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In July 1963, Governor Terry Sanford founded the North Carolina Fund as a non-profit organization to help fight poverty in North Carolina. During its five years, the Fund strove to enable the poor to help themselves by mobilizing the community. In addition to community action programs, the Fund focused on improving education. The Fund was used as a template for Lyndon B. Johnson's national "War on Poverty."
The Fund was a result of Sanford's childhood during the Depression, when he himself lived in conditions close to poverty, and his time as governor. Racial tensions were high when Sanford took office because of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated desegregation. Sanford carefully balanced the concerns of the poor with those of conservatives within the state. The Fund was one of the many projects during the Sanford administration that focused on education. John Ehle, a renowned novelist in North Carolina and Sanford's idea man, proposed the idea of the North Carolina Fund. He suggested that the Ford Foundation might be a good source of funding for an anti-poverty program. The Ford Foundation agreed to fund the program.
Governor Sanford's decision to privately fund the North Carolina Fund grew out of the increase in racial tensions and the decline of his popularity. While Sanford hoped that Bert Bennett, his campaign manager, would succeed him, he was unsure that he would be elected and knew that another successor would be uninterested in an anti-poverty program. Even after he left office, he gathered up political and public interest in the fund. He focused on the idea that poverty drained North Carolina resources because of the social problems it caused. However, the Fund was a source of tremendous political tension.
Even so, many of the programs started by the Fund still exist today as non-profit organizations. Two of them are the NC Low Income Housing Development Corporation and the Manpower Development Corporation.
Excerpted from Margaret Bellis, Terry Sanford and the Delicate Balance of Politics: Creating the North Carolina Fund. Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, December 2002.