Blog written by Ben Rawlins
Born on this day over a hundred years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson served as President during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history. Although issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War plagued his presidency, Johnson’s vision of “A Great Society” proved one of the most idealistic platforms of any U.S. President. A native son of Texas, Johnson’s widespread reforms were influenced by his time teaching Mexican-American students at the Welhausen School in Cotulla, TX. According to Johnson, the poverty he witnessed while teaching shaped his political perspective, especially in his desire to create policies that helped the poor and opened educational possibilities to all citizens.
After teaching, Johnson embarked on a career in politics, significantly aided by his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor. After a stint in the Navy during WWII, Johnson served in the U.S. House of Representatives then in the U.S. Senate where he eventually became Majority Leader. In 1961, Johnson became Vice President under John F. Kennedy, and when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson was thrust into the highest office of the land.
Johnson has a number of connections to Baylor University. Johnson’s great-grandfather, George Washington Baines, served as Baylor’s president during the Civil War. Johnson’s mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, also studied literature at Baylor, though she didn’t take a degree.
With these family connections to Baylor, it seems fitting that the Poage Library should hold materials from Johnson’s political career. In the archives at Poage, we have a number of items that pertain to Johnson, mostly coming from George Meyer, a collector of LBJ material. The collection includes everything from Johnson inscribed ashtrays to campaign materials to newspapers clippings connected to Johnson. We even have a hat that was “made expressly for President Lyndon B. Johnson.”
In 1965, Johnson visited Baylor University to deliver the commencement address at graduation and receive an honorary degree. This visit would have been soon after he won the historic Presidential campaign in 1964, a landslide victory against Republican Barry Goldwater. It’s hard to imagine the excitement that the attendees of Baylor’s graduation must have felt when President Johnson delivered his address on that May morning in 1965.
In that address, Johnson offers a fitting tribute to his mother’s love for Baylor and his own relationship to the university his family loved: “More than that, the honor you pay me is, in a real sense, honor that is due my mother. All of her life she spoke often of Baylor—a trait I have found not uncommon among all of your alumni. Her pride in Baylor—and in being the granddaughter of a president of Baylor—passed on to me early and influenced the course of my own life more constructively than I could ever describe. So, I am grateful to you for this moment, and for its meaning to me.”