While I remain here, waiting for repairs, I am taking in some of the area amenities. Some fellow RV friends were in Austin for a pass-through and we had some great fun. I’ll make several posts. This one is about LBJ. Consider it a warm up for my spring civil rights tour of the south!
President Johnson’s presence is everywhere in central Texas. From the Presidential Library at UT, to the Ranch, Boyhood home, and various named thoroughfare’s, it seems like this is Johnson country.
I’ve been to the Library on a previous trip and enjoyed it thoroughly. LBJ may be remembered for his role in the Vietnam War and his ascension to the presidency due to Kennedy’s assassination. Both those historical elements are well-covered in the library. For me, however, I was most interested in the Civil Rights element. His administration was responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Act, And EASA – the education act that includes Title IX (women’s access to sports is the primary use) and special needs education access. This was a momentous package of legislative history.
The LBJ Ranch is a sprawling land area that includes the Texas State historical site and the National Parks historical site, separated by the Perdernales River. The entire area, including nearby Johnson City, was settled by LBJ family members and settlers that had strong neighbor ties to the Johnsons. The state site has an interpretive component including people in costumes that maintain the historic homes and farm that existed prior to and at LBJ’s birth.
The Ranch was the alternate White House for Johnson, complete with landing strip for his mini-Air Force One plane, secret service quarters, and extra quarters for visitors. The entry is free, because LBJ deemed that it would be. “All the world is welcome here.” He hosted BBQs and weekends for the press, for dignitaries, and anyone in his sphere who wanted to come. Down home was a practice. One of the more quirky customs was for visitors to scrawl their name in wet cement on an individual paver block. Then these were preserved for all to see as a living testament to the who’s who of visitors. Gerald Ford, astronauts, and generals are among the famous friends.
LBJ, his wife Lady Bird, his parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family are buried in the family cemetery on the grounds, beneath oaks and next to a pecan grove. Very Texas. He was born here and died here. The River and the land gave him peace.
The Ranch remains operational with bison, longhorn and cattle. It is a remarkable preservation of history and a setting that meant the world to this former President. The visitor center on the state park side has a great video that was aired on broadcast television – showing LBJ giving a tour of the ranch. It is evident he was in love with this place he called home. At the visitors center on the national park side are telephone recordings made at the ranch where he talks with cabinet members, staff, other legislative leaders, about the war, pending legislation, and international issues. It’s a mini living history lesson. There are similar telephone call recordings at the Presidential Library.
The Ranch is about an hour from Austin and very near Fredericksburg, which itself is an interesting place – a German settlement, now home to many vineyards. The Hill Country as the area is known, is beautiful. It’s nearly wildflower season, which Lady Bird Johnson championed with her beautification efforts. More on that in the next post.