Friday, March 10, 2017

LBJ visits Tennessee to celebrate Andrew Jackson's 200th birthday

By Heather Adkins

On March 15, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a day-long trip to Nashville. The Tennessee General Assembly invited him to speak at a joint session to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of President Andrew Jackson. His one-day tour resulted in trips to the Hermitage and the Polk House, as well as the Tennessee State Capitol, where he gave a stirring speech about America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Audio 1 – A house joint resolution is read, inviting LBJ to speak.

“We Heard You Were Coming…” by Jack Knox, Nashville Banner, March 15, 1967.

President Johnson’s first appearance that day was at the Hermitage. He remarked on the contributions of Andrew Jackson, noting that “his greatest contribution to the life of the young Republic was the political transformation of our democracy….” President Johnson observed that Jackson believed in the ideal of the citizen-participant. At the time, the country was in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, a social movement constructed around the right to participate. President Johnson said in his speech, “We are still attempting to eliminate all the discriminatory barriers that deny any citizen a part in the process of [t]his government…We are still striving to involve the poor, the deprived, the forgotten American, white and Negro, in the future of their society.”

Speech at the Hermitage, March 15, 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson Visit to Nashville Photograph Collection.

“Welcome to the Hermitage, Lyndon” by T. Little, Nashville Tennessean, March 15, 1967.

At noon in the Tennessee House of Representatives chamber, President Johnson gave a 32-minute address to a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which was broadcast live on television. The president remarked on Texas’ historical connection to Tennessee and praised the qualities of leadership Andrew Jackson possessed. However, the bulk of the speech detailed President Johnson's policies regarding Vietnam, including concerns raised about financing, leadership and civilian casualties as a result of bombings. The speech itself served to address the questions of general public and to put at ease any confusion during that turbulent time. He acknowledged that hard decisions must be made in war and expressed his belief that “Andrew Jackson would never have been surprised at the choice we made.”

Audio 2 – In this segment, LBJ explains America’s purpose in Vietnam.

“LBJ Message” by Jack Knox, Nashville Banner, March 16, 1967.

President Johnson spent the afternoon in Columbia, where he made remarks at the dedication of Columbia State Community College. This engagement was part of his wife's tour of education facilities in Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina. The President remarked on the education revolution in America, where “education cannot be only for a few, any more than health can be only for those who can afford it or national parks only for those able to travel great distance to reach them.” This one statement spoke volumes about his political agenda designed around his “Great Society” legislation. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson spoke as well, describing education as a territory for a new age of national expansion. After the dedication, the president and first lady toured the Polk home and then returned to Nashville.

Lady Bird Johnson at Columbia State Community College, March 15, 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson Visit to Nashville Photograph Collection.

Polk house, March 15, 1967, Photographer Vic Cooley, Lyndon B. Johnson Visit to Nashville Photograph Collection.

Governor Buford Ellington and his wife hosted an education forum and reception honoring the president and first lady that night at the governor’s mansion. President Johnson spoke before 100 educators from seven southern states. He mused about how many geniuses had been lost because of a lack of educational opportunities, stating his goal of making possible for every child “as much education as she or he can take, regardless of church, wealth or skin.” This again spoke to his ambition to form America into an equitable “Great Society.” Afterward, he answered questions from several publishers, principally concerning Vietnam. He then ate dinner with the governor and guests before leaving to board Air Force One.

Mrs. Ellington, Governor Ellington, First Lady Johnson, President Johnson, March 15, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson Visit to Middle Tennessee Photograph Collection.

The trip to Tennessee, while largely successful, was not without some commotion. In particular, while President Johnson was in the capitol building, there was a peaceful anti-bombing demonstration on the front lawn of the Library & Archives. Several demonstrators scaled the hill and wall separating Seventh Ave and the capitol building. When the presidential motorcade was leaving Capitol Hill, it reportedly had to swerve around several youths who were squatting in the road in protest. The youths were removed by Tennessee state troopers.

Audio 3 – In this segment, LBJ addresses the issue of bombing.

“Whenever North Vietnam is Ready” Nashville Tennessean, March 16, 1967.

President Johnson’s administration was rife with social struggle, as evidenced in policies comprising his “Great Society” legislation. His speech before the Tennessee General Assembly in 1967 further codified his stance on the war and his response to the atrocities happening as a result of bombings. His speeches that day also solidified his stance on the issues of race, education, poverty and health care. President Johnson’s visit coincided with the release of the Andrew Jackson postal stamp, commemorating Jackson’s 200th birthday. Both Johnson and Jackson put their stamp on American history.

Audio 4 – LBJ reaffirms the national stance that America would stay in Vietnam until peace is negotiated.

Full transcripts of President Johnson’s speeches can be found in the Nashville Tennessean, March 16, 1967 issue.

His full recorded speech before the General Assembly is available at the Library & Archives.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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