AUSTIN — With parks, lakes and schools named after him, it doesn’t take very long living in Texas to realize former president Lyndon B. Johnson is deeply engrained in the state. Searching “things to do in Texas,” you’ll find an assortment of places named after both he and his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson.
The 36th president’s official library is located in downtown Austin. My family enjoys visiting the presidential libraries and learning things we may not have known about all the former presidents.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum was stunning, with limestone walls and floors. The museum details his life from childhood to life after the presidency. With so many things in the state’s capital named after him and his wife, I assumed he was originally from Austin. He was actually born in Stonewall, a small town about an hour west of Austin.
The museum includes a long list of memorabilia belonging to Johnson, from an old third-grade report card to his presidential limousine. Walking through a museum dedicated to one person makes me wonder who is responsible for collecting all these bits of history. Obviously everything during his presidency would be easy enough to keep, but tracing someone’s life back all those years and finding something as small as a report card just baffles my mind.
The first floor is mainly dedicated to his life before becoming president. The second floor is where my jaw dropped. From the staircase leading to the second floor, you have a perfect view of a massive red wall. Expanding four stories high, enclosed in glass, are Johnson’s official papers. All his papers are kept in red boxes, with the gold presidential symbol embossed on the front. It made for a stunning backdrop in the room.
The second floor is where the museum really comes alive, with information about Johnson’s presidency, beginning with the fateful day, Nov. 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. An hour and a half after Kennedy was shot at Dealey Plaza, Johnson was being sworn into office aboard Air Force One.
His name will forever be linked to the Vietnam War, but he also helped create the space program, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, created Medicare and Medicaid and signed the Voting Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. When I think about things that happened in the past, things that changed our country, I guess I never really stopped to think about who was president during these events.
Honestly, whenever I’ve heard Johnson’s name previously, it’s always in a negative tone, but after visiting his library, my view has definitely changed. He took over the most high-profile position in the world, replacing one of the nation’s most beloved presidents, and ended up changing the world for the better.
Without even realizing it, one of his biggest accomplishments was the seat belt law, which became a federal law on Jan. 1, 1968. Since then, seat belts have saved countless lives.
The museum is located within the University of Texas at Austin’s footprint, tucked behind the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. We went on a weekend, so there was plenty of parking.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 2313 Red River St. in Austin. Upcoming events include a special exhibition called “Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers,” which begins April 4.
Admission is free for military and children under 13. Adult tickets are $10, veterans are $5, seniors (62 and over) are $7, college students are $3 and youth (13-18) are $3.
For more information, visit http://www.lbjlibrary.org.