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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
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
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
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