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Text of LBJ Speeches as Read by NEA Executive Committee

Delivered at the 2010 NEA Annual Meeting & Representative Assembly

Central to NEA’s July 4 celebration at the 2010 Annual Meeting & Representative Assembly was a tribute to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who 45 years ago signed into law a number of bills that would comprise his Great Society legacy. Members of the NEA Executive Committee read excerpts from various speeches he delivered while signing the legislation.

President Lyndon Johnson’s remarks on signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, April 11, 1965

Read by Christy Levings, NEA Executive Committee

I want to welcome to this little school of my childhood many of my former schoolmates, as well as some of my dear friends from the educational institutions of this area. My attorney general tells me that it is legal and constitutional to sign this act on a Sunday, even on Palm Sunday. My minister assured me that the Lord's day will not be violated by making into law a measure which brings mental and moral benefits to millions of our young people. So I have chosen this time and this place for two reasons.

First, I do not wish to delay by a single day the programs that strengthen this nation's elementary and secondary schools. Second, I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education, to be reminded and to remind others of that magical time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.

From our very beginnings as a nation, we have felt a first commitment to the ideal of education for everyone. It fits itself into our Democratic creed. For too long political acrimony held up our progress. For too long, children suffered while jarring interests caused stalemates in the efforts to improve our schools. Since 1946, Congress tried repeatedly and failed repeatedly to enact measures for elementary and secondary education. Now, within the past three weeks, the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed the most sweeping educational bill ever to come before Congress. It represents a major new commitment of the federal government, to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people. By passing this bill, we bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for more than five million educationally deprived children. We put into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.

We reduce the terrible lag in bringing new teaching techniques into the nation's classrooms. We strengthen state and local agencies which bear the burden and the challenge of better education, and we rekindle the revolution -- the revolution of the spirit against the tyranny of ignorance.

As the son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is only valid in its passport from poverty, the only valid passport. As a former teacher -- and I hope a future one -- I have great expectations of what this law will mean for all our young people. As President of the United States, I believe deeply no law has signed or will ever sign means more to the future of America. We have established the law. Let us not delay in putting it to work. 

Johnson on the launch of Headstart, May 18, 1965

Read by Paula Monroe, NEA Executive Committee

Today we are able to announce that we will have opened and believe operating this summer coast to coast some 2,000 child development centers serving as many as possibly a half million children. This news means nearly half the school children of poverty will get a head start on their future. These children will receive preschool training to prepare them for regular school in September. They will get medical and dental attention that they badly need, and parents will receive counseling on improving the home environment. This is the most remarkable accomplishment, and it has been done in a very short time. It would not be possible except for the willing and enthusiastic cooperation of Americans throughout the country.

I believe this response reflects a realistic and wholesome awakening in America. It shows that we are recognizing that poverty perpetuates itself. Five- and six-year-old children are inheritors of poverty, of poverty's curse, and not its creditors. Unless we act, these children will pass it onto the next generation, like a family birthmark.

This program means that 30 million man-years, the combined life span of these youngsters, will be spent productively and rewardingly rather than wasted in tax-supported institutions or in welfare-supported lethargy. I believe that this is one of the most constructive and one of the most sensible and one of the most exciting programs that this nation has undertaken. And I don't say that just because the most ardent, most active and most enthusiastic supporter of this program happens to be the honorary national chairman, Mrs. Johnson. We have taken up the age-old challenge of poverty, and we don't intend to lose generations of our children to this enemy of the human race. This program, like so many others, will succeed in proportion as it is supported by voluntary assistance and understanding from all of our people. So there are going to be millions of good neighbors, volunteers who will give their time, a few hours each week, caring for these children, helping in a hundred ways to draw out their potentials. We need housewives, and we need teachers and doctors, we need men and women of all walks and all interests, to lend their talents, their warmth, their hands, and their hearts.

The bread that is cast upon these waters will certainly return many thousandfold. What a sense of achievement. And what great pride, and how happy that will make all of us who love America feel about this undertaking.

Johnson on the signing of the Medicare Medicaid bill, July 30, 1965

Read by Greg Johnson, NEA Executive Committee

It was generation ago that Harry Truman said, and I quote him, "Millions of our citizens do not have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against economic effects of sickness, and the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection."

Well, today, Mr. President, and my fellow Americans, we are taking such action, 20 years later, because the need for this action is plain. It is so clear indeed that we marvel not simply at the passage of this bill but what we marvel at is that it took so many years to pass it. There are more than 18 million Americans over the age of 65. Most of them have low incomes. Most of them are threatened by illness and medical expenses that they cannot afford.

And through this new law, every citizen will be able in its productive years when it's earning to insure himself against the ravages of illness in his old age.

No longer will Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush or destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.

No longer will young families see their own incomes and their own hopes eaten away simply because they are caring carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents and to their uncles and to their aunts. And no longer will this nation refuse the hand of justice to those who have given a lifetime of service and wisdom and labor to the progress of this progressive country.

President Harry Truman, as any president must, made many great decisions of great moment, although he has always made them frankly and with the courage and clarity that few men have ever shared. The immense intricate questions of freedom and survival were called up many times in the web of Harry Truman's judgment. And this is in the tradition of leadership.

But there is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us to never to ignore or spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.

Because of this document, and the long years of struggle which so many have put into creating it, in this town and a thousand other towns like it, there are men and women in pain who will now find ease. There are those alone in suffering who will now hear the sound of some approaching footsteps coming to help. There are those fearing the terrible darkness of despairing poverty -- despite their long years of labor and expectation -- who will now look up to see the light of hope and realization. There can just be no satisfaction, nor any act of leadership, that gives greater satisfaction than this.

Johnson on signing the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965

Read by Joyce Powell, NEA Executive Committee

Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield. It was only at Appomattox, a century ago, that an American victory was also a Negro victory and two rivers, one shining with promise, the other dark stained with oppression, began to move toward one another. Yet, for almost a century, the promise of that day was not fulfilled. Today is a towering and certain mark that in this generation that promise will be kept. In our time, the two currents will finally mingle and rush as one great stream across the uncertain and the marvelous years of the America that is yet to come.

This Act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American in his heart can justify. The right is one in which no American true to our principles can deny.

There were those who said smaller and more gradual measures should be tried. But they had been tried. For years and years, they had been tried and tried and tried, and they had failed and failed and failed. And the time for failure is gone.

There were those who said that this is a many-sided and very complex problem. But however viewed, the denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong, and the time for injustice has gone.

This law covers many pages, but the heart of the act is plain. Wherever, by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations or laws for tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. Today, what is perhaps the last of the legal barriers is tumbling.

There will be many actions and many difficulties before the rights woven into law are also woven into the fabric of our nation. But the struggle for equality must now move toward a different battlefield.

So we will move step by step, often painfully, but I think with clear vision, along the path toward American freedom. It is difficult to fight for freedom, but I also know how difficult it can be to spend long years of habit and custom to granted. There is no room for injustice anywhere in the American mansion. But there is always room for understanding toward those who see the old ways crumbling. And to them, today, I simply say this: It must come.

It is a right that it should come. And when it has, you will find that a burden has been lifted from your shoulders, too. The central fact of American civilization, one so hard for others to understand, is that freedom and justice and the dignity of man are not just words to us. We believe in them. Under all the growth and the tumult and abundance, we believe. And so as long as some among us are oppressed, and we are a part of that oppression, it must blunt our faith and sap the strength of our high purpose.

Thus, this is a victory for the freedom of the American Negro, but it is also a victory for the freedom of the American nation, and every family across this great, entire, searching land will live stronger in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the act that you have passed, and that I will sign today.

Johnson on signing the Arts and Humanities Bill, Sept. 29, 1965

Read by Princess Moss, NEA Executive Committee

In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalogue.

Art is a nation's most precious heritage, for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.

This new bill creating the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities gives us the power to turn some of those dreams and ideas into reality. We would not have this bill but for the hard and thorough and dedicated work of some of our great legislators in both houses of the Congress. These men and women have worked long and hard and effectively to give us this bill.

And now we have it. Let me tell you what we are going to do with it.

Working together with the state and the local governments and with many private organizations in the arts, we will create a national theater to bring ancient and modern classics of the theater to audiences all over America. We will support a national opera company and a national ballet company. We will create an American film institute, bringing together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators, and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th century art form as their life's work.

We will commission new works of music by American composers. We will support our symphony orchestras. We will bring more great artists to our schools and universities by creating grants for their time in residence.

But these actions and others soon to follow cannot alone achieve our goals. To produce true and lasting results, our states and municipalities, our schools and our great private foundations must join forces with us. It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation's art is born.

In countless American towns, there live thousands of obscure and unknown talent. What this bill really does is to bring active support to this great national asset, to make fresher the winds of art in this great land of ours.

The arts and the humanities belong to the people, for it is, after all, the people who create them.

Johnson on signing the Higher Education Act, Nov. 8, 1965

Read by Leonard Paolillo, NEA Executive Committee

In a very few moments I will put my signature on the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The President's signature upon this legislation passed by this Congress will swing open a new door for the young people of America. For them and for this entire land of ours, it is the most important door that will ever open -- the door to education. And this legislation is the key which unlocks it.

To thousands of young men and women, this act means the path of knowledge is open to all that have a determination to walk in. It means a way to deeper personal fulfillment, greater personal productivity, and increased personal reward.

This bill, which I will make law, is an incentive to stay in school. It means that a high school senior, anywhere in this great land of ours, can apply to any college or any university in any of the 50 states and not be turned away because his family is poor.

So to thousands of young people, education will be available, and it's a truism that education is no longer a luxury. Education in this day and age is a necessity. And in my judgment, this nation can never make a wiser or more profitable investment anywhere else. This bill that I will signing will help our colleges and our universities add grasp to their reach for new knowledge and enlightenment. From this act will also come a new partnership between campus and community, turning the ivory towers of learning into the allies of a better life in our cities.

Too many people for too many years argued that education and health and human welfare were not the government's concern. And while they spoke, our schools fell behind, our sick people went unattended, and our poor fell deeper into despair. But now, at last, we have quit talking and started acting. You have witnessed a historic moment. You should carry the memory and the meaning of this moment with you throughout your life.

And when you look into the faces of your students and your children and your grandchildren, tell them that you were there when it began.

When we leave here this morning, I want you to go back and say to your children, and to your grandchildren, and to those who come after you and follow you, tell them that we have made a promise to them. Tell them that the truth is here for them to see, and tell them that we have opened the road and we have pulled the gates down, and the way is open, and we expect them to travel it.



  • anc_dyn_linksThe State of Our Union: Turning Hope into Action
  • anc_dyn_linksFull Text of Remarks Delivered During the 2010 July 4th Celebration
  • anc_dyn_linksText of LBJ Speeches as Read by NEA Executive Committee

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