CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fifty years ago, Michael Harrington described a population struggling to make ends meet. Beset by chronic poverty among generations, the people couldn't afford decent housing, proper nutrition, or adequate medical care.
The year was 1960 and the people were American citizens.
Harrington proposed in his essay, "The Other America," that an end to economic inequality in America was within reach in the U.S., and could be eliminated through a comprehensive, coordinated assault on poverty.
A copy of the essay came across the desk of newly elected President John F. Kennedy. The essay resonated with what Kennedy had witnessed while campaigning in the coalfields of Appalachia: families living in shacks without running water and children in rags -- human beings simply struggling to survive.
The people Kennedy met and Harrington described lived in McDowell County, West Virginia, just 300 miles from Washington, D.C. -- but a world apart.
They were the inspiration for the "War on Poverty" Kennedy christened in a speech celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Social Security program days before his death.
Kennedy called on representatives from several different cabinets to come together each Saturday to brainstorm ideas and programs that might lead to an end to the extreme poverty affecting nearly a quarter of Americans.
"The "Saturday groups" were just beginning when Kennedy was shot in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Although Kennedy's life had come to an end, his dream for economic equality among Americans would not.
The torch was passed to Lyndon B. Johnson to carry on Kennedy's anti-poverty crusade. Johnson entrusted the late President's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to recruit the best and brightest minds on the subject. Together, they set out to provide the underserved a path to a life otherwise out of reach.