by PAT MURDOCK
Many of the 48 individuals interviewed for the collaborative oral history project who will be represented in a special exhibit at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos beginning Aug. 24, have personal stories to tell about their interaction with President Lyndon Baines Johnson or they have strong feelings about his legacy.
Some of those interviewed by history graduate Barbara Thibodeaux recalled especially the civil rights, education and social service reforms and progress that were made during Lyndon Baines Johnson’s days in congress and the White House. Some were direct beneficiaries of his efforts to bring electricity to broad sections of Central Texas and the Texas Hill Country.
For a few of the interview subjects, their connection to the 36th President of the United States was tenuous at best. But they still have something to say about the political and social issues of the time around the Johnson days and about life in Central Texas.
Some, like San Marcos community activist Ollie Giles, shared more family history than LBJ recollections. But while sharing her family information, Giles provides a seldom seen glimpse of what it was like to be an African-American in San Marcos in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Strong glimpses of the struggles and accomplishments of local Hispanics are provided by local Hispanic leaders Augustin Lucio and Celestino Mendez.
Some witnessed – or were directly affected by – historical moments involving President Johnson at his alma mater, such as the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the transfer of the site of the oldest federal fish hatchery west of the Mississippi River to the university, enabling a campus expansion that would have been impossible without it.
Several met President and Mrs. Johnson at the LBJ State Park during a command performance of the play Raisin in the Sun in 1972. At least two Texas State University-San Marcos graduates interviewed were involved in student government when the former president paid a visit to the Student Senate in 1970.
Some, like McAllen dentist Joel Martinez, a San Marcos native who was among Texas State’s earliest Upward Bound participants, were beneficiaries of programs that Johnson helped develop. Others – like former Texas State president Bob Hardesty and his close friend Harry Middleton, who was the first director of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin – were very closely connected with President Johnson and his family, first as employees and later as friends.
The daughters of the Johnson family’s close friend and business associate and fellow Texas State Distinguished Alumnus J. C. Kellam had special long-term connections with the Johnsons.
And who could not appreciate Liz Carpenter’s special role with both Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson?
For others, like retired University of Alabama professor Bruce Roche and retired Southern Illinois University professor David Conrad, there were professional and political connections that created lifelong memories. Roche was director of the university’s media relations operation during the time leading up to the Johnson presidency. Conrad was selected by the administration to be one of the trio of faculty members to write the book LBJ: The Formative Years that was published in 1965. Today, he is the only surviving author. Both men’s research and experiences helped add to the local knowledge and understanding of the tremendous impact the future president’s student days in San Marcos at Southwest Texas State Teachers College had on his life and legacy.
For the LBJ Museum of San Marcos, which opened in its downtown San Marcos on-the-square location on Dec. 6, 2006, after more than nine years of fundraising, facility enhancement and hours of volunteer work, collaboration is a way of life.
First and foremost, there’s the building that houses the museum. Hays County, which owns the structure, made it available to the museum on a one-dollar-a-year, 50-year lease, with the understanding that the non-profit organization’s board of directors would raise funds to rehabilitate the building. And they did. It was an arduous process, but the completion of Phase I of the rehabilitation project was completed and the museum was able to open its doors to the public.
While there’s always been collaboration between the university and the LBJ Museum, the Oral History Project Exhibit has brought that collaboration to a new level.
It was announced in June of 2008 that Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, had awarded an $11,938 grant to Texas State University-San Marcos for the oral history project exhibit. Over the past three decades, Humanities Texas has awarded more than 2,000 grants to Texas organizations for public programs grounded in history, literature and other humanities disciplines. The grant is made possible with support from “We the People,” an NEH initiative promoting the understanding of U.S. history.
Because of the museum’s accessible location, Texas State University President Denise Trauth asked the museum’s board of directors if they would like to partner with the university by developing an interactive exhibit using interviews and photographs resulting from the Oral History Project. The board readily agreed, and the largest cooperative venture between the university and the museum to date was born.
The Oral History Project is an outgrowth of the Texas State LBJ Birthday Centennial Steering Committee’s Community Subcommittee, chaired by San Marcos resident Bill Cunningham, a Texas State journalism graduate, who is also a former San Marcos city councilman and former Texas State University System regent.
The Humanities Texas funding made it possible for the museum to launch its first interactive exhibit. The exhibit will feature oral history text, photographs and an interactive kiosk of audio clips and other items evolving from the university-sponsored oral history project. The words and thoughts of Johnson-era San Marcos community leaders, area residents, Texas State alumni and friends of the late President were recorded and transcribed. Equipment and display panels made possible by the Humanities Texas grant will add features that the museum has been missing since its opening – interactive capabilities and better portable components that will enable the transport of exhibit elements to off-site venues, such as the local public schools.
The theme of the exhibit is “Remembering LBJ and His Legacy: Local Recollections – An Oral History Project.” After a special invitational preview opening on Saturday, August 23, 2008, just prior to the university’s new student convocation, the official public opening will be Sunday, August 24, at 2 p.m.. Museum Director Scott Jordan says he expects the major components of the exhibit to remain in place for most of the 2008-2009 school year.
If he were still alive, President Lyndon Baines Johnson would turn 100 years old on August 27, 2008. Although his centennial birthday sparked a national celebration that culminates with his actual birth date, Texas State will keep the LBJ focus in academic work and special programming throughout the 2008-2009 academic year.
The university’s unique Common Experience program, which has for the past four years adopted a specific theme for a cross-discipline academic and special event focus for the year, has chosen “Civic Responsibility: The Legacy of LBJ” for the 2008-2009 academic year. A working steering committee and an honorary committee composed of dignitaries closely associated with LBJ are leading the planning for Texas State’s LBJ Centennial Celebration. Co-chairs of the committee are Becky Prince, vice president for university advancement, and Gene Bourgeois, associate provost.
For more information about the upcoming exhibit and other LBJ Museum of San Marcos projects and opportunities, call Museum Director Jordan at (512) 353-3300.