Faculty Research at Morehead State University


"We are Ordered to Do Everything": The National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty, American Social Thought, and the War on Poverty

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2009


On January 21, 1967, Berea College president Francis Hutchins was probably both apprehensive and amused as he addressed an intimate gathering of concerned activists in Berea, Kentucky. This particular group had assembled to discuss the problems or Appalachian Kentucky m the context of the not yet-three-year-old War on Poverty. After all, President Lyndon Johnson, when he announced his "unconditional war on poverty" in his State of the Union address on January 8,1964, had specified Appalachia in general, and, as revealed by his visit to Martin County, Kentucky, later that year, eastern Kentucky in particular, as a special area of concern. Now, as a member of the National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty (NA CRP), created by Johnson's executive order in September 1966 to examine that same War on Poverty, Hutchins certainly faced a daunting task. Hampered by racial violence and charges that local administrators of many of the War on Poverty programs abused their offices for their own political and economic gam, Johnson ordered the commission to expose the weaknesses and shortcomings in his Great Society programs. Among other responsibilities, the commission had to investigate everything from farm labor to "cultural opportunities for rural families" and the impact of these factors on migration from rural America to urban centers. Following that, the president required the organization to evaluate "existing programs, policies, and activities" to determine how well they met the needs of the rural poor. The commission, Hutchins hesitantly told those then congregated at what in actuality was an adjunct meeting of the NACRP "is ordered to, it is really wonderful, we are ordered to do everything. The first is to make a comprehensive study and appraisal of everything that relates to ... current economic life. Now that is ... a pretty big order and I do not think the Commission is going to do it."