Discussion Questions

These questions will help students explore the major ideas and themes in the video. See the Program Summary for descriptions of specific program segments.

Before Watching

1. In preparation for viewing the program, have students interview a parent, friend, or relative who was an adult or young adult in the 1960s and make a list of five cultural icons or events that the interviewee recalls from the mid-1960s. Then work with students to create a class chart of the 10 most important people and 10 most memorable events that occurred during LBJ's administration. Have students take additional notes to add to the chart about the events or people as they appear or are discussed in the film.

2. Ask students to brainstorm a list of songs and musicians they associate with the 1960s. Choose a song that is emblematic of the mid-1960s to play, such as "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan, "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie, "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas, "A Simple Desultory Phillipic" by Simon and Garfunkel, or "Nowhere Man" by the Beatles. With the class, analyze the lyrics and music and determine how the song symbolizes the mid-1960s. What is its message? What issues is it concerned with? Are the issues still relevant today? Why or why not? Have students note how those issues were addressed by LBJ and his administration as they watch the program.

3. Invite a class discussion about the war in Vietnam. Ask students, Why was America involved in Vietnam? What was the outcome of the war? How did the war affect the U.S. at home and abroad? Develop a class chart with three columns: "What We Know", "What We Want to Know", and "What We've Learned." Record the main points of the class discussion in the first column and brainstorm a list of questions to answer. As students watch the program, have them take notes of new information to add to the third column.

After Watching

1. LBJ was one of the most effective congressman and senators in history. As president however, LBJ made crucial mistakes and is remembered for his inability to end the war in Vietnam. What was it about his personality and style that made him so effective in Congress. Why was LBJ unable to bring the war in Vietnam under control? Do students think Johnson is a tragic figure? Why or why not?

2. What do students think of LBJ's decision to remain committed, and to increase that commitment, to the war in Vietnam? What were his reasons? How did he respond to criticism about his policies? What might have happened if LBJ had ended the war in 1964 instead of escalating it? How might his reputation or legacy as a president been different?

3. LBJ was president during a very turbulent time in American history. Review the 10 most memorable events included in the chart above (see Question #1 in "Before Watching") and discuss LBJ's role in them. How might any other 20th century president have handled the turmoil of the 1960s?

4. Invite someone who served in Vietnam or who protested against the war to come speak to your class. Before the visit, work with the class to develop a list of questions for the visitor, including what he or she thought of LBJ and America's policies in Vietnam. As the guest talks and answers the questions, have students take notes to update the class chart (see Question #3 in "Before Watching"). (Note: You may wish to contact the local VFW for speakers.)


Early Career -- Who Runs Congress?

LBJ spent most of his career in Congress, and held leadership positions in the Senate beginning in 1953. Using the program transcript and library sources, ask students to research the various positions LBJ held. Working in teams, have students make a chart outlining the roles and responsibilities of the Senate and House leaders, including the majority and minority leaders, whips, Speaker of the House, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The chart should include the people who held these positions in 1953 and those who hold them today. Using the charts, follow up with a class lesson on the process of how legislation goes through Congress and what is involved in getting a bill to become law. (Program References: Chapters 2-6)

Presidential Politics -- Goldwater vs. Johnson Cartoon

Using the program transcript and other resources, have students create a political cartoon comparing and contrasting a particular issue from Barry Goldwater's and LBJ's platforms in the 1964 election. When the cartoons are completed, have students present their work to the class, explaining the meaning of the images they used. (Program References: Chapters 12, 13)

Domestic Policy -- The New Deal in the Great Society

As preparation for the assignment, discuss with students what they think makes a "Great Society," and create a class definition. LBJ became a politician during the New Deal and was an enthusiastic supporter of FDR. Using materials on FDR -- the program transcript -- the Civil Rights Act, 1964 -- Executive Order 1126 -- speech on Equal Employment Opportunity -- and the "Great Society" speech, 1964, have students write a report comparing the goals and programs of the Great Society to those of the New Deal. What problems were the two programs meant to address? How successful were they? How close to the visions of both FDR and LBJ is American society today? Why, despite efforts by leaders such as FDR and LBJ, is there still poverty and inequality in America? Why are so many of the programs begun by FDR and LBJ being challenged or dismantled today? As students share their reports with the class, allow students the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and reactions. (Program References: Chapters 6, 8, 9, 11, 17, 18, 20, 22)

Foreign Policy -- A Meeting of Two Minds

One possible reason why LBJ was unable to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh was that he never managed to meet with the Vietnamese leader. Using the program transcript -- the Tonkin Gulf Incident speech,1964 -- Johnson's Peace Without Conquest address, 1965 -- the White Paper on Vietnam, 1965 -- and other resources, have students choose a pivotal year (such as 1965) and write a dialogue for a scene in which Ho Chi Minh and Johnson meet and discuss the issues of Vietnam, laying out their respective goals for that country. Students might want to imagine a situation in which the two leaders come to an agreement that ends the war. (Program References: Chapters 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23-25)

Legacy -- LBJ In Retrospect

Lyndon Johnson achieved some of the most important reforms of this century, creating programs from which millions of Americans have benefited, such as VISTA, Medicare, and Medicaid. Yet because of his actions regarding the war in Vietnam, he is often regarded as a failure. What should his legacy be? Divide the class into pairs, with one student on each side of the question, Is LBJ's legacy positive or negative? Using materials such as Johnson's First Presidential Speech,1963 -- "We Shall Overcome" speech, 1965 -- the "Great Society" speech, 1964 -- and Johnson's Address to the Nation, 1968, have each student make a list of points that support his or her position. Have partners share their arguments with each other and come to a consensus about LBJ's legacy. Then bring the class together for a vote. (Program References: Chapters 8-26)

The Era -- The 1960s Game

The 1960s was a colorful, violent, and tumultuous decade in our nation's history, and one we're still fascinated with. Have students work in small groups to create a set of 1960s "trivia" cards. Students should create at least 10 cards under the following categories: Politics, Music, World Events, Art and Literature, Science, and Society and Culture. Before work begins, have the class work together to determine a format for the cards so that they will be uniform. When the cards are completed, you might like to have students participate in a "Jeopardy-style" game or post the questions and answers on your class Web site. (Program References: Part Three, Part Four)

Take It Further

During this unit, students may be interested in doing the following activities related to Lyndon Johnson and his times:

Imagine you are a newspaper reporter and are visiting San Francisco in 1967 to write about the "Summer of Love." Create an outline that you might use for your article.

Read Norman Mailer's novel Armies of the Night about a famous peace demonstration in Washington, and write a review.

Choose a song by one of the bands of the mid-1960s, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, or Jefferson Airplane. Create an original album cover that reflects one of the groups and the times.

Many members of the 1960s counterculture started their own idealized or "utopian" communities, called communes. Write a description of a utopian society you would like to live in. You may also want to research the history of utopias and compare the communes of the 1960s to other utopian experiments of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Write a "first-person" account of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago from the point of view of a young protester, a police officer, a newsperson, or a Republican or Democratic politician.

What would you have done if you were of draftable age in the mid-1960s? Imagine you have just received your draft notice and write a letter to your draft board or a family member explaining your decision.

Read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and select a passage that you find compelling. Write a reader's response.

Compare the Watts riots in 1965 to the Los Angeles riots in 1991. What economic and social conditions led to each riot? What was the same? What was different? How did the government (state and federal) respond in each case?

Write an obituary for Martin Luther King, Jr., or Robert F. Kennedy. You may want to compare your version to those written at the time.

Write a biographical sketch of Lady Bird Johnson, including her contributions to LBJ's presidency, her efforts for the country's beautification, and her life since LBJ's death.

Research two major memorials designed by Maya Lin -- the Vietnam Memorial and the Civil Rights Memorial. Then design your own version of one of these.

Read some of Garry Trudeau's early "Doonesbury" cartoons featuring scenes from the Vietnam War. Choose a favorite and have the class discuss it.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) began in 1966. What were its objectives then? What are its objectives now? How has the feminist movement changed since the mid-1960s?

Create a mini-glossary of terms coined in the 1960s, such as blackout, folk rock, hippie, supertanker. Choose a few to illustrate.

Rolling Stone magazine began in 1966. If you were the editor of the premiere issue, what articles would you assign?

Listen to the song "American Pie" by Don McLean, a song whose lyrics describe many of the events of the 1960s. Write your interpretation of the lyrics.

Choose your favorite "Star Trek" episode from the original TV series and explain how the themes reflected those of the 1960s.

Watch one or more of the following movies, which are set in the 1960s: Born on the Fourth of JulyComing HomeForrest GumpMalcolm X (starring Denzel Washington), Mississippi BurningThat Thing You Do. How accurately do these contemporary movies portray the era?

Read a book popular in the mid-1960s, such as Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver,Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, or Slaughterhouse 5by Kurt Vonnegut. Describe why you think it was so widely read during that period.

Compare and contrast Franco Zeffirelli's 1966 movie Romeo and Juliet with the 1996 version, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. How are they reflective of their time? Which do you prefer and why?

Read a young adult novel set during the 1960s, such as Walter Dean Myer's Fallen Angels or Theresa Nelson's And One For All. Write a letter to the author telling him or her what you think of the book.

Watch a movie from the mid-1960s, such as 2001A Man for All SeasonsBonnie and Clyde, or A Hard Day's Night. What themes do they explore? Would a similar movie be made today? Why or why not?

Read the poetry of Imamu Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, or Sam Cornish. Choose a poem and write a response.

Who's Who

Have students choose one of the following individuals who influenced American life and society during Johnson's presidency, and present a short biography to the class highlighting the person's achievements. Students might also enjoy creating a poster or collage featuring their subject, which could include photos and drawings, a chronology of life events, and symbols representing the person's work. They may also choose to perform a song, recite poetry, or do an oral reading of a speech or an essay.

Muhammad Ali: prize fighter -- born Cassius Clay

Julian Bond: civil rights and anti-war activist -- first African American to be nominated for vice president

Stokely Carmichael: civil rights activist and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Cesar Chavez: activist who led the fight for migrant workers' rights

Eldridge Cleaver: leader of the Black Panthers

John Connally: governor of Texas, shot during JFK's assassination

Richard Daley: mayor of Chicago and political machine boss

Angela Davis: civil rights activist

Bob Dylan: singer-songwriter whose "electronic" performance in 1966 signified a shift in popular music

James Farmer: civil rights leader who founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Jane Fonda: popular actress who became a Vietnam war protester

Indira Gandhi: prime minister of India

Barry Goldwater: Republican senator from Arizona and 1964 candidate for president

Ho Chi Minh: Communist leader of the North Vietnamese

Hubert Humphrey: LBJ's vice president

John F. Kennedy: 35th president of the United States

Robert F. Kennedy: former U.S. attorney general -- brother of JFK -- ran as potential Democratic candidate in the 1968 presidential primaries

Malcolm X: African American leader and activist

Martin Luther King, Jr.: civil rights leader

Thurgood Marshall: U.S. Supreme Court justice and civil rights activist

Eugene McCarthy: liberal Democratic presidential candidate in 1964

Robert McNamara: Kennedy's and Johnson's secretary of defense

Ralph Nader: consumer safety activist

Ngo Dinh Diem: president of South Vietnam

James Earl Ray: assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sirhan Sirhan: assassin of Robert F. Kennedy

Benjamin Spock: influential pediatrician and anti-Vietnam war protester

Gloria Steinem: journalist and feminist activist

Earl Warren: chief justice of the Supreme Court -- chairman of the Warren Commission

Robert C. Weaver: head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the first African American Cabinet member

William Westmoreland: general and commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam

Terms to Know

Black Panthers: a militant African American political group active in the 1960s that promoted black pride and black power.

Civil Rights Act of 1964: based on legislation proposed by JFK, but passed through the efforts of LBJ, the bill made racial discrimination in the use of federal money and in public facilities illegal, provided for some voting rights protection, and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to oversee fair hiring practices.

credibility gap: the term used to describe the difference between what the President told the public and what was really happening in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Great Society: the name for LBJ's sweeping reform programs designed to end poverty and inequality.

Medicaid: federally funded medical insurance for the poor under the age of 65.

Medicare: federally funded medical insurance for people over the age of 65.

Nation of Islam: a Muslim sect founded in 1930 in Michigan lead by Elijah Muhammad -- also known as the Black Muslims.

SDS (Students for a Democratic Society): a radical student group that actively protested the war on college campuses.

Summer Freedom Project: a 1964 project in Mississippi in which civil rights workers attempted to register African Americans to vote. Three of these workers were murdered, and the outrage over their deaths helped to get the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 through Congress.

Tet Offensive: the surprise attack by the North Vietnamese on cities throughout South Vietnam during the Vietnamese New Year's celebration called Tet. Although the North Vietnamese were beaten back, the attack was perceived by the American public as a blow to the war effort.

Tonkin Gulf Resolution: legislation passed by Congress at the request of LBJ that gave the president the power to wage war without the consent of Congress. It takes its name from a body of water off the coast of North Vietnam where two American destroyers were reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats.

Viet Cong: Vietnamese communist guerilla forces, backed by North Vietnam, that fought in South Vietnam against the Americans and South Vietnamese.

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA): part of the Great Society legislation, this was a domestic Peace Corps program, providing volunteers to work helping America's poor.

Voting Rights Act: federal law passed in 1965 that provided for federal registrars to be present at polls where African Americans were not being allowed to vote, and gave the registrars the power to enroll new voters.

War on Poverty: In his 1964 State of the Union speech, LBJ declared unconditional war on poverty in America. In 1964 Congress passed the bill in which he proposed the establishment of the Office of Economic Opportunity, in order to coordinate a series of antipoverty programs, including the Job Corps, VISTA, and Head Start.

Warren Commission: the group appointed to study JFK's assassination, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination and was not part of a larger conspiracy.

In "Quotes"

Below are quotations from the speeches and writings of LBJ. Each is followed by a series of questions that you may want to raise with your students.

"We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for a hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter -- and to write in the books of law."

Questions to Consider:

  • What did LBJ mean when he said it is time to "write in the books of law"?
  • How do you think he would feel about the state of civil rights in America today?


"This nation, this generation, in this hour has man's first chance to build a Great Society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor."

Questions to Consider:

  • What did LBJ mean by matching the meaning of a person's life to the marvels of his or her labor?
  • What social conditions led LBJ to develop the goals of the Great Society?


"I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming -- always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting and trying again -- but always trying and always gaining. In each generation -- with toil and tears -- we have had to earn our heritage again."

Questions to Consider:

  • How does this quotation demonstrate LBJ's connection with the idealism of the New Deal, as well as FDR's pragmatic approach to problem solving?
  • Do you agree or disagree that each generation must "earn [its] heritage again"?
  • What is your generation's heritage?
  • What issues will your generation have to solve?


"The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use [our] wealth to enrich and elevate our national life -- and to advance the quality of American civilization."

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you think the challenge LBJ mentions has been met?
  • Do you think there has been progress in improving "our national life" since the 1960s? Why or why not?


"... a President must do what he thinks is right. He must think in terms of the national interest and the Nation's security -- even if this means stirring up some segments of public opinion, no matter how vociferous. I confess that on the homefront it is easier for the public to understand what an administration is planning to do... But when a President takes an extremely serious step in foreign matters, then it is really a more difficult proposition for people to grasp."

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you believe a president must do what he thinks is correct, despite what the people think or want?
  • Is an elected official ever justified in acting on his or her own ideas rather than on the desires of the constituency? If so, under what circumstances?
  • Do you feel LBJ was justified in saying that the public is less able to grasp foreign policy than domestic policy??

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