All the Way with LBJ

So I’ve been in Austin a few days and so far things and photos are a bit scattered, so I’m bringing you a more “history geek” (and mega photo heavy) type post today.  Headed out for mega shopping tomorrow and the next day!

As a history major you begin to develop what I like to call “historical figure buddies” – people from the past you come to enjoy reading and learning about.  They are people that you are excited to talk about and love it when you learn new things.  One of mine is our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  I find him a complex and interesting person who I truly believe had our nation’s best interests at heart.  This is why I was so excited when I found out that the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum was in Austin and I was able to visit yesterday.

The first part of the museum has a comprehensive timeline that covers Johnson’s life and includes other historical markers to provide context.  Fun elements such as his boyhood report card (nearly a straight-A student!) cigarette case and photos are included.  The museum then shifts to in-depth displays of his presidency.

Johnson’s presidency began abruptly with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963 and there is a room dedicated to that day, which includes the clothing both Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, were wearing as well as the bible which Johnson was sworn in on.

A passion for education combined with his teaching career that included experience with the impoverished Mexican minorities laid the ground work for the acts that Johnson would push through as president.  Johnson quickly won favor with his Great Society, which worked to improve America at home through government programs.  While Johnson’s presidency was overshadowed by Vietnam, he passed many amazing domestic acts and endowments that truly affect Americans to this day.  Including…

  • Clean Air Act of 1963
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964
  • Food Stamp Act of 1964
  • Revenue Act of 1964 and Economic Opportunity Act (Which helped in the fight against poverty.  It should be noted that during Johnson’s presidency, poverty dropped from 23% to 12% in the US.)
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Immigration Act of 1965
  • Social Security Act of 1965 (Which includes the creation of Medicare and Medicaid)
  • Higher Education Act of 1965 (This included work study programs, Pell Grants and other government loans)
  • Freedom of Information Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (This introduced PBS and NPR)
  • Bilingual Education Act
  • Established the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Established the National Endowment for the Arts

…just to name a few.  Not to mention he improved NASA and appointed the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court judge, Thurgood Marshall.

Johnson’s Presidential limo as well as a replica of the Oval Office of what it looked like during his time in office are available for viewing.  The Oval Office includes his original desk and rocking chair which he worked and sat in.

The museum is incredibly interactive as well, featuring touch-screen displays and video clips.  One of my favorite interactive pieces were the reoccurring “Please Hold for the President” phones.  Since Johnson was notorious for recording nearly everything, the archive possesses thousands of hours of phone conversations.  Select phone conversations are located throughout the different exhibits and patrons can pick up a receiver and select one of the recordings to listen to.  They were a wonderful insight into how Johnson interacted with people one-on-one.

I also enjoyed the small display of love letters that were exchanged between Johnson and his wife Lady Bird, which offered a very tender and often much overlooked side to the 60s era president who was often described as crude and became notorious for dishing out “the Johnson Treatment”.  This was his very in-your-face way of talking, which often included leaning in, poking, and even grabbing of lapels.

The gift shop had a range of items from just Texas themed items to LBJ and presidential items.  One thing I liked were the deadstock campaign buttons they had! I purchased one I did not yet own for my collection.

I loved every moment of the three hours I spent at the museum and would gladly return if I find myself in Austin again.  Maybe next year for SXSW again…?

LBJ Bonus! Today found me having dinner at the Driskill Hotel, which was a favorite place of Johnson’s.  He and Lady Bird had their first date there in 1934, and he even watched the results from 1964 Presidential Election there!

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