Texas is another country...

Texas is another country...I have driven into Texas from all four directions and can affirm that after crossing that imaginary state line you just know you are in Texas . The world becomes wide open space, the sky feels higher, you can stretch out and rest a spell.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

LBJ LIBRARY

Post by Laura Moliter

If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that's a good picture. - Eddie Adams
LBJ Library

The neighborhood parade had come and gone. Fireworks were a long way off, and it was still way too early to start up the grill. What were we going to do? I’m not much for napping in spite of its appeal on a holiday, but outdoor fun in the scorching Texas heat wasn’t calling out to my lazy butt either.

What to do, what to do…? Hmmm. Someone had posted on Facebook a notice about the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library giving free admission to visitors on July 4th. That sounded somewhat patriotic, not overly energetic, a short distance from my house, and air conditioned. My husband seemed interested, too, so off we went.

The LBJ Library is located at the northwest corner of the University of Texas in Austin and has been around for almost as long as I have, christened by the venerable Texan himself back in 1971. The lovely facility houses an impressive personal collection, changing exhibits on various subjects of history, and an animatronic version of President Johnson himself that, frankly, freaks me out.

I’ve visited once every few years since I’ve been in Texas and this seemed a good time to check it out again and see what was new. Our last tour, a couple of winters ago, was to view an impressive collection chronicling the life and reporting of Walter Cronkite. It was an engaging display about journalism, an interesting and respected individual, and a history lesson.

On our July 4th excursion this year, after being greeted by a lovely older gentleman docent, we were directed toward one of the featured temporary exhibits, Photojournalism and the Presidency. The display, which spanned the terms of Franklin Roosevelt through Barack Obama, kept our rapt attention for more than an hour and a half.

LBJ
The photos included shots of the presidents in different situations, for the most part entirely candid. In addition, the skilled and acclaimed photographers who were included from the vast photographic archives of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History (housed adjacent to the Museum and completely new to me) photographed major events during each president’s time in office. These historic moments--most of which were in stark and expressive black and white--gave a moving context for periods of our nation’s history.

Some of the photos are iconic: the naked girl and other children running in the streets of South Vietnam after a napalm bombing; Jackie Kennedy veiled and grieving at her husband’s funeral (taken by Eddie Adams whose quote opens this blog); Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald while the press watched; firefighters hoisting a flag in an unintended Iwo Jima statue reenactment at 9/11 Ground Zero to name only a few that touched upon a collective or personal memory.


I loved the exhibit for how unpolitical it was. I could appreciate the humor and candor and anguish of each president, regardless of my thoughts on their policies, especially those in my life time. I saw each bearing the weight of a nation and at the same time experiencing the joy of family, unguarded love and release when playing with their pets, and laughter -- even with those of differing parties and other nations. I could see faces broken by the wars they witnessed at home and abroad.

What I discovered in this display and appreciated about it was that these photos did all the things that the official portraits of the presidents and their first ladies [displayed a level above them] did not do. These photos caught America and its leaders as real people in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. It reminded me again that when we are not busy with agendas, politics, personal presentations to the world, we are all simply, painfully, beautifully, gracefully human.

It was a moving exhibit done with both intelligence and heart. It was a perfect way to celebrate America and its history honestly--in all its glory and with its warts also in high definition. Perhaps LBJ himself said it best at the dedication of his library on May 22, 1971:

“It is all here: the story of our time with the bark off...This library will show the facts, not just the joy and triumphs, but the sorrow and failures, too.”

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