Fifty years ago this month Michael Harrington wrote a book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States - a haunting tour of deprivation in an affluent society - that inspired Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to wage a war on poverty. This slim, 186-page volume became a best-seller and became required reading for social scientists, elected officials, college students, members of study groups sponsored by churches and synagogues, reporters and intellectuals, the new wave of community organizers and the student activists who traveled to the South to join the civil rights crusade. Harrington was soon in great demand as a speaker on college campuses, union halls and religious congregations. Reporters and television talk-show hosts wanted to interview him.
Harrington wrote that the poor were invisible to most Americans because they lived in rural isolation or in urban slums. Once they become aware of the situation, Americans should be ashamed to live in a rich society with so many poor people.
"The fate of the poor," he concluded, "hangs upon the decision of the better-off. If this anger and shame are not forthcoming, someone can write a book about the other America a generation from now and it will be the same or worse."
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