DALLAS — Few events in America’s history carry as much weight as the inauguration of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who officially became the 36th President of the United States five decades ago today.
Now, we pause to remember the day when America lost its innocence and Johnson transformed from an unpopular vice president known as “Uncle Cornpone” to the man who would usher in a “Great Society” before our very eyes.
Thousands gathered at Dallas’s Love Field airport this afternoon to reflect on President Johnson’s historic inauguration, which took place aboard Air Force One under extraordinary circumstances after former President John F. Kennedy’s term was cut short due to medical reasons stemming from an incident involving a convertible automobile and a magic bullet.
“Everybody can remember where they were when LBJ become President,” recalled historian David McCullough.
“The entire world just stopped.”
President Johnson is remembered as a legislative mastermind who sponsored the largest reform agenda since Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1964, he signed into law the Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination based on race and gender in employment and ended segregation in all public facilities.
Sadly, he is also remembered for escalating United States military involvement in Vietnam, which ultimately resulted in over 200,000 U.S. casualties.
“It’s hard to believe his presidency almost never was,” declared Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in a somber speech only a few feet away from the inauguration.
Rawling’s was referring to the incident in which Johnson was nearly shot and killed just hours before his inauguration while riding with is wife, Lady Bird Johnson, in the presidential motorcade.
After then-President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood threw himself on top of Johnson, saving his life and forever altering the course of American history.