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Lyndon B. Johnson: Special Message to the Congress on the Needs of the Nation's Capital.
Lyndon B. Johnson
70 - Special Message to the Congress on the Needs of the Nation's Capital.
February 15, 1965
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1965: Book I
Lyndon B. Johnson
1965: Book I
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To the Congress of the United States:

The Nation's Capital should be a city in which every American can take justifiable pride. For the District of Columbia is more than a city--it is the seat of the Federal Government and the home of our most meaningful national shrines.

Our founding fathers not only planned a great nation but a great capital city for that nation. Their foresight and dedication--and the patient work of generations of Americans--have built a beautiful and inspiring National Capital. But for cities, as for men, there is no standing still. We progress or we fall back. This Administration will not fail in the stewardship vested in it for the Nation's Capital. It is dedicated to enhancing and preserving the beauty and dignity of our Capital and to the improvement of the lives of its citizens.

There is much to be done. The programs that I propose envision immediate as well as long-range changes and improvements. We must continue and strengthen our efforts and more effectively marshal our resources to achieve the goals of an even better city. Every American must always be able to point to his Nation's Capital as a living expression of the highest ideals of democratic government.

I. HOME RULE The most significant requirement, and one which can be accomplished immediately, is the restoration to the citizens of the District of Columbia of the direction and control of their own local affairs. I have already set out my recommendations in this respect in a message to the Congress proposing the necessary legislation.

II. MUNICIPAL SERVICES The Federal Government, until home rule has been achieved, and the District Government thereafter, must attack the deficiencies in programs which now exist. Those deficiencies which follow are only the most important and the most urgent.

A. Education. No more important responsibility rests on any local government than the provision of adequate educational facilities for its younger citizens. No need is more urgent than that of providing for all boys and girls the opportunity to secure the highest and best education of which they are capable.

1. The public school system of the District, which already has many achievements to its credit, must become one of the great school systems in the Nation.

Curricula and teaching methods must reflect the best experience available in the United States, particularly as it is related to young people who come to the schools from disadvantaged circumstances at home. The most highly qualified teachers must be recruited, and teachers in temporary category reduced to a minimum. More supporting personnel, particularly counsellors, are needed. No child should lack adequate textbooks and no school should lack either an adequate library or a trained librarian Vocational education must be more closely related to the demands of the modern world as well as to the opportunities for further training which will be afforded by the community college. Improvements can be made in the training of the physically and mentally handicapped which will enable many more to achieve full or partial self-sufficiency.

The physical plant, within a decade at most, should be made adequate. New buildings should continue the principles of modern school design now being pursued More immediately, there must be adequate space for every child, including, needless to say, those whom improved facilities, improved educational measures, and improved economic conditions will prevent becoming drop-outs. The capital of the richest nation on earth cannot tolerate part-time classes, classes in makeshift rooms, and classes so large that instruction becomes difficult or impossible.

2. A committee of nationally recognized educators, after careful examination of the District's situation, has recommended that the District should establish immediately a community college and a college of liberal arts and sciences, under a Board of Higher Education. The former institution would provide a two-year program, including both the first two years of college work and advanced technical training in a variety of subprofessional skills. The latter, which would absorb the present D.C. Teachers College, would emphasize teacher training but would also provide instruction in the liberal arts and sciences, growing as the need developed. These two institutions should be brought into being without delay. I will shortly recommend to the Congress the necessary legislation.

3. The District should participate in the residential vocational school program authorized by the Vocational Education Act of 1963. Such a school can demonstrate the advantages of combining the most modern vocational education with the healthy and stimulating living environment now missing from the lives of many District children. It is my hope that plans for a school will be made immediately with the help of the Commissioner of Education.

B. Health and Welfare. The public health effort in the District has been impressive in recent years, and the momentum must be continued. Health is essential to the productivity and financial independence of individuals, and to a sound economy. Adequate programs to prevent disease and disability, to combat mental retardation, to reduce preventable deaths, especially among infants, and to provide medical care and related services to those unable to pay for them, are essential District needs.

The reconstruction and enlargement of D.C. General Hospital now underway will ease the congestion there, but urgent need exists for the establishment of community health centers in several parts of the city, to bring health services closer to the people for whom they are designed. These centers, by including the facilities needed for comprehensive community-based mental health services, will also bring the District to the forefront in carrying out both the present national mental health program and the additional programs which I have recently recommended.

Improvements in physical plant must be matched by increased availability of services. We know now that denial of preventive services, based on unrealistic standards of medical indigency, are not measures of economy, but rather guarantees of increasing costs of social services later on. The provision of pre-natal care is a classic example. Children's Hospital, which by reason of its specialized facilities for the young is unique, and stands among the best in its field in the United States, must be put on a sound financial basis.

A proper welfare program must not only be tightly administered and free of cheating and fraud, but also must ensure that those in actual need of aid are provided for in a manner and at a level consistent with decency and humanity. Not only is this in the American tradition, but it is also prudent. Inadequate programs inadequately staffed exact a price we cannot afford to pay, in delinquency, crime, disease, broken homes and broken lives. Nor can we ignore the added costs of institutional care for the children and the elderly from families whose resources, tenuous at best in many cases, collapse and are lost in extremes of poverty. Further District participation in the grams made possible by the 1961 and 1962 amendments to the Social Security Act should no longer be delayed.

C. Public Safety. The District has not been spared in the general increase in crime now being experienced throughout United States. The impairment of the security of person and property, and the mounting rates of juvenile crime, are matters of major concern.

The problems run deep, and will not yield to quick and easy answers. We must not weaken our resolve to identify and eliminate the causes of criminal activity. This is the thrust of the District's program to combat juvenile delinquency in the Cardoza area--a program which must be extended as needed throughout the District as rapidly as its component parts can be evaluated. This is an important aspect of the program to combat poverty, and of the programs for improvement in education, health, welfare, housing and recreation.

All these are vital, but they are not enough. Crime will not wait while we pull it up by the roots. We must have a fair and effective system of law enforcement to deal with those who break our laws. We have given too low a priority to our methods and institutions of law enforcement--our police, our criminal courts and our correctional agencies. This neglect must not continue, and the District should be the first to remedy it.

The police are our front line, both offensive and defensive, in the fight against crime. We ask the policeman to fit our principles to hard realities, to make our rules just in their operation, to apply our laws to an infinite variety of human situations. Because he represents the law to the great majority of our people, we ask him to impart respect for law in his every act. As the representative of government whom we send out in the streets, we impose on him a job of social aid and accommodation as many-sided as government itself.

To do all of these things well, the policeman must be a man of high calibre, attracted to police work by sufficiently strong incentives, and trained beyond anything we have heretofore thought necessary. The police department must have a closer working relationship with the social agencies of the community, for their problems and objectives are so often connected or concurrent. There is a great need for all people to learn about, to understand, and to assist the policeman in his work.

The courts have traditionally been the symbol and the guardian of our cherished freedoms, but local criminal courts are so overloaded that their image is tarnished, their functioning impeded, and their effectiveness weakened. More courts and judges is one answer, but need not be the only one. Full-scale court proceedings might be eliminated for minor offenses which could be handled by administrative arrangements under close judicial supervision. Certain types of offenders might be referred directly to social agencies for non-judicial treatment. Some conduct which we now label criminal might better be removed from the criminal system and dealt with more effectively and appropriately elsewhere. Every possibility must be explored.

Correctional agencies charged with responsibility for those who have been found guilty of a criminal offense face enormously complex problems. Some of the time-honored methods are proving to be inadequate. Many new ideas are being developed and applied, with still uncertain results. We cannot wait until they are certain. We should put to work in the District the most promising attempts to cure the maladjustments which lead to crime. We cannot tolerate an endless, self-defeating cycle of imprisonment, release and re-imprisonment which fails to alter undesirable attitudes and behavior. We must especially find ways to help the first offender avoid a continuing career of crime.

These needs are urgent, and our responses in the District will aid and encourage efforts throughout the nation. It will not do merely to attempt minor changes; the problem is too big and too important to the community. We must seek the broadest and most imaginative improvements in the entire legal and social structure of our criminal law and its administration. To do this, I shall establish a commission which will concern itself specifically with crime and law enforcement in the District. It will enlist the best advice and assistance available, both in and out of the Federal government, and will work closely with the national panel to be created shortly. Our goal must be no less than the planning and establishment in the District of a model system which will best achieve fair and effective law enforcement.

There are, in addition, opportunities for immediate action. Some control of firearms within the District is urgently needed. Legislation providing for the registration of pistols, which is an appropriate first step, will shortly be transmitted to the Congress by the Commissioners. The Police Department should be enlarged, as I have recommended in the District's budget. Moreover, it should be afforded authority and funds to pay for overtime work, and to employ clerical and other workers to permit officers to use their police training to full advantage. Both would increase its effective strength.

D. Recreation. The District has not yet caught up with the needs of its citizens-either young or old--for facilities which permit them to relax and to play. Some areas of the city lack these facilities, particularly areas where incomes are low, and where residents are generally lacking in the resources to enable them to take advantage of recreational facilities elsewhere. The goal must be an adequate system of recreational facilities throughout the District within the next decade.

The John F. Kennedy Playground, largely equipped by private citizens, demonstrates not only the possibilities but also the enthusiastic response of the community to adequate play space. Equally desirable facilities should be provided in other parts of the District, particularly in areas now inadequately served.

E. Housing and Urban Renewal. The District, in common with other American cities, suffers badly from a major shortage of housing adequate for its lower income groups. Public housing is being supplied for low-income families displaced by public projects; but non-priority families and large families even with priority are afforded little relief. More public housing is an urgent necessity. Devices such as the housing of large families in individual houses by means of rent subsidies must be continued and expanded. New solutions must be developed and applied.

Equally important are measures to secure decent housing for the families whose incomes are high enough to make them ineligible for public housing, but who cannot find decent, safe and sanitary private accommodations at prices or rents they can afford. There must be more vigorous efforts in the District, both public and private, to take advantage of all the programs now available under the national housing laws.

The District's urban renewal program must make a major effort in the years ahead to provide decent housing for low and moderate income families. The rehabilitation and renewal project now underway in Northwest Urban Renewal Area Project No. 1 may well offer an approach which can provide experience for similar projects elsewhere. There must be vigorous and prompt enforcement of the housing code, particularly in those areas where continuing deterioration may escalate into irrecoverable slums. Too little effort has been exerted to assure that violations are detected and corrected promptly. Both tenants and landlords must be made aware of their responsibilities as well as their rights.

Urban renewal powers must be made available to the District, as they are to other cities, to aid in the development of blighted commercial areas. They are particularly needed in the central city, where the demonstrated interest of the business community insures a fruitful cooperation between public and private efforts.

There is need, too, for a reorganization of the urban renewal and public housing machinery of the District, in order that it may be more responsive to the District's multiple needs. Immediate attention must be given to changes which will focus appropriate responsibility, and commensurate authority, in the District's Board of Commissioners. Some delays are inherent in major urban projects, and no doubt this has been particularly true during the early years of the urban renewal program, but we can no longer afford or tolerate such delays.

F. Poverty. The District can and should be a leader and an example to the Nation in the attack on poverty. Already there is a bold beginning, coordinated by the United Planning Organization, and using the combined resources of the Federal and District Governments and generous aid from both the Ford and the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundations. But the war on poverty is not to be won in one cataclysmic battle. It is more a war of attrition--in which there must be no letup of effort. The District must continue to provide training, counseling, employment services and other aid on a coordinated and more intensive basis to those who are now unemployed or so underemployed that they cannot provide support for their families. It must have a minimum wage law expanded to cover men, as well as women and children. It must provide the educational help and other aids which will ensure that the next generation-the potential welfare clients of the 1970's and 1980's--meets the challenge of our new technology and becomes self-supporting. We must break the cycle of poverty and dependency. It can be done. It will, in the long run, be far less expensive than any other course.

III. THE DISTRICT AND THE NATIONAL CAPITAL, REGION The District of Columbia is no longer the largest element of the Washington metropolitan region, either in number of residents or in area. Increasingly, the problems of the District blend into and become a part of regional problems. Transportation, water, air pollution, sewage and waste disposal, fire and police protection, recreation, employment, and economic development are only a partial list of matters in which neither the District nor any other part of the area can proceed behind its own jurisdictional curtains.

A. Transportation. The most critical of the regional development needs is transportation. Washington is now the only major capital in the western world lacking a rail rapid transit system. There is urgent need to begin the construction of such a system-largely within the District at the beginning, but eventually extending into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. I have already transmitted to the Congress proposed authorizing legislation.

The highway program, both within and without the District, must likewise not be allowed to lag. The cooperative efforts of District and Federal agencies through the Policy Advisory Committee to review some elements of the program should be continued. Construction should proceed as rapidly as funds can be made available.

B. Regional Development. I have already indicated my hopes that the Potomac River will become a model of beauty and usefulness for the Capital and the Nation. There are, however, many other problems of the Washington metropolitan area for which long-range metropolitan solutions are necessary. The interest of the Federal Government in the best development of the region is manifest, and its cooperation in resolving regional problems is essential. We must encourage and facilitate local efforts to create effective organs of regional cooperation. In addition, the Federal Government must utilize its own policies and programs to assist the region to develop in a way which will maximize the efficiency and economy of Federal Government operations, and which will permit this region to exemplify to the United States and to the world the best in regional cooperation and metropolitan growth.

IV. WASHINGTON AS A NATIONAL CAPITAL The District, as the Nation's Capital, must meet the special requirements imposed on the capital city of a great nation. We are committed to preserving and enhancing the great avenues, the great museums and galleries, the great sweep of the Mall.

Legislation is being prepared in connection with the proposals to transform Pennsylvania Avenue from its present shabby state to a new dignity and grandeur. As long as blight and ugliness disfigure any pan of this historic link between the Capitol and the White House, it cannot suitably serve as the main ceremonial avenue of the Nation, either to American citizens or to visitors from abroad. The proposal need not be undertaken at once in all of its aspects, but every aid and encouragement should be given to further study and refinement of its details and to the establishment of the creative partnership of Government and private enterprise needed to convert the Avenue into a thoroughfare worthy of the Nation's pride.

There are other areas where needed improvements can also be accelerated. The Washington Monument can be given the setting it deserves as soon as the development of the freeway from the Roosevelt Bridge to the 14th Street Bridge, and the 9th and 14th Street underpasses of the Mall permit the elimination of the 15th Street traffic from near the base of the Monument. The temporary buildings which huddled at its base are already gone, and the plans to improve its immediate surroundings must be pushed forward.

The Lincoln Memorial, long throttled by a circle of heavy automobile traffic, can be freed of its noose as soon as the freeway running beneath its grounds permits the area facing the reflecting pool and the Monument to be reserved for the visitor on foot. The Memorial will not achieve its proper setting, however, until the remaining obsolete and temporary buildings on Constitution Avenue are eliminated.

There are many other projects. Temporary buildings on public space throughout the monumental area must be removed. There is need to carry forward the plans to develop the potential of the Mall, so that it may be a place of life and beauty, of pleasure and relaxation. There is need for a Visitors' Center which will provide perspective and understanding regarding the Federal Government to the myriad students and tourists who come to Washington to see and learn.

There is also urgent need to proceed with the improvement of the central business district in a way which permits full coordination with the progress on Pennsylvania Avenue. The full potential of Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the Anacostia River as a major entranceway to the city has not been realized. There is the development of Washington's waterfront in connection with the new Aquarium. There is the need to identify landmark buildings and places, and to work out means by which to encourage their preservation.

The District presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Here we have natural beauty as well as buildings of historic and architectural value. The great sweep of the Potomac River, Rock Creek Park, and the ring of parks where the old Civil War forts stood make the District a city in a park. In its heart the grandeur of the Mall, the many circles and squares and the great street trees carry natural beauty to everyone.

Today there is new awareness of our urban environment. We can, if we will, make the District the symbol of the best of our aspirations. We can make it a city in which our citizens will live in comfort and safety, and with pride, and in which commerce and industry will flourish. We can make it a capital which its millions of visitors will admire. All this we must do. I am sure the Congress will join me in accepting the challenge.

The White House
February 15, 1965

Note: See also Items 39, 402, 481, 486, 499.
Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Special Message to the Congress on the Needs of the Nation's Capital.," February 15, 1965. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27427.
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