As baby boomers, we have seen a lot of history, not just for our generation but for all generations. But none had more impact than the 1960s, and one American president contributed mightily to that impact, for better and for worse. Of course we’re talking about Lyndon Johnson, and Tam Warner Minton of Dallas has just ventured out to Austin to visit the LBJ Museum. It was a real blast from the past.
Ever been to a Presidential Library? Well, for a history buff like me, you’d think the answer would be yes … but no. Not until this year when I visited the LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas in Austin! The Library is celebrating the Sixties (which, you know, makes sense for LBJ), and wow! Talk about Boomer heaven!! I was mesmerized.
I am more of a 70s boomer, but seeing all of the sixties paraphernalia and magazine covers and album covers and TV show openings was just incredible. Maybe I remember more than I thought I did … or maybe I’ve just seen some of these things so much, I think I remember them. However, I did see some things that absolutely came from my memory banks.
- a commercial with a rabbit who tries to eat Trix! Ah, Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids!
- Bewitched’s opening!
- Lawrence Welk and his orchestra, with bubbles, doing the Pennsylvania Polka.
- Nixon on Laugh In, saying “Sock it to ME?”
- Barbie and Ken original dolls! I remember them because my older friend Holly had them, and I thought they were so cool!
- Muhammad Ali…floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee!
- Did you know Hugh Hefner started in the 60s with those stupid pajamas???
There are more serious moments in the library too. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK. The 1968 Democratic Convention debacle in Chicago. The Chicago 7 trial. Civil rights. I listened to the phone call between J Edgar Hoover and LBJ, when Hoover called to advise the President that they had found the car of the missing civil rights workers, burned. It gave me chills.
We tend to think of LBJ as synonymous with the war in (you know, “Hey, hey, L-B-J, how many kids did you kill today?”), but throughout the Library are reminders of Johnson’s dream and goal, The Great Society.
It seems unbelievable now, but in 1963, 25% of adult Americans did not have a high school diploma; 20% of Americans lived in poverty; and 33% of the elderly population lived in poverty. The two main aims of the Great Society were the elimination of poverty (War on Poverty) and racial equality.
Johnson passed four Civil Rights bills: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade job discrimination and segregation of public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspended use of literacy or other voter-qualification tests that had sometimes served to keep African-Americans off voting lists, and it provided for federal court lawsuits to stop discriminatory poll taxes. The Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 abolished the national-origin quotas in immigration law. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination and extended constitutional protections to Native Americans on reservations.
Johnson passed Medicare, Medicaid, and Welfare. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 gave poor children funds formaterials for education, and Head Start. Clean Air Act, labeling cigarettes as dangerous … Johnson’s legislative victories were beyond anything we couldimagine today from our do-nothing Congress.
It is said that Lyndon Johnson could twist the arm of any lawmaker. He wasn’t subtle. They called it “the Johnson treatment.” Did you know that LBJ was 6’4”? He towered over people, and was extremely intimidating. He was a wheelin’ dealin’ Texan, and he didn’t take no for an answer.
What brought Johnson’s presidency to an ignoble end was the escalation and disaster of the war in Vietnam. The escalation intensified the war protests, and LBJ announced that he would not seek, nor accept, thenomination of the Democratic Party for President in the election of 1968. Bobby Kennedy was running on a promise to end the war, and if he had not been murdered in June 1968, he probably would have been the nominee. Nixon, of course, won the 1968 election.
Seeing the library, hearing conversations that LBJ had with Jackie Kennedy, MLK, and J Edgar Hoover was a remarkable experience. Iwould love to go back, and spend the entire day, looking carefully at everything, and listening to every conversation available to visitors.
Floors 5-9 are archives, filled with the documents of the times. The whole place is nothing short of fascinating. I highly recommend a visit. The 60s were iconic times, turbulent times, tragic times, violent times, and times of “love and peace.” I wish I could remember more of it firsthand, but seeing it in the library was astonishing. I’m very happy that I made the trip. It’s a baby boomer’s archive.