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Lyndon Baines Johnson: Resource Guide

A Lib Guide for High School students all about LBJ!

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Famous Speeches

The famous speech given at the University of Michigan, May 22, 1964. Johnson first uses the term "Great Society" and introduced it to the Nation.


“For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

He wanted to build his Great Society in three places:  In the cities, in the countryside, and in the classroom.  He predicted that city overcrowding was destroying suburbs, causing housing problems, and creating transportation problems.  “Worst of all expansion is eroding the precious and time honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature.  The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference.”  In the countryside he was concerned with environmental issues.  “The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution.”  (Can you see Lady Bird Johnson's influence on her husband here?)  In the classrooms he mentioned outdated curricula, overcrowded schools and classes, and unqualified teachers.  He proposed better teacher training and new and innovative methods of teaching.

Commencement Address at Howard University.  4 June 1965.  President Johnson addresses the historic Howard University. After his Civil Rights Act was passed, he pushed for his voting rights bill and further civil rights legislation.


“…the barriers to that freedom are tumbling down. Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society—to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school.”  


“This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”

President Johnson delivered this speech at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965 after ordering a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam.  Four months later, 184,000 U.S. Troops were in South Vietnam fighting the Vietcong (Communist rebels).  “this drastic escalation signaled the ‘Americanization’ of the Vietnam conflict.”

On March 15, 1965 an emotional LBJ implores Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act which guaranteed African Americans the right to vote. The Act also made  it illegal to impose any restrictions on those rights at the federal, state, or local level..  

“Their cause must be our cause too.  Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.  And we shall overcome.”  We shall overcome was the key anthem, derived from an old gospel song, that was heard in the streets during southern protests during the Civil Rights Movement.

What the Scholars Say

Ball, M. A.. (1994). The Phantom of the Oval Office: The John F. Kennedy Assassination's Symbolic Impact on Lyndon B. Johnson, His 

         Key Advisers, and the Vietnam Decision-Making Process. Presidential Studies Quarterly24(1), 105–119.


What would it be like to become President of the United States because of an assassination and not an election?  In this article, Moya Ann Ball concludes that Johnson’s problems in office were inherited by the JFK administration and Johnson was pressured by a “theme of continuity” that hurt his legacy.

Gould, L. L.. (2000). The Revised LBJ. The Wilson Quarterly (1976-)24(2), 80–83.


This article by historian Lewis L. Gould shows how LBJ’s reputation as a president has changed since he led office, particularly a new appreciation for Johnson’s “courageous approach to America’s racial divide.”

Hall, S.. (2003). The Response of the Moderate Wing of the Civil Rights Movement to the War in Vietnam. The Historical Journal, 46(3), 669–701.


Simon Hall, from the University of Leeds, shows the link between civil rights activists and anti-war activists, and how Johnson was often caught in the crossfire.

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