Twenty-one of our 43 past presidents of the United States have a presidential library and/or museum, and here in Texas we have three: the George H.W. Bush Library on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station; the George Bush Library in Dallas; and the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, built on a 30-acre site on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
This library was originally dedicated on May 22, 1971; it hosts more than 150,000 visitors each year. Realizing that “times were a-changing,” the library underwent a $10 million redesign, paid for through private donations, to bring new interactive exhibits to the facility. After one year of work, the new and improved LBJ Library was unveiled Dec. 22, 2012. This date was chosen to honor what would have been Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday.
When you enter the library, you will actually be on the third floor, and the first thing you will see is LBJ’s custom-built black stretch Presidential Limousine. Although it was equipped with a TV, telephone, and special communication system direct to the Secret Service, it was not bulletproof or armored. Your next stop should be the theatre showing an excellent 11-minute multimedia experience about our 36th president.
Before leaving the third floor, allow yourself time in the Social Justice Gallery. Here, you will learn about legislation that was championed by LBJ, that today we take for granted. These include civil rights, voting rights, fair housing, the War on Poverty, Medicare and Medicaid, public broadcasting, immigration, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Freedom of Information Act.
Walk up the Grand Staircase to the fourth floor and the Great Hall. There is a magnificent mural depicting President Johnson and the presidents he worked under. Focus your attention above the mural and through the glass. You will see the next four floors of the facility containing 45 million pages of documents of the Johnson era. The main exhibits on this floor are the LBJ Presidency, the Presidents and First Ladies (from George Washington to Barack Obama), and A Legacy of Liberty.
Next, take the elevator to the 10th floor, where you can visit replicas of the Oval Office and Lady Bird’s office. From her office window, there is a stunning view of the University of Texas football stadium and the Texas Capitol in the background.
Mrs. Johnson was a lifelong advocate for beautifying the nation’s cities and highways. The Highway Beautification Act, passed in 1965, was also known as Lady Bird’s Bill. In Washington, D.C., she started a beautification project that involved planting millions of flowers. Even the Austin riverfront area benefited from her love of nature in the Town Lake Beautification Project. In 2007, following her death, this lake was renamed Lady Bird Lake.
There is an intimate short video about the Johnson family’s life in the White House. One of the Johnson daughters tells a story of when she was a teenager and decided to slip out of the White House without the Secret Service knowing about it. She got all the way to the main gate, but had a change of heart -- you need to watch the video to see why.
In a word: Education
Visiting this library is well worth your time and you will certainly benefit from learning the history of this president, who was bigger than life. Personally, I think we learned more about LBJ in just three hours in the library than we ever knew before, and we gained an appreciation of what he was able to accomplish.
President Johnson once said, “At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems -- the answer for all the problems of the world -- comes to a single word. That word is education.”
The LBJ Library is located at 2313 Red River St., off I-35, exit 235B, just a 74-mile drive from La Vernia. The library is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Christmas. Admission fees are $3 for children ages 13-17, $5 for seniors, and $8 for adults. Children under 13, UT students, active duty military, and student groups with reservations are admitted free.
Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.
Did you know?
Lady Bird was born Claudia Alta Taylor. While still an infant, her nurse commented that she was as pretty as a ladybird (what we know today as a ladybug). The name stuck. In high school, she was simply called “Bird.”
On Dec. 9, 1941, Rep. Lyndon Johnson was the first member of Congress to volunteer for active duty in the U.S. Navy; in 1942, he received the Silver Star for gallantry in action during an aerial mission in the Pacific.
President Johnson, his wife, and both daughters share the same initials: LBJ.