I love the story of Felix Longoria and LBJ. Felix Longoria was a Mexican-American from a small town in Texas who was killed on Luzon during World War II. A couple of years after the war, Longoria’s family had his body transported from the Philippines for burial in his hometown in South Texas. The owner of the funeral home in Longoria’s hometown refused to bury the soldier because “The Whites won’t like it.”
Longoria’s wife contacted the leader of a Texas group that was working to ensure that Mexican-American veterans received the benefits that they deserved once they returned home from the war. That man sent letters and telegrams to military leaders, members of Congress, and Texas’s new Senator — Lyndon B. Johnson.
As soon as LBJ received the telegram and learned about Longoria, he immediately summoned his staff and said, “By God, we’ll bury him in Arlington.” LBJ put his staff to work on the case and sent a telegram to the leader of the Texas group working on Mrs. Longoria’s behalf that makes me emotional every time I read it:
I deeply regret to learn that the prejudice of some individuals extends even beyond this life. I have no authority over civilian funeral homes, nor does the federal government. However, I have today made arrangements to have Felix Longoria buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery here at Washington where the honored dead of our nation’s wars rest. Or, if his family prefers to have his body interred nearer his home he can be reburied at Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery at San Antonio. There will be no cost. If his widow desires to have him reburied in either cemetery, she should send me a collect telegram before his body is unloaded from an army transport at San Francisco, January 15. This injustice and prejudice is deplorable. I am happy to have a part in seeing that this Texas hero is laid to rest with the honor and dignity his service deserves.
Lyndon B. Johnson USS [United States Senator]
Instead of the small cemetery in Three Rivers, Texas, Felix Longoria was buried with full military honors in America’s most hallowed ground — Arlington National Cemetery. Lyndon B. Johnson had used all of the power of his office to right the injustice perpetrated against an American hero by people in his own home state.
Remarkably, when LBJ sent the telegram above, he had only been a United States Senator for eight days.
On December 31, 1963, Lyndon Johnson had been President of the United States for just over a month. Forty days earlier, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas and LBJ was now entering 1964 — a Presidential election year — as the incumbent President, albeit an accidental one.
After several somber, tense, and exhausting weeks, LBJ was spending the Holidays at the LBJ Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. On that New Year’s Eve, many members of President Johnson’s staff gathered at the Forty Acres Club in Austin, Texas to celebrate a birthday party for LBJ aide Horace Busby. President Johnson wanted to join the festivities, but a tired Lady Bird wasn’t interested in going out, so LBJ gathered his secretaries at the LBJ Ranch and boarded a helicopter for the short flight into Austin.
Austin and its main businesses in the early 1960s were no different than any other city in the Segregated South. Although the party for Busby was being held at the Forty Acres Club on the campus of the University of Texas, the hangout’s strict code of segregation had previously led to controversy. In 1962, an African-American official from President Kennedy’s newly-formed Peace Corps was denied service at the Forty Acres Club, which led to a minor boycott and the resignations of several University of Texas staff members who had held club memberships. Still, segregation was strictly enforced, just as it was in restaurants, bars, hotels, bus stations, playgrounds, cemeteries, and basically anywhere that one group of people might come into contact with another group of people throughout the South.
When President Johnson and the secretaries that he had brought along with him to the party arrived at the Forty Acres Club, the simple fact that the President of the United States was about to attend a gathering at a segregated business could have caused a major national controversy. It was still early in LBJ’s Presidency and the fact that Johnson was from the South had worried civil rights leaders when JFK tapped Johnson as his running mate in 1960. Up to that point, LBJ had not yet done anything as President to neutralize the fears of liberal Democrats who mourned President Kennedy’s assassination as the loss of potential civil rights legislation.
Everyone inside the Forty Acres Club recognized that the President was about to arrive when Secret Service agents entered the building and began scanning the guests and taking up positions. Music was playing, cocktails were being served, conversations were cascading throughout the room, but there was also a sense of dread amongst those on LBJ’s staff who realized that the President’s decision to frequent a segregated nightclub in Austin would likely require some major explaining when the news got out.
And then, when Lyndon Johnson walked into the Forty Acres Club, it became clear that he might not be the President that some worried he may be. As he entered the strictly segregated club, the President of the United States was arm-in-arm with one of his secretaries — Gerri Whittington. One of the guests, Ernie Goldstein turned to LBJ aide Bill Moyers and asked, “Does the President know what he’s doing?” Moyers didn’t hesitate. He responded, “He always knows what he’s doing.” Whittington asked Johnson a similar question. “Mr. President,” she asked as they headed inside the club, “do you know what you are doing?” Johnson didn’t hesitate. “I sure do. Half of them are going to think you’re my wife, and that’s just fine with me.”
Gerri Whittington was an African-American woman and in the final hours of 1963, the President of the United States had taken it upon himself to integrate the Forty Acres Club in Austin.
Nobody had suggested it. Nobody had demanded it. Nobody had expected it. There were no focus groups convened and no polling data was consulted. Political calculations had nothing to do with it. It was as simple as Lyndon Johnson wanting to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his staff — a staff which included an African-American woman. On the last night of 1963, Lyndon Johnson brought a black friend to what had been a strictly segregated, all-white club because he wanted to, but he also did it because he realized that he was now the most powerful man in the world and it was something that he could do. As LBJ said in other situations, “Well, what the hell is the Presidency for?” On that last night of 1963, LBJ showed that the Presidency was for breaking down barriers and beginning the journey that made a big, brash Texan from the Hill Country the man who did more for Civil Rights than any other President besides (maybe) Lincoln.
Gerri Whittington, who had been asked to join LBJ’s secretarial staff in the White House shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated, continued to work in the White House for President Johnson until the day he left office and flew home to retirement in Texas. She was the White House’s first black executive secretary and one of her fondest memories wasn’t desegregating the Forty Acres Club with LBJ, but the day in June 1967 when President Johnson steppped out of the Oval Office with Thurgood Marshall and shared the news that he was appointing Marshall as the first black Supreme Court Justice. Other than the President and Marshall, Whittington was the first person to know of the historic nomination.
As for the Forty Acres Club, the rigid segregationist policy that had previously been the rule literally disappeared overnight. The very next day, January 1, 1964, a curious party-goer from the night before called the club to see if it might have been an aberration or a one-time concession to the power of the Presidency. When he asked if black guests were now allowed at the Forty Acres Club, he was told, “Yes, sir. The President of the United States integrated us on New Year’s Eve.”
Rick Perry should go get a job as a greeter at Legoland since he looks like a life-sized Lego person.
Honestly, I really don’t care one bit about Rick Perry or his future, as long as it has nothing to do with being a national figure with actual power. I think he is one of the very worst public officials in the United States. The only politician who I think less of than Rick Perry is probably Rick Santorum.
Who will be the next Governor of Texas? I don’t know. Maybe Kay Bailey Hutchison will take another stab at the Governor’s office with Perry out of the way. It’ll probably be an expensive free-for-all despite the fact that the Governor of Texas is a relatively weak executive with very little significant Constitutional power.
No matter what, I imagine that Texas will get exactly the type of Governor that Texas deserves.
Oh, man, I’m totally bummed that I’m not there so that I can be stuck in ridiculous traffic because of the fact that the city is too small and the highway system leading to-and-from downtown is too poorly-designed to accommodate the number of people who go to a football game at the University of Texas a half-dozen times each fall, let alone the crowds which converge on the city annually for its signature event.
(And I said that the highway system leads “to-and-from” downtown because it doesn’t get you “around” downtown. That requires surface streets because, apparently, nobody thought that a business loop running East-to-West and vice versa anywhere near Austin’s central business district was a good idea. I mean, that makes sense, right? Every other major city has one, but that makes it the establishment thing to do and Austin doesn’t play that game. It’s even called a “business” loop in other cities, so think about how corporate it must be…you’ve gotta “Keep Austin Weird”, so bring on the traffic.)
I’m especially bummed out if I also end up missing out on any of Austin’s wonderful weather. I haven’t looked at the forecast for SXSW, but it’s Austin, so I’m guessing that at least a few days of the festival will be either unbearably hot or ridiculously humid and sticky. Living uncomfortably is probably what I miss most about Texas.
Hey, at least there probably won’t be anybody playing an acoustic guitar in front of a Starbucks while ironically wearing a Livestrong bracelet along with a flannel shirt, ratty jeans, and black Chucks that they actually bought from Target but dragged from their bicycle in order to make them look old and distressed because they think it adds character, as does their dog with a bandanna around its neck that they gave a human name like “Jason” or “Sylvia” and who they trained to go fetch any missed shots during their games of frisbee golf.
I absolutely miss living in an overly contrived cliché disguised as a city, particularly during the time of year when it does everything it can to pretend to be what it thinks it always is.
First and foremost was the weather. I’d rather spend the winter in Antarctica than another summer in Austin. I can’t understand why people would live in that climate for their entire lives.
It’s not the most scenic city or region in the country, either, and quite a large part of the population is really annoying. It’s like taking some of the really pretentious people from San Francisco (and that’s not a a ton of people in San Francisco — one of my favorites cities in the world — but just the people in SF who try way too hard to come across as if they aren’t trying at all) and sticking them in a place that looks Fresno and has a highway system that I can best compare to a hamster wheel. You know how in Vegas and Reno there are those people who came to gamble, but ended up never leaving, and it’s really sad? There’s a significant amount of the population in Austin that seems like they came to SXSW or ACL and never left, and they’re usually douchey and have guitars and walk around with a dog that wears a bandanna while they wear flannel even though it’s 184 degrees (and that’s after the sun goes down) every single day.
Should I keep going? How about this: Guadalupe is not pronounced “Gwah-da-LOOP”. I don’t know why, but that always bothered the shit out of me. Somehow, I was able to tolerate “y’all” — tolerate, not appreciate — but “Gwah-da-LOOP” is just infuriating.
And I’m sorry, UT students, but burnt orange is a terrible color. Remember those big-ass 64-packs of Crayola crayons that we all probably had when we were kids? Burnt orange always remained in the box perfectly-sharpened because burnt orange sucks. It’s the same color as diarrhea that caught on fire.
(Obviously, I’m not a fan of that wildly overrated city.)