Our enemies have always made the same mistake. In my lifetime — in depression and in war — they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith they could not see or that they could not even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will again. For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it — and we will bend it to the hopes of man.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1965
I now know the difference between a cactus and a caucus — in a cactus, all the pricks are on the outside.
Lyndon B. Johnson, to reporters, after meeting with the Senate’s Democratic Caucus following LBJ’s election as Vice President, January 1961
As a Southerner, I am happy to know that a fellow Southerner is in the White House who is concerned about civil rights…LBJ is a man of great ego and great power. He is a pragmatist and a man of pragmatic compassion. It just may be that he’s going to go where John Kennedy couldn’t.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggesting that LBJ seemed far more willing to fight for civil rights than JFK ever had, following a one-on-one meeting with President Johnson less than two weeks after the Kennedy Assassination
I can’t really give you any articles off the top of my head, but there’s a really great book that was recently released by the University Press of Florida which is an academic study of LBJ’s work for Civil Rights — Freedom’s Pragmatist: Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights by Sylvia Ellis.
The definitive study of Lyndon Johnson is Robert Caro’s magnificent series — The Years of Lyndon Johnson — which is up to four volumes so far: The Path To Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power. I don’t know if there has ever been a more detailed series of books ever written about one person, but it is a must-read. It’s takes a commitment to dive into the series since Caro’s almost spent as much time writing the books as it took LBJ to actually live the story told by them and it’s not until the most recent volume (The Passage of Power) that Caro begins delving into LBJ as President. I’m hoping we get the fifth (and final?) volume sometime this decade, but reading the entire series will make it feel like you know Lyndon Johnson.
For those who, unlike me, actually have a personal life, you may not want to devote every waking hour to reading about LBJ via Mr. Caro’s masterpiece. In that case, I’d highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin has proven her ability over the past couple of decades as one of our great historians, and I think Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is her best work. When LBJ left office, he prepared to write his autobiography, The Vantage Point. LBJ hired Goodwin to help him research and write the book, but he wanted it to sound Presidential or statesmanlike — basically, the opposite of the candid, off-the-cuff LBJ that was always the most fascinating. The result was that The Vantage Point is stiff and unnecessarily formal — like when LBJ would give a speech on television via prepared remarks rather than the barn-burning, passionate campaign speeches that he would give extemporaneously while on the campaign trail.
After LBJ died, Goodwin culled together the raw notes and anecdotes from hours of working alongside of and talking to Johnson for his autobiography, and she put together Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream — perhaps one of the most personal biographies ever written about a President. Johnson’s candor, his brilliance, his incredible political intuition, his deep insecurities, and everything that made him so remarkable and/or frustrating to those who came face-to-face with him, worked for him, and battle against him shine brightly through in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. Goodwin basically wrote the book that LBJ should have written because his voice is clear on each and every page. It’s certainly one of the best books ever written about a President, and it’s enhanced not only by Goodwin’s skill as an historian, but because of the unique access she had to LBJ from the time he left the White House.
There are an awful lot of “What ifs?” in that question, but there is one much bigger problem with your question: Richard Nixon actually WAS President longer than LBJ was. It wasn’t that big of a difference, but the fact is that Nixon’s Presidency lasted about five months longer than Lyndon Johnson’s Administration.
I completely agree with you. JFK had legislation bottled up in Congress for weeks and weeks before he died. LBJ got a lot of that legislation moving again within days of becoming President. Had he lived, I don’t think JFK would have passed anything close to the amount of legislation that LBJ pushed through Congress. I would have liked to have asked Schlesinger when exactly Kennedy was planning on beginning to accomplish some of the legislative victories that he was so certain that JFK would achieve. I respect Schlesinger as a historian, but I definitely agree with you about him being a Kennedy partisan.
(This is coming from the guy who posted approximately 800 things about LBJ to celebrate his 105th birthday last month.)
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, a young man from Texas won a gold medal in heavyweight boxing while an old man from Texas proudly watched from the White House in Washington, D.C.
As a teenager growing up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward, George Foreman was spending his days and nights fighting in the streets and committing petty crimes. Foreman had little education, few role models, no direction and found the crippling poverty that he lived in to be unbearable. Then, in 1965, he heard of the Job Corps.
One of the foundations of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War On Poverty, the Job Corps was created in 1964 to provide vocational training and technical education, free of charge, to students aged 16 through 24. For many young Americans, the Job Corps as an opportunity. For George Foreman, it was a path to superstardom and success.
After beginning his Job Corps training in Oregon, Foreman was stationed at a center in California where a Job Corps supervisor named Doc Broadus encouraged the 6’4” Texan to consider boxing. Just three years after he signed up for the centerpiece program of LBJ’s Great Society, George Foreman was representing his country in the Olympics.
To this day, Foreman credits the Job Corps for saving his life. Later, he would proudly declare that “Job Corps took me from the mean streets and out of a nightmare lifestyle into a mode where the most incredible dreams came true.”
Following Foreman’s gold medal victory at the 1968 Olympics, he was invited to the White House by President Johnson and became a proud symbol of a Great Society success story. At the White House, President Johnson asked Foreman when he thought he’d win the world championship and Foreman recalled that “I told him I hoped it would be quick, as I needed the money. He laughed about that.”
As LBJ headed into retirement in Texas, George Foreman embarked on a successful professional boxing career and with a 37-0 record, he prepared to fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship against the undefeated champion — Joe Frazier. Foreman started going by the nickname “The Fighting Corpsman”, paying tribute to his Job Corps roots because “it had been President Johnson’s Job Corps which changed my direction in life. I thought all those Job Corps men out there would see that one among them was making it, and maybe it would help them believe they could as well.”
The Fighting Corpsman was a heavy underdog on January 22, 1973 as he challenged Joe Frazier for the world heavyweight championship in Kingston, Jamaica. Most boxing reporters and students of the game thought that the match wouldn’t last very long and they were correct. Foreman dominated Frazier, knocking him down six times in two rounds before the referee finally stepped in and stopped the beating. As millions watched the fight on television, sportscaster Howard Cosell made one of the most famous calls in history, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”. At just 24 years old, George Foreman — the Fighting Corpsman — was the heavyweight champion of the world.
The victory was George Foreman’s, but no one would have taken more pride in the results of that fight than the architect of the program that turned Foreman’s life around, Lyndon B. Johnson. Sadly, Johnson never saw the fight. Just hours earlier on the very day that Foreman won the title in Jamaica, Lyndon Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas. As fans were filing into the arena in Jamaica, Lyndon Johnson died en route to a hospital in Texas.
For the new champion, the victory was bittersweet. “I felt robbed that night while winning it as I had hoped he would be able to read what happened in Jamaica which could never have been possible had he not had that Job Corps idea and that it would include me.” In 1983, George Foreman donated the championship belt that he won on the day of LBJ’s death to the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas where it is on display today — a memento from a coincidental day 38 years ago when two Texans were united by accomplishment and cemented in history.
Lyndon Baines Johnson has always been a divisive figure — in life and in death. But you might disdain LBJ’s bigger-than-life personality, you might disagree with LBJ’s politics, and you might dismiss certain historians who rank him amongst our greatest Presidents…but who can honestly argue that his belt buckle was anything short of awesome.
A closer look: