Getting to Know the 36th President: LBJ Museum, Austin, TXDecember 24, 2011 No Comments
Dad is a mid-generation Baby Boomer. His teen years were filled with the hallmarks of the turbulent 1960s–the Beatles, the Vietnam War, race riots and protests and seismic shifts in the cultural zeitgeist. But perhaps no single event had a bigger effect on him than the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As Dad was not yet a teenager then, it is actually somewhat surprising to hear just how much he remembers about Kennedy’s brief time in office. But he never talks as much about President Lyndon B. Johnson, who presided over the remainder of the 1960s.
Nonetheless, when we were in Austin, Texas, during the spring of 2011, Dad really wanted to see the LBJ Library and Museum. I was curious to learn more about this President I knew so little about, so I readily agreed to the trip. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up having a fantastic time getting to know the 36th President of the United States.
About the LBJ Library and Museum
The LBJ Library and Museum was dedicated on May 22, 1971 on a 30-acre site at The University of Texas. In 2012, the property is set to undergo a $10 million dollar renovation and expansion, so call ahead if you plan to visit during the year. As of 2011, the museum is open daily 9-5, closed only on Christmas Day. The Archives are open weekdays 9-5 and closed on federal holidays. There is no admission fee, and the museum offers a large, free parking lot. Pay close attention when you park, though, as the free visitor lot is flanked by lots only open to university pass holders.
Interestingly, the LBJ Library and Museum is the only Presidential Library without an admission fee. President Johnson insisted that any library bearing his name should be free and open to all. The winding exhibit halls do an excellent job of telling the story of Lyndon Baines Johnson, his wife, Lady Bird, and their children, Lynda and Luci. Throughout the museum, the human story is framed by the cultural and political story of the United States in the 1960s. Through January 2, 2012, an entire exhibit hall is dedicated to a featured exhibit entitled “Left to Right: Radical Movements of the 1960s.” If you have the opportunity to catch this exhibit, we highly recommend it!
We arrived at the museum around noon. From the parking lot, you must cross a breezeway and a small park area featuring some of Lady Bird’s beloved flowers. We took a few minutes to stop and enjoy the park before entering the building.
The docents at the front desk are extremely friendly and helpful, and always eager to talk about President Johnson. If you have time to spare, ask them a few questions and enjoy the stories.
We began in the small theater, where a short overview film plays multiple times throughout the day. The movie provides an excellent introduction, and captivates the imaginations of visitors of all ages. The museum exhibits follow a winding but easy to follow path, saving visitors the trouble of constantly referring to a map!
As a huge fan of retro technology, I was particularly excited to see the recreation of the Oval Office as it looked during Johnson’s presidency. A photo gallery shows other rooms of the White House during the Johnsons’ time in residence.
The First Lady’s Gallery is unique in that it includes Lady Bird Johnson’s actual office, which she used for 25 years. The Gallery also offers numerous audiovisual presentations, photographs and bits of memorabilia that reveal a great deal about the former First Lady.
Dad and I were both spellbound by the Radical Movements exhibit. Dad was a Radical during that era, and he basked in a great deal of nostalgia looking at old posters and buttons. I am fascinated by political movements in general, and those of the ‘60s in particular, so I appreciated the detailed look at the various movements.
We ended up spending more than three hours carefully examining the various displays. We would have stayed a bit longer, but it was long past lunchtime. If your interest is more casual, you could see the highlights in roughly two hours.
We just happened to be in town at the same time as Civil Rights legend Julian Bond. Mr. Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an activist politician, and a long-term president of the NAACP. On May 4, 2011, we were fortunate to attend an event hosted by Mr. Bond at the LBJ Museum.
The evening began with a special sneak peek at the first 15 minutes of the then-unreleased PBS documentary, Freedom Riders. The documentary tracks the Freedom Rides, a 1961 non-violence movement in which mixed-race groups of men and women took public buses into the Deep South. The Freedom Rides drew attention to the Jim Crow policies of segregation and sanctioned violence against minorities. After the sneak preview, Mr. Bond spoke at length about the Civil Rights Movement, his personal experiences, and his view of civil rights today.
The event was held at the museum to celebrate the upcoming opening of a temporary exhibit on the Freedom Riders. Though we were not able to see the exhibit, the evening was one I will never forget. The museum regularly hosts similar events, so check to see if anything is going on during your visit.