The LBJ Presidential Library, Austin, TX
The museum is located on Austin's University of Texas campus.
For those of you too young to know about LBJ, here's a summary of his presidency: hailing from Texas, this politician needed the Supreme Court to put him in national office after close and contraversial election; while president, he used a national tragedy to push controversial legislation through congress, afterwards, he would use questionable intelligence to lead America into war, and eventually use that war to sail towards and easy re-election.
The country would learn valuable lessons from this experience, and make sure it never happened again.
This is the fourth presidential library I've been to (Nixon's, FDR's, and Carter's being the others) and this may be the most entertaining and balanced one of them all. It hailed LBJ's accomplishments and did not run from his failures, all within the context of contemporary music and images. The sights and sounds of the 50s and 60s helped provide the context of the times and challenges of the period.
The museum started with background information on Johnson's life. It explained that he grew up during World War I and was already a congressman during the second world war. It noted that LBJ, as a member of the Navy reserve, was the first national legislator to take a leave of absence to serve in the military for WWII.
LBJ's fate is linked in many ways to John F. Kennedy. The museum did a good job showing that many were surprised when he took the vice president spot under the less experienced JFK. One letter, written by the man who would challenge him as president four years later, Senator Barry Goldwater, expressed his disappointment that the "moderate" Johnson would help the "socialist" Kennedy win the highest office in the land.
Johnson's life would change in Dallas in 1963, and the nation's direction would change in many ways.
Johnson would push through civil rights legislation that had been languishing shortly after the Kennedy assassination. The museum demonstrates that not all were pleased by posting a telegram to the new president that read "nigger lover". Change did not come easy.
Johnson would push through "Great Society" laws, which include things like Head Start, Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act. Even while highlighting LBJ's greatest accomplishments, it concedes that he may have "legislated too much," earning my respect for objectivity of the museum.
My favorite part of the LBJ legacy is the space program, something that inspired me as a kid. The museum has a piece of Moon rock, something that mankind would not have now if not for Johnson's work pushing NASA.
Yet for all of the positives, many of them were outweighed by negatives. It seemed that through the Johnson years, America was ripping apart at the seams.
The most enduring legacy of the LBJ years is the Vietnam war, which ultimately cost Johnson the presidency. The museum discusses the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the historical controversy relating to it that endures today.
Many served and many died.
The museum ends, as did the LBJ administration, in a somber way that no president desires -- simply stating "we tried" and hoping that history will treat Johnson kind.
Most of the facility is closed to the public, as it is filled with books, documents, and other items of interest to researchers.
It's free and open to the public. Come see it if you get a chance.