When I was in Austin, Texas, last week, I took the opportunity to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library on the University of Texas campus. The library is housed in a beautiful building with impressive resources. Its employees and volunteers are gracious and welcoming. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits (especially those devoted to the contributions of LBJ’s lovely and accomplished wife, Lady Bird Johnson).
And yet, I came away from my visit profoundly sad.
LBJ’s legacy is a complicated one. As John F. Kennedy’s vice president, Johnson was thrust into the presidency by Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. President Johnson’s speech to the nation just five days later is considered one of the finest of his career. (He began with the somber words, “All I have, I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.”) Even so, Johnson viewed Kennedy’s death as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement and to push his own agenda. “I am a Roosevelt New Dealer,” Johnson said the day after the assassination. “Kennedy was a little too conservative to suit my taste.”
Johnson was a vehement and vocal racist, yet considered a civil rights hero for passage of the Civil Rights Act