By Renée S. Gordon
“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope–some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”
–Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address, 8 January 1964
Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36th President of the United States immediately after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22,1963 at 12:30 PM in Dallas, Texas. He was sworn in aboard Air Force One at 2:38 PM. www.dallasnews.com/jfk
In January of 1964 he addressed the nation and outlined his ambitious plan to honor Kennedy’s legacy and wage war against America’s most pervasive problems, poverty and racism. During his six years in office, 1963-69, Johnson passed more than sixty educational bills as well as bills that implemented Head Start, Gun Control, Medicare and Medicade. He appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967 and shaped, lobbied tirelessly for and signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act essentially revolutionizing America and moving toward his dream of the “Great Society”.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act declared that all public facilities must offer equal access without regard to “race, color, religion or nationality.” It banned discrimination in hiring based on sex or race and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversee enforcement. The Voting Rights Act was equally significant. It made the use of literacy tests and poll taxes illegal as tools to determine voter eligibility.
Though Johnson’s Vietnam policies came under fire and may have been responsible for his failure to serve a second term he is considered one of the most important figures in the history of Civil Rights. His final public appearance was at a Civil Rights symposium and upon his death in 1973 the majority of the people who came to pay their respects were of African descent.
LBJ was born in the Texas Hill Country on August 27, 1908 in the family home. The family moved to nearby Johnson City when Lyndon was seven. At the age of fifteen he graduated from high school and in 1926 he entered Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College. After graduation he taught at several schools but the school he referenced most often was a segregated Mexican school in Cotulla, Texas. He stated that while teaching there he came to the realization that, because of theie extreme poverty, these children had little chance of attending college and advancing out of poverty.
In the early 1930s Johnson entered politics and would go on to serve in all of the federally elected positions, representative, senator, vice president and president. He is one of only four individuals who can claim that distinction. He retired to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas in 1969.
The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site is a complex that includes the State Park with an Olympic-sized pool, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, fishing and a picnic area, the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, the LBJ Ranch and a visitors’ center. www.nps.gov
Visits to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm are a step into the past. The farm interprets rural life on a Texas-German Hill Country farm from 1900-1918. Authentically dressed docents tend to the seasonal daily chores typical of the lifestyle of the Sauer and Beckmann families, early owners of the property.
The original owners, the Sauers, moved there in 1869 and raised 10 children. One of the children, Augusta, was midwife at President Johnson’s birth. In 1900 the Beckmann’s purchased the farm and in 1900 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department acquired the land from Edna Beckmann Hightower. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/lyndon_b_johnson/
Tours of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch depart from the visitors’ center. On the walk to the “Texas Whitehouse” you pass the building where the Secret Service lodged, Luci Johnson’s little green Corvette and an outbuilding that houses several of Johnson’s vehicles. The most notable car is LBJ’s 1962 Amphibicar, the only civilian amphibious vehicle.
Sen. Johnson purchased the house in 1951 from a family member and in 1958 an office was added. After much remodeling the house, during Johnson’s term as president, had eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms and 72 telephone lines.
All of the furniture in the house is original with the exception of the dining room chairs. The original chairs were divided between Luci and Lynda upon the death of Ladybird Johnson. The chairs on view are detailed replicas. Highlights of the tour are his office, the coffee table crafted of wood from Sherwood Forest, a framed letter to LBJ’s grandfather from Sam Houston and the bedroom in which Johnson died on January 22, 1973.
On the exterior of the house is an area showcasing the more than 300 “Friendship Stones” Johnson collected. Johnson’s extraordinary guest register was a concrete plaque created by having guests sign in wet cement. The names are astonishing in their variety, from actors to astronauts.
Air Force One Half is on displayed in a hangar at the entrance. This is the Lockheed JetStar that flew LBJ from Austin once a larger aircraft brought him there from out of state. Larger planes could not land on his 6,300-ft. airstrip and taxi as close as 200-yds. to the house.
The site has a small museum gallery that provides an excellent overview of LBJ’s achievements and influences. It is filled with informational panels that are both comprehensive and comprehensible and a number of artifacts and memorabilia. One of the most interesting showcases relates the story of Peyton Colony and Homer Coffee, a black playmate of Johnson’s.
Two other interpretive areas are the family cemetery and the Junction School House. Johnson attended this one-room school from the age of four. He was so small that his teacher sat him on her lap. This same teacher was by his side in 1965 as he signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law.
Wildseed Farms, a destination in itself, is located near the ranch. This 17,000-acre facility is a working wildflower farm, with a 3,000-ft. Butterfly House and German Biergarten. Guests can pick bouquets, take a nature walk, purchase seeds and garden objects, attend a workshop or eat lunch. You can easily spend hours here. www.wildseedfarms.com
Before you leave the area consider a visit to Peyton Colony. Ex-slaves, led by Peyton Roberts in 1865, founded the settlement. The group migrated from Virginia after emancipation and settled outside of Blanco, Texas. The area is now a state park that includes a historic cemetery that contains 176 graves of the original residents.
Peyton Colony is reportedly haunted and has been featured on television. You can view additional information at www.vimeo.com/10413231
Johnson loved the Hill Country and you will too. www.visitfredericksburgtx.com
I wish you smooth and versatile travels!
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