them into a position of responsibility.

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