Wednesday, August 27, 2008

100 Years of LBJ

The Dallas Morning News notes that today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States. There will be several events in Texas commemorating LBJ's birthday, including:


The late president's two daughters and others will celebrate his birthday at the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall. LBJ's working office at the ranch, which was the Texas White House from 1963 to 1969, will be open for tours.


A party – open to the public – will be held at the library in Austin, which will open a new exhibit, To the Moon, the U.S. space program in the 1960s.
Radio station KLBJ -- naturally -- offers more details on the celebrations in Austin:
Today would have been LBJ's 100th birthday, so the Presidential library here in Austin is throwing a party; complete with bar-b-que, peach ice-cream and Fresca... It *was* President Johnson's favorite soft-drink.

Dr. Betty Sue Flowers - Director of the LBJ Presidential Library says today also has other significance... It was on this date in 1964 he accepted the Democratic nomination for President.

The celebration will be held from 6 to 8 tonight on the lawn in front of the library, and yes, they will have the Democratic Convention on the big screen... just as LBJ would want it.
More information about the centennial celebration can be found at

As it happens, almost precisely one year ago, I was in Austin and had the opportunity to tour the LBJ Library and Museum, which is on the campus of the University of Texas.

I posted some video from that visit (which was on August 29, two days too late for LBJ's 99th birthday) on the anniversary of President Johnson's famous announcement of his decision not to seek re-election, but it seemed appropriate to post it again today, given the historical significance of the day and the coincidence of it taking place during the Democratic National Convention.

Part I is largely a montage of images and sounds from the main exhibition area of the museum. It includes some items meant to evoke the pop cultural reference points of Johnson's life, and especially of the turbulent 1960s, when LBJ served as president.

One highlight is a recording of Lady Bird Johnson recalling, in her own words, the events of November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Other images are meant to recall Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!, and the Vietnam War as reported on television. (One exhibit refers to 1968 as "The Nightmare Year," with its assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy -- two events we have been remembering this year, forty years on.)

The library displays many letters written by and to President Johnson, including letters from Barry Goldwater (who lost the 1964 election to Johnson but sparked a political revolution in the process) and the Smothers Brothers (whose CBS-TV show was canceled in large part because of their satiric barbs aimed at the President and his Vietnam War policies).

Part II begins with a rather creepy animatronic rendering of President Johnson in a stable at the LBJ Ranch, with recordings of him telling funny stories on various occasions, including an anecdote about Winston Churchill. Part II also includes pictures of the reproduction of the Oval Office that has been installed in the LBJ Library and Museum, which is 0ne-eighth smaller than the real one in the West Wing of the White House. (For a look at the Reagan-era Oval Office, check out the video I posted of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. I visited the Reagan Library just about one month before my trip to Austin last year.)

This part also features more Carol Channing memorabilia. (Hello, Dolly! had its pre-Broadway try-out at the National Theatre in Washington, and its title number was transformed into the campaign song, "Hello, Lyndon!")

I happened upon a YouTube video of Walter Cronkite learning of President Johnson's death at the age of 64 on January 22, 1973, and breaking the news live on the air, which I have added as a bonus.

Cronkite's skills as a journalist are demonstrated by the way he segues from this unexpected news to a pre-written story about negotiations to end the Vietnam War. It's also interesting, by the way, given current global petroleum prices, how Cronkite ends the segment by saying "I'll be back in a minute with our report on the energy crisis." This was about ten months before the OPEC oil embargo precipitated what was the first energy crisis of the 1970s, with the second one due largely to misguided policies of the Carter administration, policies which are likely to be emulated by the Obama administration.

Part I:

Part II:

Bonus Video:

I wonder whether the LBJ centenary will be commemorated in any significant way at the Democrats' convention in Denver. Is it something worthy of prime-time, or would mention of a stubborn and unpopular leader who presided over an ill-conceived and unpopular war bring to mind undesirable parallels to the present day?

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