President Lyndon Johnson planted his feet on Appalachian earth yesterday for the first time since becoming chief executive and when he departed, left behind him trails of economic hope and political support.
Hope based on a “wonderful spirit of enthusiasm” the President said he found and an “an announcement I hope to make in a few days implementing or supplementing” the Appalachian program headed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.
Political support typified by the cheers, banners, and warmth of crowds which stood along to see, hear, and touch the chief executive.
It was a trip planned by his predecessor, but an assassin’s bullet kept President John F. Kennedy from making the visit which Friday included Huntington, Inez, and Paintsville.
President Johnson climaxed his visit with an hour-long conference with governors from eight states of Appalachia and by delivering an address of hope to a night-time crowd which awaited him.
All along the route the President and his radiant wife Lady Bird shook hands and delighted audiences which became ecstatic in their enthusiasm and applause. At Inez the president visited a family home where eight children ringed the porch. At Paintsville he addressed an enthralled crowd in a rustic style courthouse-steps address.
And at Huntington, just before leaping up the steps and into his plane, he spoke with encouragement on the poverty problem which brought him here and ended his talk with a walk along the airport fence, shaking hands all the way.
Johnson’s trip was billed as a combination work and campaign journey, and his work culminated just before he left Huntington. In a small concrete block building porched at the edge of one of the Tri-State Airport’s steep hills, Johnson met with Roosevelt, governors of the eight concerned states and other national and local leaders involved with the problem of mountain poverty. The gist of their talk was not made public.
It was following this session he made his talk, introduced by Governor Wally Barron of West Virginia.
Speaking to a crowd of some 1,000 which had stood as long as five hours to hear him, he said the depressed people are ready to join us all in “the great national effort to wipe out the causes of poverty.”
He called yesterday’s visit “a trip which should have been unnecessary and which, in our time, should become impossible.”
“I didn’t have to come here to see poverty and find out what it is all about,” the President said. “I knew poverty as the son of a tenant farmer. I remember in 1933 when poverty engulfed the entire U.S.A.”
He lauded efforts of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in that period and pointed to efforts of the younger Roosevelt at this time.
Johnson also noted that the portion of the nation stricken by poverty has been cut from one-third to one-fifth since the days of FDR, but called for greater effort to cut it to one-tenth and “drive poverty underground.”
“There is a clear and present challenge. We shall cure what needs to be cured.”
“No governor here has the blush of shame. They are all proud of the states they represent, but they are realistic men and are all working in the program under the chairmanship of Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr.”
Johnson said he had received Roosevelt’s original report and last night heard further information which renewed his interest. The President did not specify his intentions, but said he hoped to speak to Congress soon about the issue.
Though he mentioned no specific intention, the chief executive said he hoped to speak to Congress soon about the matter and a general understanding following the conference was that he would seek $250,000,000 for aid to the poverty-stricken.
In a report made April 10, Roosevelt’s commission proposed a plan for the depressed mountain areas which suggested these points.
- It would cost $4.5 billion over a five-year span.
- Aid in financing over 2,000 miles of highways connecting with the Interstate system and 500 miles of local access roads.
- Expedite construction of dams, sewage treatments facilities, and water plants in which the federal government has proposed to participate.
- Develop the lumber industry through expansion of research and by speeding up construction of access roads in national forests which would also be enlarged in Kentucky and West Virginia. Also planned would be technical assistance to industry and creation of timber development organizations.
- Boosting the coal industry through expansion of research, encouragement of exports to other lands, development of practical ways to minimize land damage from mining and studies of possible means of conversion of coal into power for distant use.
- Development of recreation through purchase and management of outdoor areas.
- Assistance to agriculture by helping farmers acquire 9.5 million acres of pasture land to expand beef production, with the U.S. government paying up to 80 percent of costs.
Travelling with the President were secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, Roosevelt, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Anthony Celebrezze, other staff members of the White House and a host of Secret Service guards.
Travelling through Kentucky with the Chief were Governor Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt of Kentucky, Barron, former Kentucky Governor Bert Combs, and Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh.
Awaiting his arrival at the Airport were Gov. Frank Clement of Tennessee; Gov. Carl Sanders of Georgia; Gov. Albertis Harrison of Virginia; Gov. Terry Sanford of North Carolina and Millard Tawes of Maryland.