By Brittani Boothe
“If government is to serve any purpose it is to do for others what they are unable to do for themselves.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
On August 27th, Texans observe Lyndon Baines Johnson day to celebrate the birth and accomplishments of one of the states native sons. After Johnson’s death in 1973, the Texas state legislature adopted the day to honor the 36th Presidents many successes, both in Texas and Washington.
In 1908, Lyndon Baines Johnson was born to a well-to-do family near Stonewall, Texas. Johnson’s ancestors were some of the first to settle the state and have owned land in the Austin area for over 200 years. Although growing up comfortable, Johnson’s father had trouble keeping the family’s finances in order and by the time he graduated from high school they could scarcely afford to send him to college. However, they managed to scrape by enough to send him to summer school at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, but Johnson could not keep up. After his disappointing track record in college, he ventured out to California where he worked odd jobs and in a family members law office to make a living. Soon realizing the California lifestyle was not for him, Johnson hitchhiked his way back to Texas where he began to work on a manual labor crew. Eventually, he was able to pull himself back up by his bootstraps and got a teaching degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers College.
While Johnson did excel at teaching and was able to give a great education to kids at the school in Cotulla, he soon realized teaching was not where he wanted to spend his career. In 1931, he found his first political job with Congressman Richard Kleburg of Corpus Christi. Within ten years, he made his way into the Capital as the congressman for Texas’ Tenth District. While representing the Tenth District, Johnson was able to bring electrical power to the Texas Hill Country. Although successful as a congressman, he still had his sights set higher and by 1941 he was maneuvering to take over one of Texas’ two senate seats. His first bid at the senate seat was unsuccessful, so he instead commissioned into the Naval Reserves during World War II where he was awarded a Silver Star. Only seven years after his first bid, Johnson was elected as a Texas Senator in 1948. During his time in the senate, he served as both the minority and majority leader, was instrumental to getting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed and helped usher the United States into the Race for Space. Yet again however, Johnson had his sights set higher.
The presidential election of 1960 included a strong political player on the Republican ticket and a young, enthusiastic, Catholic on the Democratic ticket. The Democrats thought that their “underdog” candidate, John F. Kennedy, needed a running mate who was matured and well known in the political arena. After losing two previous bids at the Vice Presidency, Johnson was more than ready to accept the offer. Ultimately, this election became the closest in the century with the Democrats coming out victorious. As Vice President, Johnson headed the space program, military policy, and chaired the Committee of Equal Employment Opportunity. In November of 1963, Kennedy and Johnson headed to Texas to thank their constituencies for helping to elect them to office. While in Dallas, Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. By the time Johnson made it back to Washington, he was already sworn in as the acting President of the United States. In 1964, Johnson was elected president in his own right thereby completing his ascent to the top of the U.S. political spectrum.
Lyndon B. Johnson passed away in January of 1973, just four years after completing his final term as president. He is one of only four men in history to occupy all four federal offices – Congressman, Senator, Vice President, and President. No Texan has left a greater mark on the history of the United States.
Lewis L. Gould, “Johnson, Lyndon Baines,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2021. Jan Jarbor Russell, “Politician of the Century – Lyndon Johnson,” Texas Monthly, December 1999. “Lyndon B. Johnson: Life Before the Presidency,” University of Virginia: Miller Center.