An Unwilling Partnership With the Great Society Part I: Head Start and the Beginning of Change in the White Medical Community

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By 1965, the policies and programs of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society brought optimism to black physicians and a new wave of resistance against black civil rights advocates in the American South. The largest of the first Head Start programs, Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), had its roots in Freedom Summer 1964 and the Medical Committee for Human Rights. Like other proposed programs with strong medical components, CDGM was caught in a legislative Bermuda triangle created by the powerful Mississippi congressional delegation to maintain white supremacy and plantation economics. Physician-led investigations exposed the extraordinary level of poor health among Mississippi’s black children, supported Head Start as a remedy, and awakened the white medical establishment to health disparities of the Jim Crow period. It was also the beginning of positive change in the previously silent white medical community in the South and their support of civil justice in health.

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