tv Presidents Kennedy and Johnson Speak at the University of Michigan CSPAN November 17, 2013 5:08pm-5:18pm EST
>> on october 13th, john kennedy had his third of four debates with richard nixon. and then the plan was for him to fly to ann arbor, stay here. this was a hotel, too, among other things. had rooms for rent. and stay here and then the next morning, started on a whistle stop across the state. but then word got out in the community that he was going to stay here the night. so students started gathering here. he was supposed to get here about 11:00. and instead, he got here closer to 2:00. so there are students waiting for three hours just packed in. his plan had been to go in the side door, and just sneak in the side door and sleep for the night. he was already late. had to get up early in the morning. then when he heard there was this huge crowd, of course he couldn't do that. here he is looking at this huge crowd of people saying, what can i tell them. so he floated the idea of a peace corps. he didn't use that term but
floated the idea saying to them if you are a doctor or an engineer, or a technician, would you be willing to go abroad for a year or two and help people in other countries and that would help the cause of democracy worldwide. and he went on and said that the people didn't go to school, college just to get better -- do financially better in their life but to do something for the world. how many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in ghana, technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the foreign service and spend your lives traveling around the world. your willing business to do that, or merely serve a year or two in the service but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, i think will depend the answer of whether a free society can. i think it can and i think americans are willing to contribute. but the effort must be -- than
we've ever made it in the past. >> that may have been the end of it except there were some in the audience, a married couple, the guskins who decided to take it one step further and they ended up with this petition drive where they got something like 800 signatures and the petition drive wasn't just we think this is a great idea. it was, if you would set something up like this, we would join it. so his campaign got a hold of it and saw what the enthusiasm was. so then two weeks later at the cow palace in san francisco, he formally announced it, called it the peace corps. gave university of michigan as an example of a student body that would like to do it. then when he became president, he was executive order. march 1st, 1961. later sargent shriver, the first director of the peace corps, he said if this hadn't happened, if
this petition hadn't circulated and been presented to him, it -- the peace corps probably wouldn't have happened. this is an idea 2:00 in the morning at a college. and if no one said anything except, nice speech. i mean, he didn't know if they were cheering because they got to hear him. he didn't know it was the idea of the speech. the students here responded like they promised to. and for a long time, i don't know what the latest numbers are, but for years, i know, and it's probably still true that the university of michigan was very high at least on the number of graduates that went into the peace corps. and they also used to do training here in the early years. they used this as a training spot. so, you know, there's a lot of ownership, let's say. >> members of the graduating class, my fellow americans, it
is a great pleasure to be here tod today. >> we're in the university of michigan stadium. this is where president johnson announces the great society program which was his major plan for improving the country. he gave it at the 1964 commencement. it was may 22nd, six months after kennedy was shot. johnson had just been in office for his -- for six months and he would be running for election. his first time to be elected president. and this was seen by him and his staff as a good time to roll out this program that was going to be his touchstone of what he wanted to do with the presidency. and it would be a big audience. in fact it was a huge audience. it wasn't just students, faculty and parents.
they had kids from all over the state, just all kinds of dignitaries came. the whole place was filled. >> your imagination and 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. or in your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society but upward to the great society. >> the great society was a whole amalgam of all the programs that johnson was thinking would be a good idea. and, of course, he came from a poor background. the reason he's already said he was in government was that he
wanted to help people like himself. the government could help people. and so he mentioned in the great society speech three areas. he mentioned the cities. all the things the people in poverty who live in the cities would need. people in the country what they need and particularly cleaner air, cleaner water and also schools. so he mentioned more money to schools. head start he mentioned, which is a major program. the city things encompassed a bunch of things, the office of economic opportunity, the voting rights act, which is really very key to our democracy. and nondiscrimination and also medicare and medicaid. and you read the speech and you read about this event with sort of a what-if, you know, the road not taken kind of view because
if it wasn't for the vietnam war, he would be thought of as, wow, this guy did all this great stuff. like we think of roosevelt doing all the things to get us out of the frank -- franklin d. roosevelt, to get us out of the depression. we think, wow, johnson really moved us ahead in working on our problems as a society. but the interesting thing about it as a sideline is he was clearly doing this for a national audience. he knew this would be televised and he wasn't worry too much about being here in the university of michigan at ann arbor. that was just the vehicle. he never mentioned the university of michigan. until the end of the speech he made some sort of reference to young people. young people will be involved in this. and would you be willing to help me do these things. sort of like kennedy did with the peace corps speech. but he never said would you here in ann arbor. and he once mentioned michigan just as an example of when he was talking about education. i read over the speech.
and so he was more being a statesman for the whole country. he wasn't at all partisan either in the speech. he was trying to be a statesman. i think it's interesting that both these major events that are major national -- part of our national history of when you say a major part of their program and what they did that they happened here. and i don't think it was an accident. although in some -- you can say it could have been somewhere else. but michigan -- the university of michigan is certainly known for idealistic young people who care about the world. it's got a tradition of always being, you know, having lots of discussions on world issues and having opinions. and i think in both cases the presidents johnson and kennedy knew they'd get a good response. >> all weekend long, american
history tv is featuring ann arbor michigan where gerald ford's presidential library is located. he attended and played football for the university of michigan. hosted by our comcast cable partners, c-span's local content vehicles recently visited many sites exploring the city's rich history. learn more about ann arbor all weekend long on american history tv. >> today you are at the ypsilanti automotive heritage museum. 30 miles west of detroit. where we have created here is a museum attempting to tell the automotive history of our area here. and right this minute, we're in a hudson dealership that started off as a dodge dealership way back in 1916. became a hudson dealership in 1933. and continued as a hudson
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