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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LBJ - Our 36th President

This one is full of lots of history nuggets, and it took me awhile to get around to writing it because I knew it would be research heavy!  Of the 7 libraries I have now visited, I am surprised to say that the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, Texas was my favorite.

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a long career which began as a teacher and not in politics.  His years in a poverty stricken school left an impression that ended up influencing policy.  In 1931 his political career began when he became a Congressional Aide and he ran and won in a special election in 1937 when a Congressman in his district died. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 he was the first Representative from Congress to volunteer for active duty in the U.S. Navy. In 1955 he was elected the Senate Majority leader and that same year suffered a severe heart attack.  He quit smoking, lost weight and learned to delegate responsibilities so he could continue to work for many years to come.

But despite his years of experience it was John F. Kennedy who won the nomination for Democratic Party candidate in 1960.  As Vice President Johnson was assigned to be Head of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and representative of the United States on trips abroad as well as serving as President of the Senate.

In the wake of Kennedy's assassination Lyndon Johnson gave a wonderful speech to Congress imploring them to pass Kennedy's Civil Rights Bill.  A topic too complex to get into in this post, of course this legislation had a profound effect on our country and is immensely important even today.

Upon his successful election to president in 1964 LBJ quickly got down to business and proposed the largest reform agenda since President Roosevelt's New Deal. Calling his plan the road to The Great Society,  in 1964 he signed the Economic Opportunity Act to start his fight against poverty.

The goal was to create job opportunities through education and other community services and break the cycle of poverty. Part of that was The Elementary and Secondary Education Act which provided   funding to individual states to distribute to public school districts with a high percentage of low income families. It also included creating a domestic volunteer organization called Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) which many years later was incorporated into President Bill Clinton's Americorps.  I loved this letter from an 11 year old student who wanted to help out too.

In 1965 at the Truman Library in Independence (hey, we've been there!) President Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments of 1965 which created Medicare and Medicaid.  President Truman and his wife Bess were given the first official Medicare cards, calling Truman the true father of Medicare.

I love how we learned about how all these presidents are inter-connected through the years with the work they do!

Another part of his war on poverty that is still in place today is Head Start.  Lady Bird Johnson herself was its champion, and she also led the effort to get the Highway Beautification Act passed.

Katrina and I were truly impressed by LBJ's list of undertakings, here is a sampling of what we discovered:
  • The Wilderness Protection Act and to date Congress has designated more than 100 million acres of federal lands as wilderness.
  • Signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act remarking: An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests and other discriminatory methods of denying suffrage to African Americans.

  • In 1967 appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Marshall is the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
  • Signed the Arts and Humanities Bill which created the National Endowment for the Humanities. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.
  • The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended discriminatory quotas based on ethnic origin and focused on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States.  More on immigration in another post!

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination regarding the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex
  • Signed the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which supports PBS and NPR.
  • Congress tightened pollution controls with stronger Air and Water Quality Acts.
  • Standards were raised for safety in consumer products.
  • The Gun Control Act was signed in 1968.  It is a U.S. federal law that regulates the firearms industry and firearms owners, focusing on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
I admire the etched magnesium plates depicting Lyndon B. Johnson over the years with
Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in the stately Great Hall

Wow, right? Of course much of his domestic accomplishments were overshadowed by the war in Vietnam, and the end of his term in 1968 included the assassination of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.  President Johnson himself was not well and that is one of the major reasons he chose not to run for re-election. When he left office it was with a balanced budget and a 3.3% unemployment rate (so I don't want to hear about how government involvement doesn't lead to jobs, wink wink!).

re-creation of LBJ's oval office

He died at the LBJ Ranch in 1973, but did live to see this museum finished in 1971 and published his memoirs "The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency".  One of the sources he used to write that book was those taped phone calls from the Oval Office.  Much has been made of his taped calls, but every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon with the exception of Harry Truman had some type of recording system in place.

Of special interest to Katrina at this museum was the women's suffrage banner from 1919 belonging to Jane McCallum.  She fought for the 19th amendment and had the distinction of not only winning that fight to vote but she also served as the Secretary of State for Texas.

And, we learned that the Kansas City Chiefs were defeated by the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl in January of 1967.  Obviously these two Wisconsin girls do not come from a football family, right?  One more presidential stop in Arkansas....

"Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."
                                                                                                     Lyndon Johnson, May 30, 1963


  1. I remember LBJ coming to office and he was one of the better presidents but what I remember most was the Vietnam war, that seemed to overshadow him over this side of the pond.

  2. I think he was a good guy, sort of profane -- insert smiley face here -- but because of our presence in Vietnam, the protesters, and the entire 60's upheaval, he never had a chance to shine. I like the last quote you posted. I liked Lady Bird, also, whose legacy of beautiful flowers all over the State of Texas is a gift to everyone.