Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Mental Retardation Amendments of 1967

December 04, 1967

Mrs. Humphrey, Secretary Gardner, distinguished Members of the Senate and the House, Senator Hill, Chairman Staggers, and other very able Members of the Congress and members of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation, ladies and gentlemen:

We are very happy this morning, Mrs. Johnson and I, to welcome all of you here to the East Room of the White House. This is the poor man's wedding chapel.

That is one of the fringe benefits of the Presidency. You can have a wedding here in the house and no one in the country really thinks it is cheap. Actually, we decided to have the wedding here because of one of my most recent experiences in a church.

For the information of any who recognize this as a political year, I want it on the record in advance that we are still, Mrs. Johnson and I, personally paying for Luci's wedding. However, that is no excuse for deficit financing, after all, and there is no truth whatever in the story that George Woods resigned because I asked him for a small wedding loan for Lynda's wedding.

Of course, I do feel a little better that I have a real, warm friend over at the World Bank these days.

After spending all day yesterday babysitting and tasting the wedding cake and giving some very high fashion counsel about bridesmaids' gowns and hairdos, I hope that all of you understand that I feel relieved to come here again this morning and to turn back to the Nation's business, particularly to sign some very vital legislation.

The Mental Retardation Act of 1963 was passed under the leadership and guidance and strong support of President Kennedy.

Not many years ago mental retardation was a subject that no one really wanted to talk about. It was shrouded in fear and shame and ignorance. Then a very small handful of very courageous women like Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, Mrs. Sargent Shriver, and Mrs. Hubert Humphrey took up the cudgels to see if they couldn't ask the American people to help them search for the understanding of the cause of mental retardation, and what the American people could do about it.

Slowly, the idea grew that with encouragement and with training, mentally retarded children could be brought around to leading rather useful lives.

The National Government was then primarily interested and started a movement to try to stir all the people of America to action in this very important field.

I think we have made considerable progress since 1963. Yet I think we should know that there still are a million and a half retarded Americans who are without any community support whatever. There are many millions more who need care who don't get it.

Three-fourths of the retarded in this country who do receive residential care receive that residential care in old, dilapidated buildings, buildings that are more than 50 years old. That is where three-fourths of the children are taken care of.

The waiting lines for residential care are expanding year after year. They are growing longer and longer. Some children today must wait as long as 5 or 6 years to be received.

We have less than half the specialists that we really need to provide care and to provide training.

Although we have come a long way toward dispelling the medieval mystery that surrounded mental retardation, we still care for thousands in facilities that are really not much better than medieval.

We have asked some of our ablest citizens, the medical men and the laymen, to probe the causes of retardation, to tell us what can be done to prevent it, to guide us in caring for those who have been afflicted.

At this point, I want to pay a special tribute to the members of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation. I doubt if there has ever been a Presidential commission that has approached the subject with more dedication, and I hope that we shall be able to say, when their labors have been concluded, that there has never been one that was more effective.

But the fact is, we are still very far behind. We are tragically behind in developing clinics and schools that could help. This bill that Congress has brought to me today will help us get just a part of the facilities that we need. Thousands of seriously retarded children will benefit from it. It will mean the difference between darkness and just a ray of light.

This bill, I think, is an achievement for the Nation. It is a signal of hope for millions of Americans and it is addressed to at least 2 million seriously retarded children. In great part, these Americans have not been crippled by the errors of nature; they have been stunted, rather, by the errors of man. Their minds suffer from the culture of poverty, physical or spiritual poverty, into which they were all born.

Members of the President's Committee have told me about millions of children who are born with normal capacities who emerge from impoverished homes and schools and these experts have shown me maps I wish each Member of the Congress could see, each member of the chambers of commerce and the labor organizations could see. These maps show each case of mental retardation and they locate it with a green pin.

In the suburbs the pins are quite scattered. You see one here, and then another one over there. Downtown the pins are in a clump. They are much closer together. In the inner city and the teeming ghettos, the pins cluster to form a solid green mass.

On these maps that I have seen, the ghetto areas are where the green pins are--are completely green. They look like a good pasture in the springtime when we have had a lot of rain. These areas need attention. These clusters of green pins signify the mental inadequacy of these poor, unfortunate people who need our help.

Retardation may afflict a child not only before he is born, but afterwards. It may be a blow of nature or it may be the result of countless human blows. In either event, the Nation suffers as the child suffers and, of course, as his family bears an unbearable burden. In either event, I think it is clearly the obligation of the Nation to act to relieve this suffering. It is our obligation to do more than we are doing.

That is the point I want to make. We are not doing enough. We must do more. We are going to do more.

So, today we have come here to begin an effort to care for some of those who have suffered most grievously. Our goal is a society where children born with a chance for a full life shall truly have it. This is another step in that platform that we are building.

For what all of you have done--and no one invited himself to this meeting--those who have been active in this effort and who have shown a conscience and a leadership are here this morning, and to those, my friends, who have inspired these efforts, have provided this leadership, on behalf of the 200 million people of this Nation, I say for what you have done, well done; for what you are going to do, I am extremely curious and very anxious. I will be waiting and I will be helping in any way I can.

Thank each and every one of you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Mrs. Hubert H. Humphrey, wife of the Vice President of the United States, John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, and Representative Harley O. Staggers of West Virginia, Chairman of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. During his remarks the President referred to his daughters Mrs. Patrick J. (Luci) Nugent and Lynda Bird Johnson, who was soon to be married (see Item 529), George D. Woods, outgoing President of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, mother of President John F. Kennedy, and her daughter Mrs. R. Sargent Shriver, wife of the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

As enacted, the bill is Public Law 90-170 (81 Stat. 527). The bill amended the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963, approved Oct. 31, 1963 (see "Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy, 1963," Item 447).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Mental Retardation Amendments of 1967 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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