Historians of recent American politics have begun to reevaluate the significance of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty to the tumultuous 1960s. This reevaluation, however, has often neglected to probe the ideological and theological underpinnings of much of the grassroots activism of the decade. In my talk, I will explore the mixture of Prophetic Christianity and radical politics that fueled the efforts of many grassroots activists in Houston who provided the ground troops in the War on Poverty. Inspired by the writings of theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Harvey Cox, as well as radical community organizer Saul Alinsky, these local antipoverty activists attempted to empower the city’s poor residents through radical community organizing. In the process, they contested mainstream definitions of democracy.
Wesley G. Phelps, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University, where he teaches courses on recent American history, LGBT history, and the history of the American South. His book, A People’s War on Poverty: Urban Politics and Grassroots Activists in Houston, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2014. His current research continues to look at grassroots activists and struggles for justice in the 20th century. He has just completed an article that explores gay and lesbian political activism in Houston during the 1980s and is researching for a book project on the AIDS crisis in Atlanta.
Date(s) - Jan 31, 2016
10:30 am - 11:30 am