Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Athens at Ohio University

May 07, 1964

Dr. Alden, Mr. Galbreath, Governor Rhodes, Mrs. Rhodes, and Mrs. Alden:

I am glad to be in Ohio once again and to come to your historic campus in this 160th anniversary year with my good friends the two Senators from the State of Tennessee, Senator Gore and Senator Waiters.

Please stand up, Senator Gore and Senator Walters.

I am pleased that I should have this opportunity to be in the home State of Congressman Hays, Congressman Harsha, Congressman Bolton, Congressman Abele, and Congressman Ashley. I am honored that they would be present today. Please stand up, gentlemen.

Not only because we care, but because we intend to listen and learn and do something about it, I have brought a good many members of my Cabinet out here. I would like for all of you young people to take a look at them.

First of all, your own Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Mr. Celebrezze.

And the very youthful and able Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman.

A man who is very much in the headlines these days because he works day and night and keeps all the strikes down, Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor.

The very delightful fellow who heads our Housing and Home Finance Agency in Washington, Dr. Robert Weaver.

And the head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mr. Wagner.

I know that from the welcome you have given them they will appreciate the opportunity to be here today and to visit with you.

Since this began as a poverty inspection tour, I want to clarify our presence here. The faculty opinion notwithstanding, I do not believe that Ohio University has any poor students. As the father of a college daughter dressed in green and white today, if I wanted to inspect pockets of poverty, I would go and inspect the parents instead of coming here.

After my recent experience with my beagle dogs, it is wonderful to be back here with all these Bobcats. I have looked forward to this opportunity to thank publicly Governor Rhodes, Mr. Galbreath, and the Board of Trustees for lending to us, to plan and formulate the Job Corps, your able and impressive president, Dr. Vernon Alden.

Mr. Galbreath, I might say that Sargent Shriver and I are as happy to have Dr. Alden as you would be if the Pittsburgh Pirates won the pennant this year.

Under Dr. Alden's leadership, Ohio University is setting a national standard leadership in attacking the problems of area economic development, and I am proud to announce today that a contract has been signed by the Area Redevelopment Administration to establish a regional development institution here. This will make Ohio University the focal point of economic development for the southeastern Ohio area.

I am told that this section has been "surveyed to death" in recent years. But this is not another study program; it is an action program. We have convincing evidence that action gets results.

In 1961, 10 out of 11 major industrial areas in Ohio were in the substantial unemployment category. Governor Rhodes and members of the Ohio delegation, I know that we are all proud today to announce that only one area remains in that category, because the Lorain-Elyria area is being removed from the list today.

This is good news for Ohio and it is good news for the country.

This is a young land and it is a land of young people. There are 2 1/2 times more Americans under the age of 25 than our total 'population 100 years ago. By the end of the next decade, in 1980, one-half of our people will be younger than 25. So to you of this student body, I say merely as a statement of fact, America is yours, yours to make a better land, yours to build the great society.

I know that we live in an age when it is considered correct to play it cool, when it is right to be reserved, when it is not good form to show great faith. But I believe with Emerson that no great work is ever achieved without enthusiasm. I would urge you--and call upon you now--to go out of here with great resolve, because we have great works to achieve. But we cannot succeed without the enthusiasm and the courage which are the legacy of our history.

Our challenge, not tomorrow but today, is to accomplish objectives which have eluded mankind since the beginning of time. We must bring equal justice to all our citizens. We must abolish human poverty. We must eradicate killing and crippling disease and lengthen the span of life to 100 or 200 years. We must eliminate illiteracy among all of our people. We must end open bias and active bigotry and, above all else, we must help to bring about a day "when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Not in a day, and not in a year, will these goals be reached. But if we begin the effort, if we approach the task with great enthusiasm and not with cynicism, these achievements will be the glory, the glory of your generation.

There is in front of you young people today the promise of a greater tomorrow. It is a tomorrow that is brighter than yesterday, and it is a tomorrow that is more challenging than today. This is not a time for timid souls and trembling spirits. We have it within our power to find the best solutions to the worst of problems, and we intend to do just that.

So let your young hearts armed with new weapons join in an old battle against ancient enemies--the enemies of poverty, disease, illiteracy, strife, and bigotry.

And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build the Great Society. It is a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it. Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church. Where peace and security is common among neighbors and possible among nations.

This is the world that waits for you. Reach out for it now. Join the fight to finish the unfinished work in your own land and in the rest of the world. I know as surely as God gives us the right to know what is right that you will succeed.

I came out here to see you today because we can't always see poverty from the Capital in Washington. But you can see it when you get out and ride the rivers and the range, the mountains and the hills, and the poor soils of the five States that I am going to visit today. Poverty hides its face behind a mask of affluence. But I call upon you to help me to get out there and unmask it, take that mask off of that face of affluence and let the world see what we have, and let the world do something about it.

What can you do? What did you do about the Peace Corps? You went forward to dozens of nations around the world and showed the compassion that was in your heart. You can go out and help kids who don't know how to learn to read and write, and you can teach them how to read and write in your spare time at night.

Your fraternities and sororities can start scholarships for poor children who need your leadership and who need your help, and whose career will be a great reward for your little efforts. You can share your homes and your hearts with the poor, and look up to them with an inspiring, helping hand, instead of down upon them with an arrogant, whimsical smile.

When the poverty bill is passed, as you will have it passed, when the Appalachian bill is passed, as the Congress will surely pass it, when the civil rights bill is passed, as we are going to pass it, then you can go and talk to Dr. Alden and others in charge of the poverty program and tell them:

"I am here. I am ready to enlist as a volunteer. I want to help build the Great Society. I want to have my name listed on the honor roll that believes in the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. I appreciate the opportunities that my parents and my country and my State gave me in my youth, an opportunity to earn an education and to acquire knowledge. What I have for thyself I want for all my fellow human beings, here and around the world."

That is what you can do.

I am very happy to see Miss Eugenia Adams, whose home is in the District of Columbia, who is interested in a career in public service, and who I became acquainted with when I was Vice President, sitting here in your student body today. I am very happy to meet all of you new friends. I hope that in the days ahead you will realize the great opportunity that is yours, and that you will acquire all the information and learning you can here at this great Ohio State so that you can go out and help others to help themselves.

There are 114 nations around the world that look to America, that look to Texas, that look to Ohio, that look to all that we have that is good here to set an example for them. There are only six of those nations that have a per capita income of as much as $80 a month. New Zealand and Australia, Canada and the United States, Sweden and Switzerland. Over half the world lives off of a per capita income of less than $8 a month. So you have much to be thankful for, much to preserve, a great deal to protect. I know you will be worthy of your heritage. It is wonderful to have met you.

Lynda says to make sure to you that I am talking about the State of Ohio, not Ohio State.

If I may, we all make mistakes, and I am no exception. I make a good many of them. But I made a very big one today. I failed to introduce to you the Under Secretary of Commerce, who is the father of the Appalachia program, and who is heading it in Washington, and who is one of our most progressive and able young men, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at noon from the west portico of Memorial Auditorium at Ohio University in Athens, after brief remarks by his daughter, Lynda Bird. His opening words referred to Dr. Vernon R. Alden, president of the university, and Mrs. Alden, John W. Galbreath, chairman of the board of trustees, and Governor and Mrs. James A. Rhodes of Ohio. Later he referred to Senators Albert Gore and Herbert S. Walters of Tennessee, Representatives Wayne L. Hays, William H. Harsha, Oliver P. Bolton, Homer E. Abele, and Thomas L. Ashley, of Ohio, Sargent Shriver, Director of the Peace Corps and head of the Presidents antipoverty program, and Eugenia Adams, a graduate of Dunbar High School in the District of Columbia and a freshman at Ohio University. In 1963 Miss Adams received the Capitol Press Club Award. The then Vice President Johnson made the presentation.

The text of the remarks of Lynda Bird was also released.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Athens at Ohio University Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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