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Happy Birithday, LBJ

Written by Gene Fowler.

President Lydon B. Johnson in 1965.

Few Texans have left a greater mark on the history of the United States than Lyndon Baines Johnson. (photographed above in 1965 at the "Texas White House.") Serving as the nation’s 36th president, from November 22, 1963, to January 20, 1969, Johnson guided the country through a tumultuous era of social unrest and cultural change.

August 27 marks President Johnson’s birth, on a farm near Stonewall in the Hill Country. Tributes will ring from the Pedernales to the Potomac, as Texans especially reflect upon the positive contributions made by a native son who rose from humble beginnings to the highest office in the land.

The oldest of five children born to Rebekah Baines Johnson and Sam Ealy Johnson Jr., young Lyndon was encouraged to follow his ambitions for public service. After high school, Lyndon enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, and before graduating in 1930, he taught school for a year in Cotulla.

Johnson made what many consider the best move of his life in 1934, when he met and married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor, whose own legacy reemerges each spring in a profusion of roadside wildflowers. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937 as a supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal, LBJ held the office for 111⁄2 years.

In 1941, when LBJ first ran for the U.S. Senate, the master politician suffered the only electoral defeat of his career. LBJ was determined not to lose when he ran for the Senate again in 1948. In a contest that presidential historian Lewis Gould describes as “one of the most controversial episodes in the history of American elections,” Johnson defeated Coke Stevenson by 87 votes.

Though Johnson failed in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination for President in 1960, he joined Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy on the winning ticket as JFK’s vice president. The Texan ascended to the presidency when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

In the five years of his presidency, LBJ managed to power through such landmark measures as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and more than 100 other major proposals on education, health, the environment, consumer affairs, and poverty. Johnson aide Joseph Califano says that LBJ viewed government as “an instrument to help the most vulnerable among us.”

Before he died in 1973, the president oversaw the creation of the LBJ Library and Museum on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. As part of the Lyndon B. Johnson's birthday, the LBJ Library and Museum invites the public to a party from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on August 27.

Essentials

The LBJ Library and Museum in Austin hosts its annual LBJ Birthday Celebration on Aug. 27 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 512/721-0200. 

LBJ State Park and Historic Site, one mile east of Stonewall, provides birthday refreshments on Aug. 27 at the park visitor center. The park’s Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm also hosts activities in honor of LBJ’s birthday. Call 830/644-2252.

LBJ National Historical Park has two sections, the LBJ Ranch (near Stonewall) and the main park headquarters in Johnson City, where you can tour LBJ’s boyhood home, his grand-parents’ homestead (known as the Johnson Settlement), and the National Park Visitor Center. On August 27, the LBJ Ranch will host a wreath-laying ceremony and the opening of LBJ’s office in the “Texas White House” to the public. (To tour the ranch, you board a bus at the visitor center at the state park.) Call 830/385-3927.

The LBJ Museum of San Marcos focuses on LBJ’s formative years in college at San Marcos (1927-1930). Call 512/353-3300.

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