Childhood & Early Life
Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in Stonewall, Texas, USA, to Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines. He was the eldest among his siblings, and had three sisters and a brother. His father was a rancher and part-time politician.
Lyndon Johnson was a confident and talkative boy who actively participated in public speaking, debate, and baseball. He graduated from ‘Johnson City High School’ in 1924 at the age of 15.
He took up a series of odd jobs for two years after graduating from high school. He then enrolled at ‘Southwest Texas State Teachers College’ in San Marcos. He started working as a teacher while pursuing his studies. During this time, the acute poverty faced by some of his students had a serious impact on him. He graduated from college in 1930.
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He embarked on a teaching career following his graduation, and also entered politics. In 1931, Congressman Richard M. Kleberg made Johnson his legislative secretary, and he was elected as the speaker of ‘Little Congress,’ a group of Congressional aides.
In 1935, he was appointed head of the ‘Texas National Youth Administration.’ A couple of years later, he successfully contested a special election for Texas's 10th congressional district. He served in the House from April 1937 to January 1949.
Meanwhile, he also served the ‘U.S. Naval Reserve’ during ‘World War II.’ He was commissioned as a lieutenant commander in 1941 and served on a tour of the South Pacific. During a combat mission, his plane survived an attack by the Japanese fighters, and he was awarded the ‘Silver Star’ for gallantry. He returned to his political career in 1942.
In the 1952 general election, Republicans won a majority of votes in both the House and Senate. Johnson, a Democrat, was chosen by his colleagues as the minority leader in 1953. He was the youngest minority leader in Senate history. The next year, the Democrats gained control and Johnson became the majority leader.
In 1960, Johnson was chosen by the Democrats as the vice presidential nominee to run alongside the presidential nominee, John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy-Johnson duo won the election by a very narrow margin against the Republican candidate Richard Nixon.
Johnson assumed office as the vice president of the United States on January 20, 1961. In this position, he headed the space program and pushed for equal opportunity legislation for minorities. He also supported the president’s decision to send American military advisors to South Vietnam to help fight off a communist insurgency.
On November, 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Johnson took the presidential oath within hours of Kennedy’s death. He became the president at a time when the nation was reeling in shock and grief following the death of Kennedy.
As soon as he assumed power, he addressed the citizens and informed them that he would be taking forward the plans that Kennedy had been discussing at the time of his death. Johnson pushed for the civil rights bill that Kennedy had been fighting for. Subsequently, he signed the ‘Civil Rights Act of 1964.’
Johnson stood for the presidency in his own right in the 1964 presidential election. His dream of a ‘Great Society’ was a major agenda in his campaign. He called for reforms in the education sector, better medical care, and improvement in the lives of the financially underprivileged and the elderly.
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Johnson and his vice presidential running mate Hubert Humphrey won the election against the Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and his vice presidential running mate William E. Miller. Johnson was once again sworn in as the president.
As President, Johnson signed many acts in an attempt to create ‘Great Society.’ This included the ‘Economic Opportunity Act,’ as part of the war on poverty. He also implemented legislation to create programs, such as ‘Head Start,’ ‘food stamps,’ and ‘Work Study.’ Many Americans benefitted from these legislations and the poverty level dropped.
Several prominent men, including John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated in the recent past. Hence, Johnson signed the ‘Gun Control Act of 1968’ to keep tabs on the ownership of firearms.
Lyndon Johnson was a popular president and was expected to run for re-election in 1968. However, he shocked the nation by announcing that he would not be running for another term, and retired to his ranch after stepping down as the president on January 20, 1969.
Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the creation of the ‘Great Society’ to bring about development to the cities, environment, and education system. He signed several important legislations to make his vision a reality. Some of the legislations that he signed include ‘Higher Education Act of 1965,’ ‘Coinage Act of 1965,’ ‘Social Security Act of 1965,’ ‘Animal Welfare Act of 1966,’ ‘Public Broadcasting Act of 1967,’ ‘Civil Rights Act of 1968,’ and ‘Gun Control Act of 1968.’
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Claudia Alta ‘Lady Bird’ Taylor in November 1934. The couple had two daughters. His wife was a smart woman and supported him throughout his political career.
Johnson suffered from ill health and heart problems during the final few months of his life. He died after suffering a cardiac arrest at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973.
‘The Manned Spacecraft Center’ in Houston was renamed ‘Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center’ in his honor in 1973.
Texas created a legal state holiday—Lyndon Baines Johnson Day—to be observed on August 27 to commemorate his birthday.