A Visit to Resurrection City Washington, D.C. “Are there poor people in Texas?” The question came from a blond, long-haired curly-mustachioed man of 21 or so whom I had hailed inside Resurrection City, USA. He and a friend, both wearing jeans and work shirts, stood across the three foot-high pick e t-and-w i r e snow fence which outlines the city. They carried cans of paint and rollers. They stood beside a half-an-A-frame shelter made of sheets of plywood nailed on 2×4 framing. Three plywood sheets on the slanting side had slogans painted on them. The top read “This is the Great Society.” “Love” said the middle panel; “Hell No We Won’t Go,” said the lowest one. Washington, D.C., is a paradise for a free-lance writer, and the biggest story in the capital that late May weekend was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s poor people’s campaign city in West Potomac Park. Because my stories appear mostly in Texas, I was looking for Texans to interview. I had tried and failed, because of crowds and confusion at the city entrance, to get a press card which would have allowed me to enter the camp. Now I wandered outside, looking, listening, and once in a while asking questions of the people across the fence. At my wave, the painters had come over to talk. They looked puzzled. No, they didn’t know anybody there from Texas. Possibly some Texans were “coming in today.” One grinned at the other, then needled: “Poor people in Texas?” They turned and began to cover the middle panel of the but with barn-red paint. Beyond them Negro and white workmen nailed together frames, re-inforced them, hammered down plywood. The city population, according to ,the Washington Star, grew to 2,500 that day. The southern section of West Potomac Park was covered with precisely placed occupied shelters. Some were A-frame, others were half-an-A, with the split A’s facing each other, a few feet apart, so that the ground between was shaded. Children jumped rope in open spots or played on patches of grass. A white woman pushing a sleepy baby in a stroller near me asked her husband, “do the children go to school?” He didn’t know, and I realized that I didn’t either. Adults inside were busybuilding shelters, digging trenches for sewage lines which were to be tied to the city system, arranging belongings. A Negro man of maybe 35, dressed in the stiff new work denim pants and jacket uniform of a city marshal, talked across the fence to two middleclass, Negro men of about the same age. “We want to do things constitutionally,” the man inside said. “But if they won’t listen, we’ll stay here until they do. Or until they shoot us or run us off. I guess you could say I had it made. My job was Mrs. Ficklen is a free-lance writer who lives in Dallas. all right and we lived in an integrated neighborhood. But my kids couldn’t do the things the white neighbor’s kids could do. I just sort of decided I had to prove my manhood to my kids. The movement was an opportunity, so I joined up.” There was question from the man outside which I didn’t hear, and the answer: “My oldest is 13.” I MOVED ON, behind a welldressed Negro woman who was explaining to her child, “yes, sure, there are poor white people.” The city, with its circussized mess tent and temporary shelters, crowds of people stirring up dust outside and inside the compound, loud speakers barking announcements, and the SCLC volunteers hawking buttons and banners, Mary Ficklen reminded me of a country fair in East Texas on a sultry June day. The crowds outside, mostly tourists or local sight-seers, seemed mildly sympathetic to the project, though only the young bought banners and pins. Many were carrying, and using, cameras. The city residents paid no attention to the gawking and picture-taking. The only tension was at the gate, where marshals had trouble keeping the driveway clear for volunteer-driven sedans and station wagons which shuttled back and forth bringing poor from Washington Coliseum to the camp. New arrivals, families and a sprinkling of individuals, mostly Negro, a few white, carried rolls of blankets and a duffle bag or suitcase or two. Maybe 30 minutes later I slipped through drizzle to the dental clinic. Howard University dental students knew of one student from Houston who had worked there as a volunteer, but he wasn’t on duty. The dentist in charge, a Washington Negro woman, said that, so far as she knew, there were no staffers from Houston. Back home the next day I read that 150 people in two buses had left El Paso for Washington while I was in Washington and that 27 poor from San Antonio had spent a night in Dallas en route to the capital. Ten days later local papers had not reported their arrival. In the next week Dallas Cong. Joe Pool had introduced a bill into the House of Representatives which would make it illegal for anyone to camp on government property near the Capitol. Cong. Earle Cabell, also Dallas, had told a local radio reporter in a taped interview that he thought the poor were hurting their cause with their “city” and that he was afraid their methods would antagonize Congress. Cong. John Dowdy, Athens, told the Dallas News that the federal government “has surrendered to the mobs who have left their homes and jobs.” Republican Cong. George Bush, Houston, visited the city, according to the News, and urged congressmen to “take a look, keep a closed mouth, and an open mind.” An Associated Press photo brought me up-to-date on the work of the Sunday afternoon painters. They lettered new words on the old “love” panel: “War Poverty Hate/The American Dream” and added a slogan to a side panel: “Support the Second American Revolution.” N THE MEANTIME I had checked out the status of Texas poor. Texas, according to the Office of Economic Opportunity, had a per capita income of $2,346 in 1965 ranking 31st among the states. The poverty section of Gov. John Connally’s Status of Women Commission report cites 1960 census figures. to show that 28.8% of Texas families then had annual incomes below the $3,000 poverty level and “over threefourths of the unattached individuals in Texas were living in poverty” \(under rn 1965 230,000 Texans on old age assistance received payments averaging $69 per month each. Aid to dependent children payments averaged $91 per family and were paid ‘to almost 21,000 families, totaling nearly 95,000 persons, 71,000 of them children. Some 129,000 unemployed collected an average of $30 per week in unemployment compensation for an average of 12 weeks each; more than one-third of the recipients exhausted their benefit claims before they found employment? Finally, in 1965, 32 income tax reports from Texas showed an annual adjusted gross income \(gross income less excludmillion dollars. However, 1,166,424 tax returns of the 3,218,586 that were filed by Texans \(approximately 65% of them husjusted gross income of less than $3,000. 2 Yes, there are poor people in Texas. 1 The figures in this paragraph are taken from the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 87th edition. 2 Figures according to the US Treasury Depart. ment, Internal Revenue Service publication Individual Income Tax Returns: Statistics of Income, 1965, page 101. For the same year 619,729 Texas returns showed adjusted gross income of $3,000-$4,999; 1.061,717 of $5,000-$9,999; and 445,716 of $10,000 and more. The Texas percentage of under-$3,000 gross income returns is about 36%, compared to the US percentage of about 31% According to 1960 census figures, of the 4,604,370 Texans .14 years and older making some earn less than $4,000 each year. Source: US Census of Population, 1960, Texas Detailed Characteristics, US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. June 7, 1968 11
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