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RFK: Whites and Nonwhites Will Benefit from Anti-Poverty Program

Apr. 7, 1964 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy refuted today a Republican suggestion that only Negroes would benefit from the Johnson Administration’s anti-poverty program. Of the nation’s poor, he said, only about 20% are nonwhite. Recent Government figures show that 22% of the nation’s poor are nonwhite, but that nearly half of the nonwhites are poor.

The racial question was raised by Rep. William H. Ayres (R-Oh.) as a special House subcommittee resumed hearings on the Administration’s program to end poverty in the nation. Mr. Kennedy was the sixth Cabinet member to appear before the subcommittee in support of the program.

Mr. Ayres suggested that if standards of need were set, the anti-poverty program “won’t cover any white people at all.”

“I don’t agree with you,” Mr. Kennedy retorted.

He was backed up by a Southern Democrat, Rep. Phil Landrum of Georgia, sponsor of the Administration bill.

“Negroes are not the only poor people in the world,” Mr. Landrum said. He pledged to work equally hard to eliminate poverty among both whites and Negroes.

Mr. Kennedy spent nearly three hours before the subcommittee, explaining details of the program and defending it against its critics.

The program would stifle individual initiative and ruin the “pioneer spirit of many of our people,” Rep. David Martin (R-Neb.) argued.

“Have you ever told a coal miner in West Virginia or Kentucky that what he needs is individual initiative to go out and get a job where there isn’t one?” Mr. Kennedy inquired.

Mr. Martin replied that he had talked to miners during one trip, and he had found many opposed to Federal aid.

“I was in that same mine, and that isn’t what they told me,” Rep. James Roosevelt (D-Calif.) interjected.

Earlier, in his testimony, the Attorney General traced the anti-poverty program to his brother, President Kennedy. “President Kennedy was totally committed to confronting and dealing with these problems,” the Attorney General said, “and involving the national Administration to a greater extent than ever before.”



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