So I’m picking up again with us at the LBJ Library in Austin...
We left the video of LBJ’s life and continued on the third floor into the “LBJ Timeline,” posters that run along the walls of the entire floor and give all his dates and the major events of his life, ranging from his beginnings as an idealistic young teacher (his students were mostly Hispanic and/or People of Color, and to the end of his days he worked for the rights of those groups) all the way to his retirement and passing. Gotta confess, there was a lot I didn’t know.
There was also a special exhibit, “Lady Bird: Beyond the Wild Flowers.” This was devoted to the life and accomplishments of Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson. She was a rather remarkable individual, by the way, more so than I realized. I knew that she was a successful business woman and entrepreneur, but I didn’t know how very successful. Bluntly, she was a pioneer in the broadcasting business. And, in her way, she was a brilliant politician. Her husband wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did if she wasn’t.
For once, the photo is obvious and actually dates from our visit. Here’s Martha standing in front of one of my favorite LBJ quotes.
Martha also pointed out something I’d never considered. “She was,” Martha said, “a really lovely woman.” And so she was. She was a classic flapper in the 1920s, and she appears to have had beaux knocking on her college dorm room door all the time. Lyndon was unique among her suiters in that he actually had the wit, courage, and stamina to keep up with her.
We exited “Wild Flowers,” and headed up to the fourth floor. Here is the vast “Great Hall,” from which you can see the towers full of papers and books. There are more exhibits. These start with LBJ’s early years in politics, go to his sudden and unexpected (maybe unwanted) ascension to the White House following JFK’s assassination, then through Johnson’s triumphs in domestic policy--The Great Society, Civil Rights, and the space programs. Then, alas, it ends with Vietnam.
Though, I give credit to the Library. It never pulls back from the uncomfortable reality that LBJ’s domestic policy was brilliant, while his foreign policy was...a disaster, most of the time.
Anyway, we finished on that floor and realized we were getting tired. There were still more exhibits on floor 10 (floors 5-9 are the archives), but we were beginning to feel a bit out of it. And, by this time, Martha had been standing up for quite a while, both on that day and at the class the day before. So, we’d figured we’d cut it short.
We popped up to floor 10 to have a quick glance around -- worth seeing for the reconstructions of the Oval Office and of Lady Bird’s personal office -- and then figured we’d come back another day. We took the elevator back downstairs, visited the obligatory gift shop (Martha got some post cards), and then headed out.
Oh, and then we found our way to a fun local restaurant, the Red River Cafe (https://www.facebook.com/redrivercafeatx/). Well worth visiting and it had a terrific university vibe, so we felt at home there.
Then, after lunch, we were bound for Georgetown.
I guess, though, if I had to sum up my response to the LBJ Library, I’d say it reminded me that the Johnsons were really rather attractive people. They worked hard for their country, and for the State of Texas, and for humanity in general. If it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War, well, history would have been much kinder to them.
And, frankly, it made me rethink my own impressions of LBJ and Lady Bird. I came of age, after all, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when an enormous number of people...on the Left and the Right...had set out to vilify both of them. I was told...by TV, by teachers I respected, even by French New Wave cinema (hey, give me a break. I went through a phase)...that he was a monster and a fool, and she was homely and ridiculous.
They were none of those terrible things, of course. But they were curious times, in which people were rebelling against many things, and demonizing much, and sometimes finding enemies in the people who would have otherwise been their allies.
It is something that we should all of us keep in mind today...particularly in an age of crippling political division.
That was our most recent trip to Austin. Coming up, lot’s more.
In fact, we’re heading off to Durham, N.C. It’s going to be a wild and wooly story of how we set off to have “Friend’s Easter,” an impromptu reunion with a whole bunch of friends, and involving some of the world’s most lovely garlic lamb...
But ended up instead having instead just a visit with our friend Vincent...
Though, even so, there were several most excellent noshes involved.
More to come.
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