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Frontiers in History
Ideas from the National Archives for NHD 2001

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Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library


Civil Rights

During his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for major legislation in the field of Civil Rights. He worked to establish laws to protect minorities from discrimination and oppression. An excellent background source for the Civil Rights legislation is the Congressional Quarterly publication entitled CONGRESS AND THE NATION, VOLUMES I and II. There are also several general sources within the Library's collections that contain material pertaining to Civil Rights topics. The President's Daily Diary is a log sheet of his daily activities, and selected days are available on our web site. Other collections, including White House Central Files, Legislative Background, and Statements of Lyndon B. Johnson, contain more specific information and are available only at the Library. Oral history interviews (conducted first by the University of Texas and later by the Johnson Library staff), pertaining to Civil Rights events reflect much of what was happening during this time period. Many of these transcripts are available on our web site, and lending copies of others can be obtained from the LBJ Library. President Johnson recorded many of his telephone conversations, and a searchable description is available on our web site. A link to C-SPAN also allows the listener to hear select conversations placed on their web site. Currently the tapes of conversations from November 1963 through March 1965 are available for listening in the Reading Room at the Johnson Library. These tapes may also be purchased.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era. It contained new provisions guaranteeing the right to vote, access to public accommodations, and the right of the Federal Government to sue to desegregate public facilities and schools. It also extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission for four years and gave it new powers. As racial tension in the South increased, and many tragedies were suffered--among these was the killing of three civil rights workers who were in Mississippi for the summer. The recordings of Lyndon Johnson's telephone conversations chronicle their disappearance and the discovery of their bodies. Throughout these recordings, the listener is able to hear Lyndon Johnson's concern and resolve to end this suffering.

Another major piece of legislation was the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which responded to a series of demonstrations against voting discrimination in the South. The legislation suspended the use of literacy tests and similar voter qualification devices and brought federal registration machinery to bear. This topic has rich documentation in the Johnson Library, including Lyndon Johnson's speech initiating the legislation on March 15, 1965, known as The American Promise (and sometimes as the "We Shall Overcome" speech), and again on August 6, 1965, when he signed the bill in the Rotunda at the Capitol.

Thurgood Marshall was the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. An oral history interview with him is available on our web site. He is also mentioned in the telephone recordings.

For more information and suggested sources about the Library's holdings on these topics, visit the Johnson Library web site.

Quality of Life

In a Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty, February 8, 1965, President Johnson began a new conservation initiative aimed at beautifying America, guaranteeing water and air quality, and preserving natural areas. In his message, he stressed the "total relation between man and the world around him." Johnson had grown up in the Texas Hill Country where his deepest attitudes and beliefs were shaped by a closeness to the land, and it was natural for him to focus on the environment. Johnson's wife, Lady Bird Johnson, led a "beautification" campaign and became well known for her environmental activism. She chaired the First Lady's Committee for a More Beautiful National Capital, lobbied for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, and, in large measure, contributed to the American public's growing awareness of their environment.

The Johnson Library contains a wealth of materials on the environment, including White House files on the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, Clean Air legislation, Water Pollution Control legislation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Wilderness Act. Lady Bird Johnson maintained extensive files in the White House Social Office dealing with her beautification efforts in Washington, D.C., and nationwide. These materials are not available on our web site, and you should contact the Johnson Library for information about access to these collections.

The Library has a large collection of oral history interviews, and many of the interviewees discuss Mrs. Johnson's beautification efforts and environmental policy in the 1960s. Transcripts of interviews with Bess Abell, Mrs. Johnson's Social Secretary, 1963-1969; Sharon Francis, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, 1961-1965, and Mrs. Johnson's Staff Assistant for Beautification, 1965-1969; and Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior, 1961-1969, are on the Library's web site at http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/biopage.asp. Other interviews are available through the mail.

As President, Johnson spoke of the environment as early as his first State of the Union Message on January 4, 1965, proposing that "we increase the beauty of America and end the poisoning of our rivers and the air that we breathe." The 1965 State of the Union Message, as well as other speeches and messages relating to the environment are on the Johnson Library's web site at http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/reference_desk.asp.

Thawing the Cold War

During his long career in public service, President Lyndon Johnson had lived through every major Cold War crisis. Upon assuming the office of the presidency following the death of President Kennedy, he resolved to take whatever steps possible to reduce tensions between the world superpowers--the United States and the Soviet Union. Two historic treaties enacted during the Johnson Administration represent steps toward fulfilling that goal: the Outer Space Treaty, banning nuclear weapons in space, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. Two pertinent collections available at the LBJ Library are the "National Security File, NSC History of the Non-Proliferation Treaty," and the "Legislative Background File, Outer Space Treaty." Considerable material from the holdings of the Johnson Library may also be found on-line in the Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XI, Arms Control and Disarmament, published by the Department of State. Their web address is http://www.state.gov, and there is a link to that web site from the Johnson Library web page.

Personal diplomacy presented another opportunity to ease Cold War tensions. The Hot Line, established during the Kennedy Administration to provide direct emergency communication between the President of the United States and the Soviet leadership, was first put to its intended use in June 1967 during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. Later that month, President Johnson and Chairman Aleksei Kosygin met face-to-face in Glassboro, New Jersey. Declassified records of these two historic events are available at the Johnson Library, and the President's Daily Diary for his meeting with Chairman Kosygin is available on the Library's web site. A search of the oral histories on the Library's web site will produce additional resources.

For more information and suggested sources about the Library's holdings on these topics, visit the Johnson Library web site.

Space: The Extraterrestrial Frontier

The United States reached the limits of its continental frontier in the 19th century and began its overseas expansion that continued during the early 20th century. The admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states in 1958-59 coincided with the beginning of the nation's push into frontiers beyond the Earth itself, prompted by the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. Lyndon Johnson was a major figure in the U.S. space program from the period when he was Senate Majority Leader until he left the White House on January 20, 1969. Exactly 6 months later, American astronauts met President Kennedy's challenge to land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

The Apollo moon landing program was the most memorable of America's outer space projects, but the Gemini manned missions, which featured the first American "space walks," and numerous unmanned probes of the moon were necessary before Apollo's goals could be realized. Unmanned vehicles were also launched to explore other regions of our solar system, notably Venus and Mars, and to investigate the environment of space. Satellites were also used extensively for terrestrial purposes such as communications and scientific research about the Earth itself. As the civilian space program developed, so did the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Library holds records documenting Lyndon Johnson's influence on the space program from the Preparedness Subcommittee hearings in the Senate following the Sputnik launch through his attendance, by President Nixon's invitation, at the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969. Select statements on the space program and oral histories by NASA Administrator James Webb and others are available either on the Johnson Library's web site (www.lbjlib.utexas.edu) or by mail. Records from the Senate (Armed Services Committee's) Preparedness Subcommittee, the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and the Johnson Administration's White House are also available for research after consultation with Johnson Library staff.

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