Presidential Sites: All associated with Lyndon B. Johnson are in Texas

Published 9:40 am Thursday, August 25, 2022

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By  Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

Anyone from Davie County who wants to visit a site connected to the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, will have to travel more than 1,200 miles to do so.

There are sites in Johnson City, Stonewall, and Austin, Texas.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born at Stonewall, Texas, in 1908. His mother was an educated lady who wanted her children to have all advantages that would be valuable to them as adults. She insisted that they have elocution lessons. She taught the children herself.  She made them stand in front of a mirror and make a speeches.  That may have been valuable to her son, Lyndon, in his later life, but he didn’t seem to practice some of her lessons on manners and correct speech later.

Lyndon’s less refined father served in the Texas state legislator as did Lyndon’s grandfather, so Lyndon may have absorbed his love of politics from those men.

There was a one-teacher school in Stonewall near the Johnson home. When Lyndon was 4, his mother discovered that he was missing – only to find that he had gone over to the school.  That happened so often that Mrs. Johnson finally asked the teacher if she would just enroll Lyndon in the school.  The teacher said she would, thus Lyndon Johnson began school when he was 4.  Evidently that teacher was not burdened with as many rules and regulations as today’s teachers.) Today that school as well as the Lyndon Johnson reconstructed birthplace are open to the public in the National Historical Park, Johnson City Unit, and are administered by the National Park Service.

When Lyndon was about 5, his family moved from Stonewall to Johnson City. The house in Johnson City is probably more interesting because it has more of the Johnson family possessions in it. That house is also administered by the National Park Service. Information can be obtained by calling 830-868-7128.

Lyndon Johnson finished high school in Johnson City along with five other seniors. Of course, his mother wanted him to go to college, but he was too “hard-headed” at that time. Johnson and a friend bought an old car headed to California.  After they got to California, those boys, like many others, found that “all the gold in California, was in the bank in someone else’s name.”  Lyndon even had to take a job as a dishwasher to survive.  It didn’t take long for the boys to decide that things were better in Texas so they went home.  Lyndon got a job working on a road-construction crew.

Again he decided that there must be a better way so at last he decided to follow his mother’s advice and go to college. He enrolled in Texas State College. After a couple of years, he stopped and taught a year in an elementary school that had many disadvantaged Hispanic students. He developed a great deal of empathy for those students which probably showed up later in legislation that he introduced.

Johnson went back and graduated from college. He got his big break when a man that represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives offered him a job as his secretary – that was the beginning of Johnson’s political career.

In 1934, Lyndon met a lady who he immediately decided should be his wife.  She wasn’t so sure, but he convinced her. The two were married about two months later. That was probably the best thing that ever happened to Lyndon Johnson because Claudia Taylor Johnson, who was called Lady Bird, helped Lyndon in more ways that can be mentioned for the rest of his life.

Johnson was then elected as a Representative from Texas to the U.S. House of Representatives and served in that body for 12 years. He then served in the U.S. Senate for about 24 years before he was chosen by John F. Kennedy to run as his vice president. The Kennedy/Johnson ticket won the election.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was serving as Vice President the day that John Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.  After Mr. Kennedy died in a Texas hospital, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President on the airplane that would take the slain president’s body back to Washington.  Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, and the ex-president’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, stood by his side during the swear-in. Mrs. Kennedy was still wearing the pink suite that was covered with her husband’s blood as Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President on Nov. 22, 1963.

President Johnson was a successful in domestic matters. While he served in the U.S. Senate he became a champion at getting legislation passed. He was called the greatest’ arm-twister” ever. He twisted arms by storing everything about the other Senators in his head—their interest, their needs, their families, etc.  He would also help a senator on special legislation which interested him, and, then when he needed help, he “called in his chips” so to speak.  He would say, “I helped you … now I need your help.”

And he would usually get it.

Mr. Johnson used the same tactic as president. In other words, Johnson was able to pass a huge amount of legislation, such as the Civil Rights act. Johnson called his program “The Great Society,” and he reached many of his goals.

Foreign policy was his undoing. The Vietnam was going on and going badly. Johnson would try one thing and then another to try to improve the situation. It seemed that each day the situation got worse. People protested outside the White House day and night. Finally in a speech one night, President Lyndon Johnson surprised the nation when he said that he would not seek another term. The man, who had done so much for so many people said that he would not seek re-election.

Shortly after Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President, Lyndon Johnson was on an airplane bound for his ranch in Texas, which he had bought in 1951 and which by that time had become a 2,700 acre spread.  Mr. Johnson tried to busy himself with managing his huge ranch, but he was a politician and it was hard for him not to be in the thick of political activities. He had many important visitors at the ranch. He would invite them to go for a ride in his convertible. Once they were in, Johnson would take the man/woman on a “hair-raising” ride around the ranch scaring him or her half to death. He also gave the ranch hands directions each day but that none of that was enough to fill the void left in the former president’s life. In other words, he did not really have happy retirement years.

Lyndon Baines Johnson died on Jan. 22, 1975. His wife, Lady Bird, lived at the ranch for 14 years after the death of her husband.  Both Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson are buried in the Stonewall Cemetery, which is actually on the Johnson ranch property.  Visitors can visit the cemetery, but the Texas White House is not open to the public because of structural problems. It is going to be restored, but it is believed that the restoration will take three years so it will be years before visitors can go inside the Johnson Ranch House in Stonewall, Texas  again.

People interested in presidential history should visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Library at the University of Texas in Austin. That is dedicated to the man who is ranked 11th as president sby historians. The telephone number for the library is 517-721-0200.