Flashback: The Southern photographs that inspired the Food Stamp Act

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Georgia photographer Al Clayton’s striking portraits of poverty in the South helped prompt Congress to launch the national food aid program

Circa Appalachia
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Photograph By Al Clayton

In the summer of 1967, four doctors and Georgia photographer Al Clayton toured the rural South and Atlanta at the request of the Southern Regional Council, a civil rights group. The purpose: document the shacks the country’s poor called home and the meager diets—cola and potatoes—they consumed. Many of their subjects had severe burns caused by their clothes catching fire as they huddled close to space heaters. The doctors found that nearly every child was in a “state of negative nitrogen balance”—their bodies were consuming their own muscle to survive. Struck by the group’s testimony later that year, Congress would go on to pass the Food Stamp Act. “There is no reason why anyone in America has to go hungry,” Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote in the introduction of Still Hungry in America, the 1969 collection of Clayton’s photographs, including this one, that was reissued this year by the University of Georgia Press and the Southern Foodways Alliance.

This article appears in our June 2018 issue.