A Roosevelt House MagaScene

Legacies of the Great Society, Condensed


Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s wave of Great Society legislation gave historic momentum to greater economic and racial equality. Much of that progress is embedded in society today, and yet the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans is the largest since the Great Depression, racial tensions continue to polarize society and gender equality remains a struggle.

How can the enduring challenges of inequality be addressed today? That is the question which was explored by the conference, Legacies of the Great Society: War, Poverty and Voting Rights, at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in March of 2015.

Panels of scholars, practitioners, experts and advocates assessed the impact of the Vietnam War, the effects of War on Poverty programs, and the consequences – then and now – of the Voting Rights Act. This Roosevelt House MagaScene – a selection of video clips and quotes – presents highlights and key moments of the two-day conference.


  • Jack Rosenthal, Interim Director, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

  • For more than 35 years, scholars and journalists looking for insight into poverty have turned to the work of Sheldon Danziger, a distinguished professor who is now the president of the renowned Russell Sage Foundation. Danziger first raised the alarm about income inequality 20 years ago when he and Peter Gottschalk published “America Unequal,” a book that demonstrated how powerful economic forces diminished the prospects of millions of Americans and why a rising tide no longer lifts all.

  • KEYNOTE: SHELDON DANZIGER – Keynote – “Fighting Racial Discrimination, Poverty and Disadvantage: From Then to Now."

  • Sheldon Danziger, President, Russell Sage Foundation.

  • Jack Rosenthal, Interim Director, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

  • Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Founder, CasaColumbia, and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

  • PANEL DISCUSSION – “Reflections of the Great Society: Achievements and Challenges”

  • Speakers
    Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Founder, CasaColumbia, and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
    Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History at Columbia University
    Lawrence M. Mead, Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University

    Hugh B. Price, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former President & CEO of the National Urban League

  • DAY TWO: KEYNOTE ADDRESS – “The Roots of Polarization”

  • Robert B. Semple, Jr., Associate Editor of the Editorial Page, The New York Times.

  • PANEL DISCUSSION – “Tonkin Gulf and After: Vietnam War, the Anti-War Movement and Challenges to the Great Society Agenda”

  • Introduction
    Shyama Venkateswar, Director, Public Policy Program at Hunter College


    Robert G. Kaiser, Former Managing Editor at The Washington Post
    Lawrence Levinson, Partner at DLA Piper LLP

    Andrew Polsky, Acting Ruth and Harold Newman Dean of Arts and Sciences at Hunter College

  • PANEL DISCUSSION – “How to Conquer Poverty and Inequality Today?”

  • Speakers
    Mark Levitan, Adjunct Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College
    Julian E. Zelizer, Malcolm Stevenson Forbes (Class of 1941) Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a Fellow at New America Foundation
    Jane Waldfogel, Compton Foundation Centennial Professor at Columbia University School of Social Work

    Sanford Schram, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Hunter College

  • PANEL DISCUSSION – “Voting Rights and Inequality: Then and Now”

  • Speakers
    Anthony Browne, Chair of the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College
    Dale Ho, Director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union
    Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
    Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

    Clay Risen, Senior Op-Ed Editor of The New York Times

  • CLOSING REMARKS: Michael Weinstein

  • Economics is a cold science, rooted in metrics, formulas and algorithms. Throughout his career as a brilliant economist, Michael Weinstein has put warmth and heart into the picture. He headed the economics department at Haverford college, where he created a program to help people living in poverty manage their finances—even as the state required him to pay $20,000 for insurance out of his own pocket. At The New York Times he wrote prodigiously about economic policy, especially poverty and health care. Meanwhile, he continued serving poor people in his free time. After he took a demanding day job supervising the Robin Hood Foundation, Michael founded Single Stop, a program that co-locates agencies into one place, and has now expanded to 113 locations in eight states.

  • Michael Weinstein, Senior Vice President for Programs and Chief Program Officer of the Robin Hood Foundation.