April 24, 1964: Barely five months had passed since President John F. Kennedy was gunned down on a Dallas street. Yet Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, had already articulated an ambitious agenda — a series of programs and policies designed to assist the nation’s poor. On a mild spring day, Johnson came to Pittsburgh and announced, “I’m here to declare war on poverty.”
Reported the Post-Gazette, “Pittsburgh welcomed the President and Mrs. Johnson,but the South Side loved him.” Johnson departed the Downtown Hilton Hotel in a limousine but switched to an open car on East Carson Street. There, “hard-hatted steelworkers, nurses in starched white uniforms and mothers with babies in their arms lined the sidewalks for blocks.” The presidential motorcade crawled along as Johnson frequently stopped to shake hands. The 13-block trip to from the 10th Street bridge to the steelworkers hall where Johnson was scheduled to speak took 35 minutes.
Once at the hall, Johnson used a bullhorn to “boom his Texas-style drawl” to an enthusiastic crowd. Hours later, Johnson traveled to tiny Inez, Kentucky, where he chatted for 10 minutes with Tommy Fletcher, who seemed to embody the seemingly hopeless poverty gripping much of Appalachia. Photographs of the visit made Fletcher famous as an icon of what had become “ground zero” in Johnson’s newly declare war.