L. B. J.

World in Action goes looking for the new president of the United States of America


On 15th April, 1865, in the last weeks of the American Civil War, Vice-President Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth President of the United States. He succeeded Abraham Lincoln who had been shot while attending a performance at Ford’s Theatre the previous evening. Ninety-nine years later a second Vice-President Johnson succeeded to the Presidency after another assassination.

The week after its programme from Dallas World in Action moved to a second town in Texas to investigate the background of the West’s new leader. Tim Hewat took the team to Johnson City.

Life for the people of Johnson City is slow. The motorist, hurrying along Texas route 281 linking San Antonio and Wichita Falls, could well fail to notice the town. Its people are typical hill folk, unhurried, with plenty of time to talk. Many of them work in the saddle, although today most cowboys drive their horses from one part of the range to the other – and some of them just drive all the time.

The people of Johnson City are modest people, like George Biars, who has been mayor for fifteen years, largely, he says, because no one else wants the job at a salary of eight shillings a day [40p in decimal, about £7 in today’s money allowing for inflation – Ed].

The biggest thing in town is, of course, Lyndon B. Johnson himself, whose grandfather gave his name to the place. Mr. Johnson was born in a two-room home and he went to school at Johnson City High School. His first job was shining shoes. Then he worked on the roads. Today, Mr. Johnson lives in his own ranch, the L.B.J., on the banks of the Pedernales River. And, partly through his marriage to “Ladybird” Johnson, he is comfortably off. Mrs. Johnson was the chairman of the television and radio station, K.T.B.C. in Austin, Texas, until her husband became President when all the Johnsons’ wealth was put in the hands of trustees.


Highpoints in Johnson City life are the barbecue parties that Mr. Johnson gives from time to time at the L.B.J. for visiting V.I.P.s. One such party was for President Ayub Khan, of Pakistan, who was showered with gifts. Another party was for thirty ambassadors from newly-independent African nations.

Naturally the people of Johnson City admire Mr. Johnson greatly. And, naturally, they are all watching closely to see how he is getting on as President in Washington. But the event they all remember, and indeed the Texas politicians in the State capital at Austin also remember, is Mr. Johnson’s speech at his old university in 1961, for that was the time, they say, when he recorded his philosophy and his beliefs.

Mr. Johnson was Vice-President at the time and he was speaking to students on graduation day at the State College of South-West Texas, near Austin, 42 miles from Johnson City.

“I have a long, well-worded, carefully-drafted speech, he began, “all of which I’m going to stand behind and none of which I’m going to read, because we are faced with the hour of decision and it is you that is going to make the decision.

“In the world today we have two great systems; strong systems competing with each other for the mind of man. One is the collective communist system. One is the democratic system. One is the system of slavery. One is the system of freedom. And each man in each country on the face of the globe is sitting up there in judgement on those systems. The average father and mother want for their children just what you want for yours – relatively simple tastes they have. They want a place to worship, a school to train their minds, food for their stomachs, clothes for their back, a roof over their head, and a little recreation now and then. And that’s about all the average man and woman, wherever he lives, desires. That’s about the extent of his ambition. And now he’s looking at these two systems to see which one offers him and his family the greatest promise for the future.

You are a product of the democratic system. Because of your sacrifices and your diligence, you are concluding a course today and going out into the world. You are some of he privileged people because a relatively small percentage of our total population has the privilege of sitting here with caP and gown on. And therefore you have a very special responsibility to the system that produced you; the system at made it possible for you to have a trained mind and a sound body.

“The three greatest friends that Communism has are illiteracy, poverty, and disease. And they’re the three greatest enemies that our democratic system has. And if you haven’t learned it, you ought to hear it now – that our nation, the richest in the world, the most powerful in the world, is out-numbered 18 to 1 in the world. And no nation can long enjoy great applause when all of its neighbours and all of its friends and all the other nations are impoverished.

“So you, as the leaders and the products of our system, have got to help us in the years ahead to find a solution to eradicating poverty, to improving the standard of men and women and children’s living, to improving their housing, to cleaning their slums, to stamping out the diseases of cancer and heart and all the other killers, so that in your time and my time when these two systems come in mortal combat with each other, you can proudly say Democracy has worked; the proof of the puddin’s in the eatin’, and the coon’s skin’s on the wall: we have educated all our young; we have provided security for our old; we have cleaned our slums; we have made home-owners of our people; we have driven disease underground. We have not sat back and lived with our selfishness and with our greed. We have not been content to be misers. We have practised the Golden Rule. We have done unto others as we would have them do unto us. Yes, we have marched forward like zealots – with a missionary zeal to try to make San Marcus and South-West Texas College and Central Texas and Johnson City a better place than we found it. We have tried to make this a better world than we were born into, and we are determined and dedicated to reward our Maker with the fruits of our labours and we are determined that they shall be made.”

Then Mr. Johnson talked of his visit to South-East Asia, to Saigon, the capital of troubled Viet-Nam.

“When I went into the dark streets of Saigon,” he continued, “my secret service men had cables from our Intelligence people saying that ‘you must be very careful and not get out of your car, you must be surrounded completely with security people, and never shake hands, because this is a very dangerous period – 14 were killed in the town last night – 4,000 mayors and city officials have been killed in this area this year.’ And I said ‘If they don’t want me to speak to them and to talk with them, then let’s don’t go.’ Because I want to know them and I want them to know me. I want to know Asia and I want Asia to know America. And I have learned in my limited experience in this world that you can usually look into a person’s eyes and see what is in his heart. And I want them to look into my eyes and into the eyes of the United States of America.

LBJ with civil rights leaders

“We tore the big Air Force signs off of our plane and just painted on Old Glory. We tore the United States Military Air Transport sign down and we just put ‘The United States of America’ on our 707 jet. And we looked into their eyes and we think they could see what was in our hearts because they came in thousands and tens of thousands would surge forward like an Atlantic wave just to touch the hands of someone from America; just with the hope that maybe, perhaps, somehow, somewhere, their little child could get rid of the tape-worms in his stomach and have a chance, that only one out of ten there now have, of getting into school.

“And I’ll tell you that after three or four days we not only looked in their eyes and saw what was in their hearts, but we instilled in them a determination to climb and climb and climb until they reach the top of the hill so that their children could have a school and their children could have food and their children could have clothes on their back.

“I came back to Washington, not distressed, not discouraged; I came back strong in the belief that when people know each other, they understand each other, and if they understand each other, they don’t need to fight each other.

“So if they ask you what he said at your graduation address, you try to remember that he said that you were walking into a world of opportunity, not a world of obstacles; that you were a special missionary for democracy; that you owe freedom and liberty so much that you wanted everybody to have a little bit of it; and that you realized the principal enemies of freedom and liberty were illiteracy and impoverishment and disease; and that you in your own little way with your sheepskin, regardless of how much they paid you per hour or per day or per week, if there was enough to sustain you, you were going out to make war on these things, so that the people of the world could live in peace and prosperity.”

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