Professor examines link between race, poverty

By Joe Chapman, Herald staff writer December 29, 2008 

It's been almost a half-century since the 1960s, and the Tri-Cities is a long way from Los Angeles.

But Bob Bauman, an associate professor of history at Washington State University Tri-Cities, believes the effects of fighting poverty and developing community resources in Southern California back then still are rippling through society today.

"You have this sort of moment in time, the '60s and '70s where the War on Poverty and these movements, which were sort of about expanding democracy, came together and created these agencies that continue today," Bauman said.

In his book Race and the War on Poverty Bauman examines the effect of President Lyndon Johnson's signature domestic program on the communities of Los Angeles and on the dynamics of racial conflict in the U.S.

Community Action Agencies were organized locally to give low-income people a way to participate and access the federal programs. Although the project's funding was reduced in the Nixon Administration, a lot of its programs, such as Head Start and the Job Corps, were realigned into other federal departments and survived.

"These agencies in their own little neighborhoods and communities are still fighting poverty as best they can with the resources they have," Bauman said. "And they are still specifically for the most part connected to these movements."

The idea for Bauman's book evolved from a seminar paper he did while a graduate student at University of California Santa Barbara. Now his research on the relationship between race and poverty is benefiting a new generation of student.

Discrimination still exists, but it's not as outwardly blatant as it used to be, Bauman said during a recent session of his class Poverty and Policy in American History.

"But the legacy of that still remains with us -- the legacy in terms of employment opportunities, wealth creation and ownership," he said. "That is still a part of our history that has not completely changed yet."

Students like Alex Larmey of Kennewick, a senior, said he can apply the lessons to current issues such as the War in Iraq and the economic downturn.

"I came from a pretty OK, middle-class family. So poverty's never been a huge concern," Larmey said. "So it's kind of an eye-opening thing, and it's pretty prevalent right now."

Bauman said the presidential election of Barack Obama, a former community organizer in Chicago, has made his new book particularly timely.

"The heroes of the story are community organizers, community activists," Bauman said. "Obama wasn't there in the '60s and '70s, but the tradition of community organizing has carried over beyond that period."

Race and the War on Poverty is available online at Amazon.com and oupress.com, and copies are expected to be in stock at The Bookie campus bookstore at WSU Tri-Cities and at Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

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