Program Summary

Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the most astute, effective, and perplexing politicians in modern American history. An "accidental" president but a master legislator, he was determined to "out-Kennedy the Kennedys" by pushing through historic social legislation on a scale that rivaled FDR's New Deal. A Southerner who championed civil rights, LBJ put into motion many of the programs that would continue to shape American life throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This package of reforms was known as the "Great Society." But as his authority was undermined by an increasingly unpopular commitment of U.S. forces to Vietnam, his presidency began to unravel. Opposition to the war spurred protest movements and a youthful counterculture. In 1968 he stunned the nation by announcing he would not seek reelection. A larger-than-life figure in his day, LBJ is appreciated for his vast domestic accomplishments, but his presidency continues to be overshadowed by his failure to end the war in Vietnam.

Program Chapters -- The entire program is streaming on the PBS and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE websites. The total viewing time is 4 hours. For your convenience, we have described the program in chapters. You may want to use specific chapters to focus classroom discussion and activities.

Chapter 1 -- Introduction
David McCullough introduces the program -- provides an overview of LBJ's ambitions, strengths, and weaknesses

Part One: Beautiful Texas

Chapter 2 -- A Politician from Birth
LBJ's childhood overshadowed by a domineering mother -- father was in the Texas legislature -- LBJ marries Lady Bird -- elected to Congress in 1937

Chapter 3 -- LBJ goes to Washington
LBJ brings electricity (dam), roads, and public libraries to rural Texas with FDR's help -- LBJ begins relationship with the Brown brothers, who finance LBJ's campaigns throughout his career -- LBJ loses bid for Senate in 1941 to Pappy Lee O'Daniel

Chapter 4 -- The Senate Campaign of 1948
LBJ votes against civil rights -- buys ranch in Texas -- two daughters born in 1944 and 1947 -- LBJ runs for Senate against Democrat Coke Stevenson -- LBJ now supports big business -- wins Senate seat by 87 votes -- Stevenson claims the ballots had been stuffed, casting a "shadow of illegitimacy over LBJ's political career from then on"

Chapter 5 -- In the Senate
LBJ begins association with Bobby Baker and conservative Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia -- LBJ becomes Party Whip, later Democratic Leader -- LBJ is persuasive, manipulative deal-maker -- becomes Majority Leader in 1954 -- LBJ suffers a heart attack in 1955

Chapter 6 -- The Civil Rights Act of 1957
LBJ criticized by liberal Democrats for cooperating with Eisenhower -- Civil Rights Bill of 1957 passes, but due to LBJ's deal-making does not contain any enforceable laws to protect black voting rights -- bill affords LBJ national exposure

Chapter 7 -- Johnson Becomes Vice-President
LBJ loses the Democratic nomination for President in 1960 -- JFK picks LBJ as his vice-presidential running mate for the southern vote -- liberal and conservative Democrats unhappy with LBJ as vice president -- Robert Kennedy and LBJ do not get along -- LBJ does not enjoy being vice president -- Kennedy is shot on November 22, 1963

Part Two -- My Fellow Americans

Chapter 8 -- The Johnson Administration
LBJ becomes the 36th President of the United States -- LBJ retains JFK's cabinet -- continues fighting for JFK's causes

Chapter 9 -- The Civil Rights Act of 1964
1964 Civil Rights Bill costs LBJ the support of his mentor, Senator Russell

Chapter 10 -- Foreboding of War in Vietnam
LBJ decides to continue to fight in Vietnam and honor America's pledge to stop the spread of communism

Chapter 11 -- Johnson's Great Society
Johnson declares the "War on Poverty” -- LBJ calls for the "Great Society" -- sweeping reforms designed to end poverty and inequality -- campaigns across the country to raise consciousness about the poor -- names Sargent Shriver director of the Peace Corps

Chapter 12 -- Gulf of Tonkin
LBJ runs against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- LBJ escalates conflict in Vietnam in an effort to contain communism -- LBJ exploits North Vietnamese attack against U.S. Destroyer Maddox -- promises not to send U.S. troops to Vietnam but pushes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution through Congress

Chapter 13 -- President by a Landslide
LBJ defeats Barry Goldwater, winning the election by more votes than any president before him

Chapter 14 -- Credits

Part Three -- We Shall Overcome

Chapter 15 -- Introduction
David McCullough introduces the second part of the program -- depicts LBJ as a man of contradictions, egotistical, generous, kind, vindictive, etc.

Chapter 16 -- Johnson's
LBJ orders the bombing of North Vietnam in 1965 -- listens to the his Harvard-educated advisors that include Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara

Chapter 17 -- LBJ and Ho Chi Minh
LBJ proposes legislation to establish Head Start, National Endowment for Humanities and Arts, funds for conservation, a National Parks system, a program of highway beautification, consumer protection programs (such as truth in labeling and packaging, auto safety), urban renewal and housing programs, public television, and legislation to promote education at all levels, clean air and rivers, and more -- LBJ's skill as a political manipulator and deal- maker gets his "Great Society" legislation passed in Congress -- Vietnamese government will not negotiate with LBJ

Chapter 18 -- Voting Rights Bill of 1965
Civil rights unrest grows even as LBJ supports Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s efforts against racism -- ‘Bloody Sunday’ -- National Guard is called to protect civil rights protesters -- Voting Rights Bill of 1965 is presented to Congress

Chapter 19 -- The Decision to Expand the War
Conflict in Vietnam escalates -- more U.S. troops sent overseas in 1965, bomb North Vietnam -- LBJ thinks that the North Vietnamese will compromise, does not understand Ho Chi Minh's position as a revolutionary -- avoids telling the truth about costs of Vietnam because it might undermine "Great Society" legislation

Chapter 20 -- Empowering Poor People
LBJ signs Medicare into law -- creates Job Corps -- signs 1965 Voting Rights Act into law -- Watts riots occur five days later --LBJ baffled by growing black militancy

Chapter 21 -- Questioning the War
LBJ has gallbladder and kidney stone removed -- McNamara's doubts about the war damage his relationship with LBJ -- TV coverage of Vietnam reveals a full-scale war -- Senator Fulbright questions the war in Senate hearings -- the tide turns against LBJ -- antiwar protests begin to gain in frequency and number

Part Four -- The Last Believer

Chapter 22 -- A Miasma of Trouble
Luci Baines Johnson marries in 1966 -- more urban riots -- LBJ loses support for "War on Poverty" -- law-and-order movement gains support

Chapter 23 -- No Surrender
LBJ tries to delude himself and the rest of the country that U.S. is winning the war, creating a "credibility gap" -- financial drain of war becomes apparent to Congress -- funding for "War on Poverty" discontinued -- LBJ travels on a goodwill tour to Vietnam, Pakistan, and Rome

Chapter 24 -- The Tet Offensive
Tet Offensive -- LBJ strains his credibility to the breaking point -- McNamara and others on staff resign -- Clark Clifford becomes secretary of defense, tries to persuade LBJ to change Vietnam policy -- LBJ, agonizing over the war, begins to feel the presidency as a burden -- some advisors perceive him as unstable

Chapter 25 -- The 1968 Presidential Election
LBJ challenged by Robert Kennedy in 1968 presidential election -- LBJ's paranoia grows, and he becomes even more adamant about winning the war -- "Wise Men" tell LBJ to end the war -- LBJ announces his withdrawal from the presidential race in March, 1968 -- Ho Chi Minh agrees to begin peace talks -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated -- Robert Kennedy is assassinated -- Richard Nixon is elected president

Chapter 26 -- The Post Presidency
LBJ, depressed, returns to Texas -- begins drinking and smoking heavily -- LBJ gives his last speech on civil rights in Texas in 1972 -- LBJ dies of heart failure on January 22, 1973.

Chapter 27 -- Credits

To find more film resources and classroom activities, visit the Teacher's Guide for LBJ.

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