This post is a little bit late, I actually visited the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum on Halloween, but I was hungover, and then recording with Miró, and then the week started and I realized that I still hadn’t written about my experience, so here you go. A slightly belated reaction – thought I don’t think the museum has changed in the last 4 days, so it’ll probably be OK.
I’ve written before about my love of Presidential Museums (and my fool’s errand goal to visit each President’s Official landmark in my life.) Which actually all started with a trip to this very concrete block of a memorial to a very complicated man. Between that initial visit (over 7 years ago now!) the LBJ has been redesigned, and well, it’s very up to date and flashy now, but I’m not sure if that makes it better. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)
When you leave the temporary exhibit space you are in the main foyer of the building, which I have to admit is visually impressive:
That black pillar you can see at the top of the stairs there is engraved with LBJ’s greatest rhetorical moments. I especially liked this one:
Then you walk into the permanent exhibit, which has a lot of fun interactive things, like where you can listen to the recordings of his voice (like at his ranch):
And there’s really well done multimedia presentations about pop culture and world events that help to contextualize his career both before and during his presidency. There’s (as there should be) a lot of emphasis on his efforts in the Great Society to help lift Americans out of poverty, improve public education and broadcasting, and a really moving section on his contributions to Civil Rights. This was all lovely, and especially interesting to me now that I have the background from seeing both Selma and All the Way last year.
And now we come to why I was disappointed. I have been talking for years about how refreshing the LBJ Museum’s take on Vietnam was. Rather than shying away from his involvement in the conflict, they faced it head on and acknowledged the blemish that it was on his legacy. They did this in an emotional way, using photos of slain soldiers and descriptions of atrocities. In this new exhibit, they address the complicated political position he was in but there isn’t as much of an acknowledgement of the emotional toll it took on the country.
This may not be the place for a discussion of that, and it’s possible that’s why the curators decided to temper the narrative in the redesign, but I think the museum is slightly less interesting for it.
But they still have the 1/8 size Oval Office: