Scourge of Poverty Target of North Carolina Fund

The North Carolina Fund headquarters in Durham, circa 1968. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.On July 18, 1963, Governor Terry Sanford announced the establishment of the North Carolina Fund, an interracial antipoverty initiative that predated and anticipated President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

Sanford laid out his course in a speech at N.C. A&T State University in April 1963, rejecting segregation and proclaiming, “We must move forward as one people, or we will not move forward at all.”

The governor and his aides, principally novelist John Ehle, crafted a plan, using nonprofit and federal monies, to promote objectives without legislative interference. Startup funds, in the amount of $2.5 million, came from Z. Smith Reynolds and Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundations. A boost came from the Ford Foundation, in the amount of $7 million.  Over the course of five years, federal funds totaling $7 million, were routed to the Fund.

George Esser directed the effort, with the assistance of hundreds of student volunteers. Headquarters were set up in a former auto dealership in Durham, but the focus was statewide and not entirely urban. Special focus went to four mountain counties, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey.

The project in time became a political target, and while the Fund did not succeed in eliminating poverty, its ideals inspired subsequent efforts and activists.

Other related resources:

  • The companion website to To Right These Wrongs, a book on the Fund, containing images, videos and other related materials

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