Holy Cross Conference on Poverty to Mark 50th Anniversary of ‘The Other America’

William Julius Wilson, Maurice Isserman, Peter Dreier and Alan Wolfe among speakers

February 27th, 2012 by 


Renowned historians, sociologists and activists including William Julius Wilson, Maurice Isserman, Peter Dreier, David O’Brien, Bruce Western, Annette Lareau and others will speak at a two-day conference on poverty March 22-23, 2012, organized by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross.

The conference, titled “The Other America Then and Now,” marks the 50th anniversary of Holy Cross alumnus Michael Harrington’s “The Other America,” a seminal book on poverty in the United States that is said to have inspired President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and other social reforms of the 1960s.

“Harrington’s book brought to light an invisible problem: nearly a quarter of Americans were living in poverty in the richest nation in the world,” says Thomas M. Landy, director of the McFarland Center at Holy Cross. “His words were sharp. He said, ‘We should be angry and ashamed.’ And he inspired a generation of political leaders, activists and students to address poverty as a moral imperative.”

The first day of the conference will center on Harrington’s “The Other America,” the context in which it was written, its cultural influence and its role in the development of Great Society programs such as the Economic Opportunity Act, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps in the 1960s. Maurice Isserman, author of “The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington” (Public Affairs Press, 2000) and professor of American history at Hamilton College, will open the conference offering insight on Harrington’s life and legacy, from both a political and cultural perspective. David O’Brien, Catholic historian and professor emeritus at Holy Cross, will talk about Harrington’s time with the Catholic Worker movement and, despite later leaving the Church, his commitment to the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. Thomas Sugrue, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, will talk about the political economy at the time, while Boston College professor Alan Wolfe will describe the intellectual milieu and Georgetown University professor Michael Kazin, co-editor of “Dissent,” will consider the fate of social democracy in America. Finally, urban policy expert and Occidental College professor Peter Dreier will lead a discussion with conference speakers on the Occupy movement and what Harrington would have thought about it.

The second day of the conference will focus on the “Other America” today. Keynote speaker William Julius Wilson, the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard, will talk on “Toward a Holistic Society of Urban Poverty: Why Both Social Structure and Culture Matter.” Wilson is author of books including “More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009); “When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996); “The Truly Disadvantaged” (University of Chicago Press, 1987); and The Declining Significance of Race (University of Chicago Press, 1978). Past president of the American Sociological Association, Wilson has received 44 honorary degrees, was named a MacArthur Prize Fellow from 1987-1992, and was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States.

Other speakers will address the types of concerns Harrington would need to consider if he were writing the book now—urban poverty among children and adolescents, the impact of incarceration and the marginalization of minority men, and child farm labor. Annette Lareau, University of Pennsylvania professor and author of “Unequal Childhoods: Race, Class, and Family Life” (University of California Press, 2003), will talk about urban poverty among children and teens, and Timothy Black, Hartford University associate professor and author of “When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers on and off the Streets” (Random House, 2010), will consider the possible futures for marginalized men. Bruce Western, Harvard professor the author of “Punishment and Inequality in America” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), will talk about the dramatic rise in incarceration and its effect on the poor. In response, Dave McMahon, co-executive director of Dismas House of Massachusetts, Inc. in Worcester, will lead a discussion with Robert Dirsa and Arthur Rosenberg, both former prisoners and one formerly homeless. Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy director of the children’s rights division of Human Right Watch and Norma Flores Lopez, director of the Children in the Fields Campaign, will expose the problem of child farm labor.

“The Other America Then and Now” conference is open to the public. The cost is $30 per day and includes lunch. Registration deadline is March 14, 2012. After March 14, please call 508-793-3869 to inquire about space availability. View complete schedule and online registration.

Harrington (1928-1989) graduated Holy Cross in 1947. He attended Yale Law School and the University of Chicago. He joined the Catholic Worker movement and a few years later the Young People’s Socialist League. He wrote for magazines such as “Dissent,” “New Leader” and “Commonweal.” He first wrote about poverty for “Commentary” magazine, and expanded the articles into “The Other America,” published in 1962. About 70,000 copies were sold in the first year (and over a million copies since), while the book earned early accolades from “Business Week,” “Time” magazine, the “New Yorker” and others. After The Other America, Harrington wrote 11 more books, including “Socialism” (1972), “The Twilight of Capitalism” (1976) and the “Decade of Decision” (1980). Harrington was a professor of political science at Queens College and the leader of the Democratic Socialists of America.

About the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture:

Established in 2001 and housed in Smith Hall, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture provides resources for faculty and course development, sponsors conferences and college-wide teaching events, hosts visiting fellows, and coordinates a number of campus lecture series. Rooted in the College’s commitment to invite conversation about basic human questions, the Center welcomes persons of all faiths and seeks to foster dialogue that acknowledges and respects differences, providing a forum for intellectual exchange that is interreligious, interdisciplinary, intercultural, and international in scope.  The Center also brings members of the Holy Cross community into conversation with the Greater Worcester community, the academic community, and the wider world to examine the role of faith and inquiry in higher education and in the larger culture.

For additional information, please contact Cristal Steuer at 508-793-2419.

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