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Mrs. Johnson Visits “Pocket of Poverty”

Jan. 11, 1964 - Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson visited today one of the “pockets of poverty” that her husband, President Johnson, has declared war on — the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton area of Pennsylvania. It is part of that impoverished 10-state strip known as Appalachia. In this anthracite mine area, the jobless rate is nearly double the nation’s average.

On the way from Washington, the First Lady was briefed on the region, its problems, and some of the solutions that are being considered. Mrs. Johnson spoke at the airport at Wilkes-Barre, in the central squares of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and at a new science research center at Wilkes College. She toured a vocational school that retrains miners thrown out of work and a textile plant helped by an A.R.A. loan. Mrs. Johnson shook the hands of crowds that pressed insistently around her everywhere. She talked with as many persons individually, and she never seemed rushed.

Today, the people away from what Mrs. Johnson calls “the small world of Washington” could get a sense of the First Lady’s style when she is with them — and they were charmed. Mrs. Johnson does not come across on television and in photographs as she does in person. Her great strength is head-to-head conversation and a direct look into the eyes of whomever she is meeting. She listened well, asked intelligent questions, and did not flinch in an auto mechanic’s shop when the director said: “If you’ll come right over here, I’ll show you how we make a complete overhaul.” Mrs. Johnson gamely peered under car hoods. Mrs. John Marks, wife of a plant foreman, grabbed Mrs. Johnson’s hand outside the Wyoming Valley Technical Institute. “It’s a great honor to shake your hand,” she said. “You’re so much prettier in person than I ever dreamed.” Another woman said she was touched to tears by Mrs. Johnson’s “kind face” and her “real interest in us.” In one of her speeches, the First Lady said she was grateful for today’s trip “because you have taken me behind the cold statistics to human needs, problems, and hopes.”


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