Here is the audio clip of
Johnson's speech. It is split into two parts. Scroll down
for the transcript.
It follows the full text transcript of
Lyndon B. Johnson's The Great Society speech, delivered at
Ann Arbor, Michigan - May 22, 1964.
Governor Romney, Senators McNamara and Hart,
Congressmen Meader and Staebler, and other
members of the fine Michigan delegation, members
of the graduating class, my fellow Americans:
It is a great
pleasure to be here today.
has been coeducational since 1870, but I do not
believe it was on the basis of your
accomplishments that a Detroit high school girl
said, "In choosing a college, you first have to
decide whether you want a coeducational school
or an educational school."
Well, we can find both here at Michigan,
although perhaps at different hours.
I came out here today very anxious to meet the
Michigan student whose father told a friend of
mine that his son's education had been a real
value. It stopped his mother from bragging about
I have come today from the turmoil of your
Capital to the tranquility of your campus to
speak about the future of your country.
The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation
and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to
pursue the happiness of our people. Our success
in that pursuit is the test of our success as a
For a century we labored to settle and to subdue
a continent. For half a century we called upon
unbounded invention and untiring industry to
create an order of plenty for all of our people.
The challenge of the next half century is
whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to
enrich and elevate our national life, and to
advance the quality of our American
Your imagination, your initiative, and your
indignation will determine whether we build a
society where progress is the servant of our
needs, or a society where old values and new
visions are buried under unbridled growth. For
in your time we have the opportunity to move not
only toward the rich society and the powerful
society, but upward to the \cf2 Great
The \cf2 Great Society\cf0 rests on abundance
and liberty for all. It demands an end to
poverty and racial injustice, to which we are
totally committed in out time. But that is just
The \cf2 Great Society\cf0 is a place where
every child can find knowledge to enrich his
mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place
where leisure is a welcome chance to build and
reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and
restlessness. It is a place where the city of
man serves not only the needs of the body and
the demands of commerce but the desire for
beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with
nature. It is a place which honors creation for
its own sake and for what is adds to the
understanding of the race. It is a place where
men are more concerned with the quality of their
goals than the quantity of their goods.
But most of all, the \cf2 Great Society\cf0 is
not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final
objective, a finished work. It is a challenge
constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a
destiny where the meaning of our lives matches
the marvelous products of our labor.
So I want to talk to you today about three
places where we begin to build the \cf2 Great
Society\cf0 -- in our cities, in our
countryside, and in our classrooms.
Many of you will live to see the day, perhaps 50
years from now, when there will be 400 million
Americans -- four-fifths of them in urban areas.
In the remainder of this century urban
population will double, city land will double,
and we will have to build homes, highways, and
facilities equal to all those built since this
country was first settled. So in the next 40
years we must re-build the entire urban United
Aristotle said: "Men come together in cities in
order to live, but they remain together in order
to live the good life." It is harder and harder
to live the good life in American cities today.
The catalog of ills is long: there is the decay
of the centers and the despoiling of the
suburbs. There is not enough housing for our
people or transportation for our traffic. Open
land is vanishing and old landmarks are
Worst of all expansion is eroding the precious
and time honored values of community with
neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of
these values breeds loneliness and boredom and
Our society will never be great until our cities
are great. Today the frontier of imagination and
innovation is inside those cities and not beyond
New experiments are already going on. It will be
the task of your generation to make the American
city a place where future generations will come,
not only to live but to live the good life.
I understand that if I stayed here tonight I
would see that Michigan students are really
doing their best to live the good life.
This is the place where the Peace Corps was
started. It is inspiring to see how all of you,
while you are in this country, are trying so
hard to live at the level of the people.
A second place where we begin to build the \cf2
Great Society\cf0 is in our countryside. We have
always prided ourselves on being not only
America the strong and America the free, but
America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in
danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the
very air that we breathe, are threatened with
pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our
seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense
forests are disappearing.
A few years ago we were greatly concerned about
the "Ugly American." Today we must act to
prevent an ugly America.
For once the battle is lost, once our natural
splendor is destroyed, it can never be
recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with
beauty or wonder at nature his spirit will
wither and his sustenance be wasted.
A third place to build the \cf2 Great
Society\cf0 is in the classrooms of America.
There your children's lives will be shaped. Our
society will not be great until every young mind
is set free to scan the farthest reaches of
thought and imagination. We are still far from
Today, 8 million adult Americans, more than the
entire population of Michigan, have not finished
5 years of school. Nearly 20 million have not
finished 8 years of school. Nearly 54 million --
more than onequarter of all America -- have not
even finished high school.
Each year more than 100,000 high school
graduates, with proved ability, do not enter
college because they cannot afford it. And if we
cannot educate today's youth, what will we do in
1970 when elementary school enrollment will be 5
million greater than 1960? And high school
enrollment will rise by 5 million. College
enrollment will increase by more than 3 million.
In many places, classrooms are overcrowded and
curricula are outdated. Most of our qualified
teachers are underpaid, and many of our paid
teachers are unqualified. So we must give every
child a place to sit and a teacher to learn
from. Poverty must not be a bar to learning, and
learning must offer an escape from poverty.
But more classrooms and more teachers are not
enough. We must seek an educational system which
grows in excellence as it grows in size. This
means better training for our teachers. It means
preparing youth to enjoy their hours of leisure
as well as their hours of labor. It means
exploring new techniques of teaching, to find
new ways to stimulate the love of learning and
the capacity for creation.
These are three of the central issues of the
\cf2 Great Society\cf0 . While our Government
has many programs directed at those issues, I do
not pretend that we have the full answer to
But I do promise this: We are going to assemble
the best thought and the broadest knowledge from
all over the world to find those answers for
America. I intend to establish working groups to
prepare a series of White House conferences and
meetings -- on the cities, on natural beauty, on
the quality of education, and on other emerging
challenges. And from these meetings and from
this inspiration and from these studies we will
begin to set our course toward the \cf2 Great
The solution to these problems does not rest on
a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely
solely on the strained resources of local
authority. They require us to create new
concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism,
between the National Capital and the leaders of
Woodrow Wilson once wrote: "Every man sent out
from his university should be a man of his
Nation as well as a man of his time."
Within your lifetime powerful forces, already
loosed, will take us toward a way of life beyond
the realm of our experience, almost beyond the
bounds of our imagination.
For better or for worse, your generation has
been appointed by history to deal with those
problems and to lead America toward a new age.
You have the chance never before afforded to any
people in any age. You can help build a society
where the demands of morality, and the needs of
the spirit, can be realized in the life of the
So, will you join in the battle to give every
citizen the full equality which God enjoins and
the law requires, whatever his belief, or race,
or the color of his skin?
Will you join in the battle to give every
citizen an escape from the crushing weight of
Will you join in the battle to make it possible
for all nations to live in enduring peace -- as
neighbors and not as mortal enemies?
Will you join in the battle to build the \cf2
Great Society\cf0 , to prove that our material
progress is only the foundation on which we will
build a richer life of mind and spirit?
There are those timid souls who say this battle
cannot be won; that we are condemned to a
soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the
power to shape the civilization that we want.
But we need your will, your labor, your hearts,
if we are to build that kind of society.
Those who came to this land sought to build more
than just a new country. They sought a new
world. So I have come here today to your campus
to say that you can make their vision our
reality. So let us from this moment begin our
work so that in the future men will look back
and say: It was then, after a long and weary
way, that man turned the exploits of his genius
to the full enrichment of his life.