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Richard Boone
updated: Mar 02, 2014, 7:09 PM

By Edhat Subscriber

Richard W. Boone, a leading strategist and architect of the War on Poverty, including Head Start, the Community Action Program and the Legal Services Program, died February 27, 2014 at his home in Santa Barbara, CA after a long illness. Richard Wolf Boone was born in Louisville, KY, on March 29, 1927, the son of a doctor whose patients impressed on him the harsh realities of Appalachian poverty and segregation.

At 16, without finishing high school, Boone enrolled at the University of Chicago to study criminology. There he helped in a study that found 88 percent of state felons released to fight in World War II had gained honorable discharges. This astounding fact, as he called it, helped modify parole decision- making in Illinois. As a student assistant to a parole officer at the Kentucky State Reformatory, Boone developed a new procedure that prevented inmates from getting lost in the bureaucracy and being held well after completing their sentences.

As a police captain in the Cook County Sheriff's Office, Boone reorganized the Juvenile Bureau to focus on juvenile delinquency prevention and led a team confronting organized crime, focusing on establishments run by Sam Giancana, the head of the Chicago organized crime syndicate.

Boone worked for Robert F Kennedy at the Justice Department, There he created the Appalachian Volunteers, a college service corps that tackled poverty and local political corruption and brought legal services to low-income people. Boone then became Director of Special Projects in the President¹s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime. He shared ideas with Robert Kennedy and shared his ambitions for the country, said veteran activist Frank Mankiewicz and RFK Press Secretary. I don¹t know anyone who was closer to RFK. Certainly he was one of four or five people who had his ear, always.

He joined the White House Special Projects Staff in 1963-64 and then served as Director for the Community Action Program in the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1964-65. At the Office of Economic Opportunity, in 1964-65, Boone was key not only to the concept and enactment of Head Start but also for Upward Bound and the Foster Grandparents, Community Health Centers and Legal Services programs.

Boone insisted that the budding war on poverty involve maximum feasible participation of the people the programs were trying to help. I was very skeptical of top down approaches to social action, he wrote in an unpublished memoir. In particular I was highly skeptical of professionals who seldom asked the clientele about their own perception of needs.

This awareness, he recalled, had originated with renowned community organizer Saul Alinsky at a neighborhood meeting in Chicago. Boone had been working as a police captain and Youth Bureau director in the Cook County Sheriff¹s Office made a reference to target groups. Alinsky responded sharply that those on Chicago¹s South Side were more than a little tired of being your targets. Thereafter Boone championed planning with rather than for the country¹s disadvantaged.

He pioneered a three-legged stool approach to anti-poverty programs, in which control over funds and activities would be split among the public sector, the private nonprofit sector and representatives of the areas to be served. People are still building on what he did and the way he did it, said Rep. John Lewis. He made a lasting contribution to the betterment of America.

Boone has since noted I was definitely interested in shaking things up, but not in organizing the poor against everyone else, he wrote. Those of us attempting to advance this precept were concerned about Indian communities long dominated and mismanaged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, migratory workers badly exploited by growers and long excluded from most labor laws, poor people trapped and exploited in the rural fiefdoms of Appalachia and the South, and those trapped in urban ghettoes.

With the support of Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers, Boone left the government in 1965 to establish the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty as an outside watchdog on anti-poverty programs. He conceived and was the principal organizer of the Citizens¹ Board of Inquiry Into Hunger and Malnutrition in the United States, whose report Hunger USA documented serious and shocking hunger and malnutrition problems that had long been ignored.

Someone had to draw attention to the fact there were people in this country who were in dire need, and to force people to pay attention to it, recalled author Nick Kotz in the tribute video. Boone was among the people who took that on as a mission.

With the support of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other prominent legislators, the work of the Citzens Crusade led to the enactment of the nation¹s Food Stamp program, replacing commodity distribution as the basic way to reach the hungry poor.

He was the first lifeline of hope for people in Washington who were working out in the field trying to help the poor, said Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund. He is owed a huge debt of gratitude for fighting against a huge bureaucracy and winning.

Eddie Brown of the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty recalled him as beyond determined: If he sunk his teeth into something, he was like a pit bull.

In 1968, Boone joined the Washington-based Center for Community Change as senior vice president, organizing The Youth Project, the first national program advocating progressive youth development programs in local communities. In 1970 he became director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, organizing a National Board of Inquiry into High School Journalism to fight censorship and commissioning the Push-Out Report on the tendency of newly integrated schools to suspend or expel black student leaders. He also place RFK Fellows in community organizations around the country.

Boone moved to California in 1974 to be a fellow at the Urban Policy Research Institute in Los Angeles. The following year he became co-director of the Citizens Policy Center in Santa Barbara, promoting opportunities for young people.

In 1977, he moved to New York direct the Field Foundation. Boone had an entrepreneurial approach to philanthropy and he reached out to a wide variety of people to discuss social problems and then designed solutions to address specific problems. He founded the Indochina Refugee Action Center to rescue and resettle Indo-Chinese boat people escaping the Vietnamese mainland but being preyed upon by pirates. With the late Lisa Goldberg of the Revson Foundation, he founded the Funders Committee for Civic Participation to promote voting and protect voting rights particularly among the young, low-income Americans, especially minorities.

He also conceived and created the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, now the nation¹s most reliable sources of nonpartisan information on federal and state policies affecting poor and moderate income Americans. He supported development of the Communications Consortium Media Center, which helps nonprofits use media and new technologies as strategic tools for policy change.

He remained active as an independent consultant and policy adviser on social and antipoverty policy issues until his death.

Boone is survived by his wife of 62 years, Chloris Robinson Boone; 4 sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.


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