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Lyndon Johnson appoints first African American cabinet member

Lyndon Johnson appoints first African American cabinet member

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On January 13, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appoints the first African American cabinet member, making Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that develops and implements national housing policy and enforces fair housing laws. In keeping with his vision for a Great Society, Johnson sought to improve race relations and eliminate urban blight. As many of the country’s African Americans lived in run-down inner-city areas, appointing Weaver was an attempt to show his African American constituency that he meant business on both counts.

Weaver’s expertise in social and economic issues concerning urban African Americans was well-known. Prior to his appointment as HUD secretary, he held key positions in several Democratic administrations. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-to-late 1930s, he advised the secretary of the interior and served as a special assistant with the Housing Authority. In 1940, he was appointed to the National Defense Advisory Commission and worked to mobilize Black workers during World War II. From 1955 to 1959, Weaver served as rent commissioner for the state of New York, then went on to serve as head of the Housing and Home Finance Agency under President John F. Kennedy.

As HUD’s senior administrator, Weaver expanded affordable housing programs and, in 1968, advocated for the passage of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. Weaver and Johnson shared the goal of revitalizing America’s urban areas through improved housing, the creation of inner-city parks and support for African American-owned businesses.

READ MORE: Civil Rights Movement

LBJ: Biography

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in central Texas, not far from Johnson City, which his family had helped settle. Growing up, he felt the sting of rural poverty, working his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now known as Texas State University), and learning compassion for the poverty and discrimination of others when he taught students of Mexican descent in Cotulla, Texas.

In 1937 he campaigned successfully for the House of Representatives on a New Deal platform, effectively aided by his wife, the former Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor, whom he had married after a whirlwind courtship in 1934.

During World War II, Lyndon Johnson served briefly in the Navy as a lieutenant commander, receiving a Silver Star in the South Pacific. After six terms in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1948. In 1953, he became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. With rare legislative skill he obtained passage of a number of measures during the Eisenhower Administration. He became, by many accounts, the most powerful Majority Leader of the twentieth century.

In the 1960 campaign, Johnson, as John F. Kennedy's running mate, was elected Vice President. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36 th President. Learn more about the events of that fateful day in our exhibit, Tragedy and Transition.

"Let us continue. "

Shortly after assuming the Presidency, Johnson used his legislative prowess to pass two bills that Kennedy had endorsed but was unable to get through Congress at the time of his death: a tax cut and a civil rights act. The latter, which would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, became the first effective civil rights law since Reconstruction, outlawing segregation and discrimination throughout American society. Next he enacted his own agenda, urging the Nation "to build a great society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." In 1964, with Hubert Humphrey as his running mate, Johnson won the Presidency against Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, garnering 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular margin in American history&mdashmore than 15,000,000 votes.

The War Against Poverty, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, and more

President Johnson used his 1964 mandate to bring his vision for a Great Society to fruition in 1965, pushing forward a sweeping legislative agenda that would become one of the most ambitious and far-reaching in the nation's history. Congress, at times augmenting or amending Johnson's legislation, rapidly enacted his recommendations. As a result, his administration passed more than sixty education bills, initiated a wide-scale fight against poverty, saw federal support of the arts and humanities, championed urban renewal, environmental beautification and conservation, enabled development of depressed regions and pushed for control and prevention of crime and delinquency. Millions of elderly people were also given the means for proper medical care through the 1965 Medicare Amendment to the Social Security Act.

Johnson's Great Society also included the continued advancement of civil rights. He realized the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which removed poll taxes and tests that represented an obstacle to the ballot among many Americans of color, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, preventing discrimination in housing sales and rentals. Additionally, he appointed the first African American cabinet member and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

Mankind walks on the moon

Under Johnson, the U.S. also made impressive gains in its space program, which he had championed since its start. When three American astronauts successfully orbited the moon on Apollo 8 in December 1968, becoming the first to leave earth's orbit, Johnson congratulated them: "You've taken. all of us, all over the world, into a new era." The mission set the stage for the Apollo 11 mission seven months later, which saw men walk on the moon for the first time.

Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum since 1965. Despite the beginning of new antipoverty and anti-discrimination programs, unrest and rioting in black ghettos troubled the Nation. President Johnson steadily exerted his influence against segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution.

The other crisis arose from the U.S. war in Vietnam, which the U.S. had committed to under Eisenhower and Kennedy. Despite Johnson's efforts to end Communist aggression by increasing U.S. troop involvement to leverage a peaceful settlement, fighting continued. Controversy and protests over the war&mdashand Johnson&mdashhad become acute by the end of March 1968, when Johnson limited the bombing of North Vietnam in order to initiate peace negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest to strike an honorable peace.

"I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth."

When Johnson left office, peace talks were underway. He died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973. The day before his death, he had learned that peace was at hand in Vietnam.

Today Americans continue to feel the impact of Johnson's legislative legacy in nearly every aspect of American life. Click here to view a list of the landmark laws passed during the Johnson administration or download a PDF copy.


Numerical order represents the seniority of the Officer in the United States presidential line of succession.

* denotes the first African-American vice president

# Name Position Year elected
or appointed [7]
Party Administration Ref.
1 Kamala Harris * Vice President 2021 Democratic Joe Biden [6]

Current departments Edit

Numerical order represents the seniority of the Secretaries in the United States presidential line of succession.

Defunct departments Edit

The departments are listed in order of their establishment or elevation to Cabinet (earliest first).

The president may designate additional officials as members of the Cabinet. These positions have not always been in the Cabinet, so some African American officeholders may not be listed.

The following list includes African-Americans who have held cabinet-level positions other than the 15 executive departments. The table below is organized based on the time at which an African-American was appointed to a cabinet-level position.

Reflections on the Civil Rights Summit

But that wouldn't be true. Johnson was a man of his time, and bore those flaws as surely as he sought to lead the country past them. For two decades in Congress he was a reliable member of the Southern bloc, helping to stonewall civil rights legislation. As Caro recalls, Johnson spent the late 1940s railing against the "hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves" in East Asia. Buying into the stereotype that blacks were afraid of snakes (who isn't afraid of snakes?) he'd drive to gas stations with one in his trunk and try to trick black attendants into opening it. Once, Caro writes, the stunt nearly ended with him being beaten with a tire iron.

Nor was it the kind of immature, frat-boy racism that Johnson eventually jettisoned. Even as president, Johnson's interpersonal relationships with blacks were marred by his prejudice. As longtime Jet correspondent Simeon Booker wrote in his memoirShocks the Conscience, early in his presidency, Johnson once lectured Booker after he authored a critical article for Jet Magazine, telling Booker he should "thank" Johnson for all he'd done for black people. In Flawed Giant, Johnson biographer Robert Dallek writes that Johnson explained his decision to nominate Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court rather than a less famous black judge by saying, "when I appoint a nigger to the bench, I want everybody to know he's a nigger."

According to Caro, Robert Parker, Johnson's sometime chauffer, described in his memoir Capitol Hill in Black and White a moment when Johnson asked Parker whether he'd prefer to be referred to by his name rather than "boy," "nigger" or "chief." When Parker said he would, Johnson grew angry and said, "As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, nigger, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture."

That Johnson may seem hard to square with the public Johnson, the one who devoted his presidency to tearing down the "barriers of hatred and terror" between black and white.

In conservative quarters, Johnson's racism -- and the racist show he would put on for Southern segregationists -- is presented as proof of the Democratic conspiracy to somehow trap black voters with, to use Mitt Romney's terminology, "gifts" handed out through the social safety net. But if government assistance were all it took to earn the permanent loyalty of generations of voters then old white people on Medicare would be staunch Democrats.

So at best, that assessment is short sighted and at worst, it subscribes to the idea that blacks are predisposed to government dependency. That doesn't just predate Johnson, it predates emancipation. As Eric Foner recounts in Reconstruction, the Civil War wasn't yet over, but some Union generals believed blacks, having existed as a coerced labor class in America for more than a century, would nevertheless need to be taught to work "for a living rather than relying upon the government for support."

Perhaps the simple explanation, which Johnson likely understood better than most, was that there is no magic formula through which people can emancipate themselves from prejudice, no finish line that when crossed, awards a person's soul with a shining medal of purity in matters of race. All we can offer is a commitment to justice in word and deed, that must be honored but from which we will all occasionally fall short. Maybe when Johnson said "it is not just Negroes but all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry," he really meant all of us, including himself.

Nor should Johnson's racism overshadow what he did to push America toward the unfulfilled promise of its founding. When Republicans say they're the Party of Lincoln, they don't mean they're the party of deporting black people to West Africa, or the party of opposing black suffrage, or the party of allowing states the authority to bar freedmen from migrating there, all options Lincoln considered. They mean they're the party that crushed the slave empire of the Confederacy and helped free black Americans from bondage.

But we shouldn't forget Johnson's racism, either. After Johnson's death, Parker would reflect on the Johnson who championed the landmark civil rights bills that formally ended American apartheid, and write, "I loved that Lyndon Johnson." Then he remembered the president who called him a nigger, and he wrote, "I hated that Lyndon Johnson."

The Trail

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson notifies Alabama’s Governor George Wallace that he will use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

Intimidation and discrimination had earlier prevented Selma’s black population–over half the city–from registering and voting. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, a group of 600 demonstrators marched on the capital city of Montgomery to protest this disenfranchisement and the earlier killing of a black man, Jimmie Lee Jackson, by a state trooper. In brutal scenes that were later broadcast on television, state and local police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. TV viewers far and wide were outraged by the images, and a protest march was organized just two days after “Bloody Sunday” by Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King turned the marchers around, however, rather than carry out the march without federal judicial approval.

After an Alabama federal judge ruled on March 18 that a third march could go ahead, President Johnson and his advisers worked quickly to find a way to ensure the safety of King and his demonstrators on their way from Selma to Montgomery. The most powerful obstacle in their way was Governor Wallace, an outspoken anti-integrationist who was reluctant to spend any state funds on protecting the demonstrators. Hours after promising Johnson–in telephone calls recorded by the White House–that he would call out the Alabama National Guard to maintain order, Wallace went on television and demanded that Johnson send in federal troops instead.

Furious, Johnson told Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to write a press release stating that because Wallace refused to use the 10,000 available guardsmen to preserve order in his state, Johnson himself was calling the guard up and giving them all necessary support. Several days later, 50,000 marchers followed King some 54 miles, under the watchful eyes of state and federal troops. Arriving safely in Montgomery on March 25, they watched King deliver his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech from the steps of the Capitol building. The clash between Johnson and Wallace–and Johnson’s decisive action–was an important turning point in the civil rights movement. Within five months, Congress had passed the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson proudly signed into law on August 6, 1965.

1413 – Henry V took the throne of England upon the death of his father Henry IV.

1525 – Paris’ parliament began its pursuit of Protestants.

1627 – France & Spain signed an accord for fighting Protestantism.

1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris after his escape from Elba and began his “Hundred Days” rule.

1896 – U.S. Marines landed in Nicaragua to protect U.S. citizens in the wake of a revolution.

1900 – It was announced that European powers had agreed to keep China’s doors open to trade.

1918 – The Bolsheviks of the Soviet Union asked for American aid to rebuild their army.

1922 – The USS Langley was commissioned. It was the first aircraft carrier for the U.S. Navy.

1933 – The first German concentration camp was completed at Dachau.

1934 – Rudolf Kuhnold gave a demonstration of radar in Kiel Germany.

1940 – The British Royal Air Force conducted an all-night air raid on the Nazi airbase at Sylt, Germany.

1952 – The U.S. Senate ratified a peace treaty with Japan.

1991 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that employers could not exclude women from jobs where exposure to toxic chemicals could potentially damage a fetus.

1993 – An Irish Republican Army bomb was detonated in Warrington, England. A 3-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy were killed.

1997 – Liggett Group, the maker of Chesterfield cigarettes, settled 22 state lawsuits by admitting the industry marketed cigarettes to teenagers and agreed to warn on every pack that smoking is addictive.

British troops liberate Mandalay, Burma

On this day, the 14th Army, under British Gen. William J. Slim, captures the Burmese city of Mandalay from the Japanese, bringing the Allies one step closer to liberating all of Burma.

Mandalay, a city on the Irrawaddy River in central Burma (now Myanmar), was the center of the communications in Burma, as well as of rail, road, and river travel. The British conquered Mandalay, the second-largest city in Burma, in 1885. Burma as a whole was detached from India by the British in the Government of India Act of 1935 and made a Crown Colony with its own constitution and parliament. Burmese nationalists plotted with the Japanese in the late 1930s to wrest Burma from the British Empire and bring the nation within the Japanese Empire. Attempts by the nationalists to undermine the building of the Burmese Road (which would create an overland link between the West and China) and incite riots failed, and Burma remained a British colony.

On December 8, 1941, the Japanese took matters into their own hands and invaded Burma. Troops landed at Victoria Point, at the southern tip of the peninsula. Moving north, the Japanese troops, composed mostly of disgruntled Burmese nationals who fashioned themselves an army of liberation, determined to expel the Brits from their homeland, advanced on Rangoon, Lashio (the Burmese end of the Burma Road into China), and Mandalay, which fell on May 2, 1942. With the Japanese holding central Burma, China was cut off from the West-and Western supplies.

In early 1944, British Gen. William J. Slim, commander of the 14th Army, led an offensive against the Japanese that broke a siege at Imphal. By mid-December, buoyed by his success, Slim launched an offensive against Meiktila, east of the Irrawaddy River and a key communication post between Rangoon and Mangalay. A strategy of misdirection was employed, with one corps headed toward Mandalay even as Slim’s immediate objective was Meiktila. With the Japanese preoccupied with the first corps, a second corps took Meiktila on March 3, 1945, and Mandalay fell on the 20th. The 14th Army now controlled a significant swath of central Burma. Rangoon, the capital, would fall in May, returning Burma to British hands.

“British troops liberate Mandalay, Burma.” 2009. The History Channel website. 20 Mar 2009, 09:44 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6748

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January 13, On This Day: Soviets Boycott UN

Soviets boycott United Nations Security Council

For the second time in a week, Jacob Malik, the Soviet representative to the United Nations, storms out of a meeting of the Security Council, this time in reaction to the defeat of his proposal to expel the Nationalist Chinese representative. At the same time, he announced the Soviet Union’s intention to boycott further Security Council meetings.

Several days before the January 13 meeting, Malik walked out to show his displeasure over the United Nations’ refusal to unseat the Nationalist Chinese delegation. The Soviet Union had recognized the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the true Chinese government, and wanted the PRC to replace the Nationalist Chinese delegation at the United Nations.

Malik returned on January 13, however, to vote on the Soviet resolution to expel Nationalist China. Six countries–the United States, Nationalist China, Cuba, Ecuador, Cuba, and Egypt–voted against the resolution, and three–the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and India–voted in favor of it. Malik immediately left the meeting, declaring that the United States was “encouraging lawlessness” by refusing to recognize the “illegal presence” of the Nationalist Chinese representatives. He concluded that “even the most convinced reactionaries” had to recognize the justness of the Soviet resolution, and he vowed that the Soviet Union would not be bound by any decisions made by the Security Council if the Nationalist Chinese representative remained. Hoping to forestall any future Security Council action, Malik announced that the Soviet Union would no longer attend its meetings. The remaining members of the Security Council decided to carry on despite the Soviet boycott.

In late June 1950, it became apparent that the Soviet action had backfired when the issue of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea was brought before the Security Council. By June 27, the Security Council voted to invoke military action by the United Nations for the first time in the organization’s history. The Soviets could have blocked the action in the Security Council, since the United States, Soviet Union, China, Britain, and France each had absolute veto power, but no Russian delegate was present. In just a short time, a multinational U.N. force arrived in South Korea and the grueling three-year Korean War was underway.

“Soviets boycott United Nations Security Council.” 2009. The History Channel website. 13 Jan 2009, 03:06 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2545.

1794 – U.S. President Washington approved a measure adding two stars and two stripes to the American flag, following the admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the union.

1893 – Britain’s Independent Labor Party, a precursor to the current Labor Party, met for the first time.

1900 – In Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph decreed that German would be the language of the imperial army to combat Czech nationalism.

1957 – Wham-O began producing “Pluto Platters.” This marked the true beginning of production of the flying disc.

1982 – An Air Florida 737 crashed into the capital’s 14th Street Bridge after takeoff and fell into the Potomac River. 78 people were killed.

1989 – Bernhard H. Goetz was sentenced to one year in prison for possession of an unlicensed gun that he used to shoot four youths he claimed were about to rob him. He was freed the following September.

1990 – L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the nation’s first elected black governor, took the oath of office in Richmond.

1992 – Japan apologized for forcing tens of thousands of Korean women to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Johnson appoints first African-American cabinet member

On this day in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appoints the first African-American cabinet member, making Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that develops and implements national housing policy and enforces fair housing laws. In keeping with his vision for a “Great Society,” Johnson sought to improve race relations and eliminate urban blight. As many of the country’s African Americans lived in run-down inner-city areas, appointing Weaver was an attempt to show his African-American constituency that he meant business on both counts.

Weaver’s expertise in social and economic issues concerning urban African Americans was well-known. Prior to his appointment as HUD secretary, he held key positions in several Democratic administrations. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-to-late 1930s, he advised the secretary of the interior and served as a special assistant with the Housing Authority. In 1940, he was appointed to the National Defense Advisory Commission and worked to mobilize black workers during World War II. From 1955 to 1959, Weaver served as rent commissioner for the state of New York, then went on to serve as head of the Housing and Home Finance Agency under President John F. Kennedy.

As HUD’s senior administrator, Weaver expanded affordable housing programs and, in 1968, advocated for the passage of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited “discrimination against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Weaver and Johnson shared the goal of revitalizing America’s urban areas through improved housing, the creation of inner-city parks and support for African American-owned businesses.

“Johnson appoints first African-American cabinet member.” 2009. The History Channel website. 13 Jan 2009, 03:07 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=111.

On This Day in Wisconsin: January 13

1922 – WHA Radio Founded
On this date the call letters of experimental station 9XM in Madison were replaced by WHA. This station dates back to 1917, making it “The oldest station in the nation.” [Source: History Just Ahead: A Guide to Wisconsin’s Historical Markers, edited by Sarah Davis McBride]

Robert Tanner Freeman (1846-1873)

Robert Tanner Freeman is the first professionally trained black dentist in the United States. A child of slaves, he eventually entered Harvard University and graduated only four years after the end of the Civil War on May 18, 1869.

Robert Tanner Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846. His formerly enslaved parents took the surname “Freeman” as did countless other people after gaining their freedom from bondage. As a child, Robert befriended Henry Bliss Noble, a local white dentist in the District of Columbia. Freeman began working as an apprentice to Dr. Noble and continued until he was a young adult. Dr. Noble encouraged young Robert to apply to dental colleges.

Two medical schools rejected Freeman’s application but with the encouragement of Dr. Nobel who had contacts at Harvard Medical School, Freeman applied there. Initially rejected, he was accepted into Harvard Medical School in 1867 at the age of 21, after a petition by Dean Nathan Cooley Keep to end the school’s historical exclusion of African Americans and other racial minorities.

Robert Tanner Freeman and classmate George Franklin Grant became the first blacks to enter the 1867 Harvard Dental School inaugural class of sixteen. Upon Freeman’s graduation in 1869, he and Grant became the first African American dentists in the United States.

Dr. Freeman returned to Washington, D.C. after his graduation to open his own practice. He became a pillar in the D.C. black community because of his commitment to mentoring other African American youth interested in the medical profession. Unfortunately, his death came in 1873, only four years after he received his dental school degree. While working in Washington, D.C. he contracted a water-borne disease although the records are unclear as to the specific disease.

Dr. Freeman’s legacy extends beyond his short life. He was honored by the National Dental Association, the all-black dental group which was founded in 1913 and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Association adopted the mission of Dr. Freeman to extend dental treatment and education to the impoverished, the disabled, and people of color as well as those who may not seek proper care due to age. In 1907 the predecessor organization to the National Dental Association called itself the Robert T. Freeman Dental Society.

Dr. Freeman’s grandson, Robert C. Weaver, became the first African American to serve as a member of the Presidential cabinet. Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed him Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1966.

Before Kamala: Black Women in Presidential Administrations

From the liberating poetry of Phyllis Wheatley to the heroism of Shirley Chisholm. From the fortitude of Ida B. Wells to the tenacity of Fannie Lou Hamer, Stacey Abrams, and other Black women who have fought on the frontlines against the disenfranchisement of Black people. The Black woman is the cornerstone of African American politics. As Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) embarks on her momentous journey to make history as the first woman, the first African American, and the first Asian American Vice President of the United States, the National Archives celebrates the political excellence of African American women in presidential administrations for almost 90 years.

By 1933, Mary McLeod Bethune had established herself as a leader in the plight of African Americans. Bethune was president of Bethune-Cookman College and one of the most powerful African American political figures in the United States. Knowing this, newly elected President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt found it beneficial to make Bethune a presidential advisor of African American affairs. Bethune’s position within the Roosevelt administration would leverage her with the power to form the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, which would become known as The Black Cabinet.

The Black Cabinet was instrumental in creating jobs for African Americans in federal executive departments and New Deal agencies. Bethune’s influence within the Roosevelt administration would also allow her to direct funds created by the New Deal program to Black people. Programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and National Youth Administration (NYA) were successful in employing over 300,000 African Americans during the Great Depression. Bethune became Director of Negro Affairs with the National Youth Administration where she advocated for fair salary and job opportunities for Blacks in the agency. Bethune also served as the only African American woman who was officially a part of the United State’s delegation that created the United Nations charter. She was also the only African American woman to hold a leadership position in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

While Mary McLeod Bethune was cementing her influence in presidential politics, a Howard University undergraduate with a dedication to public service and social justice was paving the way for herself to become a historical influence in Washington.

Patricia Roberts Harris, a native of Mattoon, Illinois was a gifted scholar who graduated from Howard University with honors in 1945. After earning her law degree from George Washington University Law School, Harris became an attorney in the criminal division of the Department of Justice in 1960. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy appointed Harris co-chairman of the National Women’s Committee of Civil Rights.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Harris as Ambassador to Luxembourg. By accepting this appointment, Harris was the first African American woman to serve the United States as an ambassador. Harris would continue to be a force in the Democratic Party serving as chairman of the credentials committee in 1972 and a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee in 1973. Her due diligence and commitment to social justice and civil rights would catch the attention of presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Harris as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, which made her the first African American to serve in the United States Cabinet, and the first African American woman to enter the line of succession to the presidency. At Harris’ confirmation hearing, she was asked would her background prevent her from effectively serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban and Development. Harris responded:

“I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a Black woman, the daughter of a Pullman car waiter. I am a Black woman who even eight years ago could not buy a house in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong.”

After serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in 1979 Harris became Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, the largest cabinet agency in President Carter’s administration.

A daughter of two physicians, Hazel R. O’Leary earned her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1959 and her law degree from Rutgers Law School. During President Carter’s administration, O’Leary was appointed assistant administrator of the Federal Energy Administration, general counsel of the Community Services administration, and administrator of the Economic Regulatory Administration at the Department of Energy.

After serving in the Carter Administration, O’Leary established a consulting firm named O’Leary and Associates where she served as vice president and general counsel. In 1989, O’Leary served as an executive vice president of Northern States Power Company in Minnesota.

On January 20, 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated O’Leary to become Secretary of Energy and the Senate confirmed her unanimously the next day. By accepting the nomination, O’Leary conquered two historic feats by becoming the first woman and first African American serve as Secretary of Energy. O’Leary also became the first Secretary of Energy to have been employed at an energy company.

While serving as Secretary of Energy, O’Leary was praised for declassifying past Department of Energy records including Cold War era records revealing that U.S. citizens had been unknowingly used in radiation testing. O’Leary’s efforts led to President Clinton issuing Executive Order 12891, which created the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE). O’Leary also announced a $4.6 million settlement to the families of all the victims of past radiation experiments.

Alexis Herman, an Alabama native with the passion to better the employment conditions of Black laborers and women, would also leave her historical imprint in the Clinton administration by becoming the twenty-third Secretary of Labor.

Herman, a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, worked as a social worker on the Mississippi Gulf Coast advocating for shipyards in the region to offer training to unskilled Black workers. Herman later became director of the Southern Region’s Council Black Women’s Employment Program, an organization created to promote women of color into professional and paraprofessional positions.

After Jimmy Carter became president in 1977, Herman was appointed director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau. Herman became the youngest person to ever hold the position. As Director, Herman worked with corporations such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and General Motors to encourage the hiring of more women of color.

After serving in the Carter administration, Herman managed Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 bids to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Herman’s work in making Jackson a viable candidate during his campaigns led to her becoming chief of staff to Democratic National Committee Chair Ron Brown, and later vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in 1992.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Herman deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office, then later she was appointed director of the White House Office of the Public Liaison. As director of the Office of the Public Liaison, Herman began to build strong relationships with organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Herman’s political position helped her in gaining congressional support for Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement.

On May 9, 1997, Herman was sworn in as Secretary of Labor. Herman became the first African American and the fifth woman to hold the position. During her tenure, Herman was successful in mediating between the Teamsters Union and the United Parcel Service to resolve issues that sparked the 1997 United Parcel Service Workers’ Strike. Herman was also adamant in her support to increase the minimum wage by $.50 to $5.15 (USD) an hour arguing that the increase in wages would increase buying power for workers.

Inspired by her parents and the civil injustices towards Black Americans in the South, Alabama native Condoleezza Rice earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver, masters in political science from Notre Dame University, and her PhD from The University of Denver School of International Studies.

Rice’s political career began when she worked as special assistant to the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1986. From 1989 to 1991, Rice served as director of Soviet and East Europe affairs in the National Security Council in the President George H.W. Bush administration. Rice continued to flourish in the Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

In 2000, George W. Bush named Rice National Security Advisor, the first woman to ever serve in this position. While serving in this position, Rice was a key player in the Bush administration in regards to the War on Terror. In 2003, Rice received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official. In 2010, Rice received the U.S. Air Force Academy’s 2009 Thomas D. White National Defense Award for contributions to the defense and security of the United States.

In 2005, the Senate confirmed Rice’s nomination as Secretary of State making history as the first African American to hold the position. Until the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Rice was the highest-ranking African American in the history of the federal government. As Secretary of State Rice was instrumental in implementing the Transformational Diplomacy policy which was created to expand the ideology of democracy and establish democratic governments around the world.

Loretta Lynch is the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist preacher from Greensboro, North Carolina. Her fascination with law came from watching hours of court proceedings with her father and hearing stories of how her grandfather helped people move North to escape the Jim Crow South. These inspirations led Lynch to graduate from Shaw University and later Harvard Law School. From 1998 to 1999 Lynch served as chief assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York where she managed the Brooklyn office.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton nominated Lynch to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. During her tenure in this position Lynch oversaw prosecution of New York police officers in the case of Abner Louima. Lynch also met with the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who was murdered due to being held in a prohibited chokehold, to discuss prosecution of the police officer suspected of Garner’s death.

In 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Lynch for the position of U.S. Attorney General. In 2015, Lynch’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate making Lynch the first African American woman to hold the position. During her tenure as Attorney General, Lynch announced Dylan Roof, the assailant in the mass shooting at Charleston’s historic Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, would be charged with a hate crime. Lynch also stated that the Department of Justice would seek the death penalty for Roof. Lynch also started an investigation within the Chicago Police Department to see if civil rights were violated in the death of LaQuan McDonald.

These trailblazing giants have left an indelible imprint on the landscape of American politics. Their legacy is a testament to future generations of young Black women to be ambitious, bold, empowered, and aspire to achieve whatever they want.

President Johnson and Civil Rights

In this photograph taken by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the East Room of the White House. President Johnson is flanked by members of Congress and civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rep. Peter Rodino of New Jersey standing behind him. The bill prohibited job discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin, ended segregation in public places, and the unequal application of voting requirements. Stoughton was the first official White House photographer and covered the Kennedy administration to the early years of the Johnson administration.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

A master of the art of practical politics, Lyndon Johnson came into the White House after the tragedy of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. He was energetic, shrewd, and hugely ambitious. Clifford Alexander, Jr., deputy counsel to the president and an African American, remembered President Johnson as a larger-than-life figure who was a tough but fair taskmaster. His legislative program "had such a positive effect on black Americans [it] was breathtaking when compared to the miniscule efforts of the past." The cornerstones of that program were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Civil rights leaders from across America led by Martin Luther King, Jr. gathered in the East Room of the White House to witness the signing of the Civil Rights Act that signified a major victory in the struggle for racial equality to which they had dedicated their lives. President Johnson also made two political appointments–Robert Weaver as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Thurgood Marshall as associate Supreme Court justice. For the first time African Americans had positions in the Cabinet and on the Supreme Court. President Johnson appointed more black judges than any president before him and opened the White House not only to black athletes and performers but also to black religious, civic and political leaders in significant numbers. Johnson saw his place in history as being directly related to the improvement of race relations in America and according to Alexander "he was a huge success."

Lyndon Johnson appoints first African American cabinet member - HISTORY

First photograph of Lyndon Baines Johnson [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #09-3-4]
All of the images in this exhibit are in the public domain and most are available for download by serial number in our photo archives.

Born August 27, at Stonewall, Texas. The first child of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and Rebekah Baines Johnson was born in a small farmhouse on the Pedernales River.

This photograph (right) pictures Lyndon Johnson's parents Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines Johnson, along with Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr., and Eliza Bunton Johnson in front of Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr's. house in Stonewall. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown, ca. 1910. #10-13-4]

Johnson family circa 1912. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #12-13-1]

At the age of four, Lyndon Johnson began running to the nearby one-room "Junction School" daily to play with his cousins at recess. He would return to this school decades later to sign the Higher Education Act of 1965.

His mother persuaded the teacher, Miss Kathryn Deadrich, to take him as a pupil, and he would sit in his teacher's lap and recite his lessons. His school term was cut short by whooping cough.

Pictured in this photograph with Lyndon Johnson (right) are three of his four siblings (L-R) Josefa Hermine Johnson, Rebekah Luruth Johnson, and Sam Johnson. Not pictured is his older sister Lucia. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown, ca. 1914. #14-13-1]


Lyndon Johnson circa 1915. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #15-13-2]

In 1913, the family moved to nearby Johnson City, named for Lyndon's forebears, and the young Lyndon entered first grade.

His fourth grade report card (right) shows high marks in every subject except "deportment," or conduct. [LBJ Library photo by Johnson City Public Schools, 1917. #B10417]

On May 24, at the age of fifteen, Lyndon graduated from Johnson City High School.


Formal portrait of Lyndon Johnson. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #24-13-7]

Lyndon attended Johnson City High School in Johnson City, Texas. This group photo (right) features him (5th from the left) with his classmates. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #24-13-1]

Lyndon decided to forego higher education and instead made his way to California with a few friends. There he performed odd jobs, including one as an elevator operator. A year later, he returned home where he worked on a road construction gang.


Portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #27-13-1]

Borrowing $75, Lyndon Johnson enrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) at San Marcos, Texas. He earned money as a janitor and as an office helper.

In this letter to his grandmother, Ruth Huffman Baines, (right) he writes, "I am enclosing a clipping from the paper which will speak for itself. I am not going to be the black-sheep of the family after all." [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #27-2-1]

In 1928, Lyndon dropped out of school for a year to serve as principal and teach fifth, sixth, and seventh grades at Welhausen School, a Mexican-American school in the south Texas town of Cotulla. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown, 1928. #28-13-4]

After witnessing the poverty of the children in his class, Johson wrote a letter to his mother that included this request: "I want 200 pkg. [packages] of toothpaste. We soon will have over 250 in school. They are all rather small and I think they would appreciate it very much."

During his year as a teacher, he still had time to be a leader in many extracurricular activities, editing the school paper and starring on the debate team.

On August 19, 1930, Lyndon graduated with a B.S. degree in Education. He taught for a few weeks at Pearsall High School, in Pearsall, Texas, and then took a job teaching public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston, Texas. In the spring of 1931, his debate team won the district championship.


Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson in front of the Capitol. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #34/35-13-1]

Following his election to the House of Representatives in November 1931, Congressman Richard Kleberg asked Johnson to come to Washington to work as his secretary. Johnson held the job for over three years and learned how the Congress worked.

In 1933, Lyndon was elected speaker of the "Little Congress," an organization of congressional workers.

In the fall of 1934, Lyndon briefly attended Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C.

On a trip home to Texas, Johnson met Claudia Alta Taylor. He decided almost instantly that she should be his wife. Two months later, Lady Bird, as she was known to her friends, agreed, and on November 17, 1934, they were married in San Antonio. They honeymooned in Xochimilco, Mexico and visited the Floating Gardens, where this snapshot (right) was taken. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown, 1934. #B9798]

You can read a collection of their courtship letters here.


Lyndon Johnson visiting National Youth Administration Projects. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #36-1/2-1]

Johnson resigned as Secretary to Representative Kleberg to accept President Roosevelt's appointment on July 25 as the Texas Director of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a Roosevelt program designed to provide vocational training for unemployed youth and part-time employment for needy students. At 26, he was the youngest state director to have filled this position.

Congressional campaign poster. [LBJ Library photo by UT Photographic Services. #B11689]

Johnson resigned as Texas Director of the National Youth Administration to enter the special election for the 10th Congressional District called after the death of Representative James P. Buchanan. Nine other candidates also entered the race. He backed Roosevelt 100% and handily won the election on April 10.

In Congress, Johnson worked hard for rural electrification, public housing, and eliminating government waste. His work resulted in the nation's first and still largest electric cooperative (Pedenales Electric Company) and the first federal public housing project (Austin's Santa Rita Courts).

He was appointed to the House Committee on Naval Affairs at the request of President Roosevelt.


Lt. Commander Lyndon Johnson in Navy uniform. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #41-12-1]

(Right) Lyndon Johnson presented the commencement address at Southwest Texas State Teacher's College in August of 1938. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown #38-8-3]

On June 21, 1940, Johnson was appointed Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Rally opening Lyndon B. Johnson's 1941 U.S. Senate campaign. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #41-5-12]

Johnson ran for the remaining term of Senator Morris Sheppard upon Sheppard's death. On June 28, he lost a hard-fought race to conservative W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel by 1,311 votes. In this photograph (right), U.S. Senatorial candidate Lyndon Johnson (at microphone) addresses a crowd in Johnson City, Texas, LBJ's boyhood home. His mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, and Lady Bird Johnson are seated behind him on the porch. [LBJ Library photo by Austin American-Statesman. #41-6-113]

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, Johnson became the first member of Congress to volunteer for active duty in the armed forces (U.S. Navy), reporting for active duty on December 9, 1941. Lady Bird Johnson ran the Congressional office while he was overseas.

Cong. Lyndon Johnson in Navy uniform. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #42-3-7]

On June 9, Johnson received the Silver Star from General Douglas MacArthur for gallantry in action during an aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the armed forces to return to their offices, and Johnson was released from active duty on July 16, 1942.

Portrait of Congressman Lyndon Johnson. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #44-13-5]

On March 19, the Johnsons celebrated the birth of their first daughter, Lynda Bird. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #44-6/8-2]

LBJ and Lady Bird gathered for a family reunion at Christmas. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #47-12-5]

On July 2, the Johnsons celebrated the birth of their second daughter, Luci Baines.

LBJ and Lady Bird gathered with family members for a Christmas celebration. [Front row: Becky Alexander, Cong. Lyndon Johnson, Lynda Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Rebekah Luruth Johnson Bobbit, Rebekah Baines Johnson]

1948 Senate Campaign. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #48-6/7-18]

After a dramatic campaign in which he traveled by "newfangled" helicopter all over Texas, Johnson defeated Coke Stevenson in the Democratic primary race to be the party's candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Senator W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel. Johnson won the primary by 87 votes and earned the nickname "Landslide Lyndon." In the general election, November 2, he defeated the Republican, Jack Porter, and was elected to the U.S. Senate.

This photograph (right) was taken in San Angelo, Texas as Congressman Lyndon Johnson addressed the crowd from his helicopter. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #48-6-23]

This family photo (right) was taken on Primary Election Day, August 28, 1948 during LBJ's Senate Campaign. [L-R: Lynda Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Luci Johnson, Cong. Lyndon Johnson. LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #48-8-22]

Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee Hearing. [LBJ Library photo by Acme Newspictures. #51-2-1]

On January 2, Johnson was elected Majority Whip of the United States Senate.

Senator Johnson speaks to children on school bus in central Texas. [LBJ Library photo by American Statesman. #53-10-22]

On January 3, Johnson was elected Minority Leader of the Senate at the age of 44. He won national attention as chairman of the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee during the Korean War.

Senator Johnson and Speaker Sam Rayburn standing in front of a rail fence. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #54-13-6]

On November 2, Johnson was re-elected to the U.S. Senate for a second term by a margin of three to one.

President Eisenhower signs a bill as Sen. Lyndon Johnson and others look on. [LBJ Library photo by Abbie Rowe. #55-6-2]

Johnson was elected Majority Leader of the Senate on January 5. During his tenure as Senate Majority Leader, he served as Chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, Democratic Steering Committee, and Democratic Conference of the Senate.

On July 2, while visiting George Brown's estate in Middleburg, Virginia, Johnson suffered a severe heart attack and entered Bethesda Naval Hospital. On August 7, he was released from Bethesda, and on August 27, he returned to the LBJ Ranch to recuperate. Johnson did not return to Washington and Capitol Hill until December.

Senator Lyndon Johnson displaying newspaper headline with election results.

Johnson was nominated for President at the Democratic National Convention as a favorite son candidate.

Preliminary meeting of the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee. [LBJ Library photo by Associated Press/Wide World Photos. #57-11-5]

Johnson guided the passage of the first civil rights bill in 82 years, the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

(Right) Senators celebrate Johnson's 49 th birthday. [LBJ Library photo by World Wide Photos. #57-8-15]

As Chairman of the Senate Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee, he began hearings on the American space program following the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, on October 4.

Johnson considered the highlights of his Senate career to be the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the vitalization of the United States space program.


Sen. Lyndon Johnson posing for camera with a group of U.S. astronauts and other men. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Muto. #59-5-33]

Johnson guided the passage of the first space legislation, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. President Eisenhower designated Senator Johnson to present a United States resolution to the United Nations calling for the peaceful exploration of outer space.

In this photograph (right), Lady Bird Johnson and Senator Johnson are on the Pedernales River at the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Muto, 1959. #59-12-91]

1960 Democratic Presidential Vice Presidential Campaign Poster. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #MUS73.2549.1]

On July 13, Johnson was nominated for President of the United States at the Democratic National Convention by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn he received 409 votes. He was nominated Vice President by acclamation the next day. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #60-7-171]

On November 8, John F. Kennedy was elected as the 35 th President of the United States, and Lyndon Johnson was elected Vice President. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket defeated the Nixon-Lodge ticket in one of the closest elections in American history.

Johnson was also re-elected to his third term in the United States Senate.


On January 3, Johnson took the oath of office for the full six-year term in the Senate and immediately resigned.

On January 20, Johnson was administered the oath of office as Vice President of the United States by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn. As Vice President, Johnson was a member of the Cabinet and the National Security Council, Chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, Chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and Chairman of the Peace Corps Advisory Council.

President Kennedy sent him on missions to the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.


On April 20, the day Congress approved the amendment making the Vice President Chairman of the Space Council, President Kennedy sent Johnson a memorandum asking him to conduct an overall survey of the space program and to study the feasibility of going to the moon and back with a man before the Soviet Union could attain that goal.

After a careful study, Johnson replied on April 28 that a manned moon trip was possible, and "with a strong effort, the United States could conceivably be first in those accomplishments by 1966 or 1967."

On May 25, President Kennedy announced to Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth."

From May 11 through 13, Lyndon visited Vietnam while on a trip to Southeast Asia as President Kennedy's representative.


In August, construction began on the Berlin Wall. LBJ visited Berlin at John F. Kennedy's request and this photo (right) was taken as he addressed a crowd. [LBJ Library photo by Unknown. #61-8-239]

President John F. Kennedy arrives at Cape Canaveral met by Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Col. John Glenn and family. [LBJ Library photo by UPI. #62-2-114]


During the Cuban Missile Crisis Lyndon Johnson advised John F. Kennedy as part of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExCom).

Lyndon Johnson is sworn in on Air Force One. [LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. #1A-1-WH63]


On November 22, Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36 th President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. He was sworn in aboard Air Force One at 2:38 p.m. Explore Tragedy and Transition, our website about that fateful day.

On November 23, Johnson met with National Security advisors (L-R) Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary Dean Rusk, Secretary Robert McNamara, and George Ball. [LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. #CA3-4-WH63] On November 25, Johnson placed a call to Martin Luther King, Jr. and told him that enacting some of the "great progressive policies that [Kennedy] sought to initiate" was a way to honor his memory.

Listen to a recording of their conversation or read a transcript.

Certification of the 24th Constitutional Amendment on the Poll Tax. [LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. #57-3-WH64]


On January 9, Panamanian President Roberto Chiari broke diplomatic relations with the United States after riots erupted over the display of Panamanian and American flags in the Canal Zone. After tensions subsided, Johnson began efforts to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty (diplomatic relations were restored on April 3).


On February 5, the Reverend Billy Graham attended a Presidential Prayer Breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. [LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. #68-1-WH64]

On February 6, Cuban President Fidel Castro cut the water supply to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo to protest U.S. seizure of Cuban fishing boats. Johnson took steps to give the base a self-sufficient supply of water and labor.


On March 7, following a press conference, Lady Bird gave LBJ her candid assessment of his delivery. Read a transcript of their conversation.

As part of his vision for a Great Society, on July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed into law The Civil Rights Act of 1964, guaranteeing freedoms and rights for all Americans.

Signing of the Highway Beautification Act. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #786-8]


On January 20, Johnson took the Oath of Office as President of the United States. The "Great Society" program became the agenda for Congress: aid to education, protection of civil rights (including the right to vote), urban renewal, Medicare, conservation, beautification, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, promotion of the arts, and consumer protection.

Johnson's foreign policy rested on four principles: deterring and resisting aggression, promoting economic and social progress, encouraging cooperation among nations of the same region, and seeking reconciliation with the communist world.


On March 15, 1965, President Johnson addressed Congress with a message entitled "The American Promise." Listen to the speech and read a transcript here.

On March 23, 1965, Johnson had a conversation with Wilbur Cohen, Assistant Secretary to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during which they discuss the details of the Medicare Bill. Read a transcript of their conversation.

Lawrence O'Brien shakes hands with President Johnson following State of the Union Address. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. ##A1737-23a]


On March 7, French President Charles de Gaulle informed President Johnson that France would end its participation in the military aspects of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The move threatened the future of NATO and U.S. policy in Europe.

The President delivered a speech on May 26 commemorating the 3rd anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, outlining the administration's African policy, and establishing a task force to review U.S. development policies and programs in Africa.

On the 4th of July, President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act.


Luci Baines Johnson, President Johnson's younger daughter, married Patrick J. Nugent in a ceremony at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on August 6.


On October 16, Johnson signed the act establishing the Department of Transportation and appointed Alan Boyd as its first secretary.

In October and November, President Johnson made a 17-day Far East trip, attended the seven-nation Manila Summit Conference, and visited U.S. troops in South Vietnam and South Korea. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. #C3606-20]


On November 1, President Johnson had a telephone conversation with Wayne Aspinall, Chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and Congressman from Colorado Steward Udall, Secretary of the Interior. They discussed an emergency bill to protect the trees in Redwood National Park from being destroyed.

Signing of Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.[ LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #7308-15a]


On January 27, President Johnson signed the Treaty on Outer Space with Great Britain, the USSR, and 57 other nations. Later that day, three U.S. astronauts died in a fire during an Apollo 1 training mission.


The 25th Amendment was ratified on February 10. The amendment provided for the appointment of the Vice President should the office become vacant and provided for succession to the Presidency should the President become disabled and unable to fulfill the responsibilities of the office.


From April 11 through 14, President Johnson met with Latin American leaders in Punta del Este, Uruguay. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #5072-18]

The Six Day War was fought in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, from June 5 to June 10. The "Hot Line" was used for the first time for communication between LBJ and Soviet Premier Alexsei Kosygin.

The USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy communications intelligence gathering ship was attacked in the Mediterranean off the Sinai coast.

On June 13, President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall, former chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who successfully argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court that overturned the "separate but equal" rationale for segregated public schools, became the first African-American to serve as Supreme Court Justice. [LBJ Library by Frank Wolfe. #C5706-1]

Luci Johnson Nugent gave birth to the first Johnson grandchild, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, on June 21. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. #C5781-11A]

From June 23 through 25, President Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexsei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey.

Major riots erupted in Newark on July 12 and in Detroit on July 23 President Johnson ordered 4,700 Federal troops to Detroit.


Johnson signed an extension of] the Food Stamp Act on September 27.


Anti-war protests against the war in Vietnam reached a high point as the "March on the Pentagon" drew over 50,000 protestors on October 21 and 22. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #7049-30]


LBJ signed the Public Broadcasting Act on November 7, which led to the creation of the Public Broadcasting System [PBS] and National Public Radio [NPR].

On November 20, President Johnson signed the act creating the National Product Safety Commission.

On November 21, Johnson signed the Air Quality Act on November 21. [LBJ Library photo, left, by Mike Geissinger. #C7607-7]


Lynda Bird Johnson, President Johnson's older daughter, married Charles S. Robb in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on December 9.

From December 19 through 24, LBJ made his "Round-the-World Trip" to Australia, Pakistan, and Italy. He visited U.S. forces in South Vietnam and Thailand en route. He is pictured here with President Ayub Khan in Karachi, Pakistan. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #C8084-4]

Signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #C9522-13a]


On January 23, the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy communications intelligence gathering ship was attacked and captured by North Korea, which did not release the crew of the ship until December.

Enemy forces began the Tet Offensive in Vietnam on January 30. Explore our online exhibit about the Vietnam conflict here.


On February 5, President Johnson met with foreign policy advisors. (L-R: Assistant Press Secretary Tom Johnson, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, Walt Rostow, President Lyndon Johnson, Clark Clifford, Secretary of State Dean Rusk. LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #8454-5a]


President Johnson narrowly defeated anti-war candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy on March 12 in the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential primary.

On March 31, in order to devote his time to seeking peace in Vietnam and at home, President Johnson announced that he would not be a candidate for another term as President of the United States. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. #C9284-35]


Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4 riots erupted in Washington, D.C., and other cities. This photograph pictures President Johnson meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House with Civil Rights leaders. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. #A6016-12]

On April 11, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included provisions for prohibiting racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing.

Vietnam Peace Talks began in Paris.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 6 following his victory in the California Presidential primary.

On June 19, President Johnson signed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.

On July 1, Johnson signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On July 15, LBJ signed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act.


On August 21, President Lyndon Johnson called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops after their invasion of Czechoslovakia. The invasion stalled the Johnson Administration's efforts to limit the spread of armaments and to mutually reduce troop strength in Europe.

From August 26 through 29, riots disrupted the Chicago Democratic National Convention where Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey won the nomination for president.


On October 2, President Johnson signed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails Systems Act.

Lynda Johnson Robb gave birth to the Johnsons' first granddaughter, Lucinda Desha Robb, on October 25, 1968. [LBJ Library photo by Robert Knudsen. #D2529-29A]

On October 25, Johnson ordered a halt to all bombing of North Vietnam.


On November 5, Richard M. Nixon was elected 37 th President of the United States.


On December 25, LBJ and Lady Bird called Harry and Bess Truman to extend holiday greetings and to thank them for their support.

Incoming and outgoing Presidents meet in the White House. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #D3114-22]

On January 20, 1969, Johnson returned to Texas and the LBJ Ranch, following the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon.

As Senator, Vice President, and President, Johnson had exercised strong leadership in the U.S. space program, and on July 16, 1969, at President Nixon's request, President Johnson attended the launching of Apollo 11 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. Apollo 11 carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins toward the moon.

On July 20, 1969, while Michael Collins circled the moon in the command module Columbia, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. The flight represented the fulfillment of the goal, set in 1961 and reaffirmed by President Johnson, of reaching the moon in the 1960s.

Former President Lyndon Johnson, en route from TExas to Abilene, Kansas for dedication of new wing of the Eisenhower Library. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #B4393-35a]

On May 22, 1971, Johnson attended the dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. The Johnson Library is part of a system of Presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. It was established to preserve and make available for research the papers and memorabilia of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #D4076-18]

During his retirement, Lyndon Johnson wrote his memoirs, taught students, and participated in the beginnings of a series of national symposia on the critical issues of modern America held at the LBJ Library. On November 1, 1971, Johnson's memoir, The Vantage Point: Perspective of the Presidency, 1963-1969, was published.

People line up to see President Johnson lying in State. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe. #D4869-23A]

Following a short retirement, Lyndon Baines Johnson died of a heart attack at his ranch on January 22, 1973. President Nixon announced his death to the nation along with the news that peace was at hand in Vietnam as cease fire agreements had been drawn up with the North Vietnamese. "No one would have welcomed peace more than [President Johnson]," said Nixon.

Lyndon Baines Johnson is buried in the family graveyard (right) on the grounds of the LBJ Ranch not far from his birthplace in Stonewall, Texas. [LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe, 1973. #D4930-22A]

Click here to view a list of the landmark laws passed during the Johnson administration.

A Higher Standard: Patricia Roberts Harris

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Milton Williams Archives, © Milton Williams

Black women have always served a critical role in the African American community, from the names we all know — Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks — to today's young mother fighting for educational opportunities for her children. Others have quietly broken barriers to open doors that were once closed to people of color.

Patricia Roberts Harris is one of those quiet warriors whose life stands as a testament to excellence, tenacity, and commitment to change.

She was born on May 31, 1924, the daughter of Hildren and Bert Roberts, in Mattoon, Illinois. A product of Illinois public schools, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., on scholarship and graduated summa cum laude in 1945. From early in her life as a brilliant scholar at Howard, she went on to become the first African American woman to serve as a United States ambassador and later the first African American woman to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. Harris was a powerful influence in American politics and a major figure during the Civil Rights Movement.

After graduation from Howard, she went back to the mid-west and began graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1946. But the opportunity to become actively involved in working for social justice drew her back to Washington, D.C. She continued her graduate work at American University, and, at the same time, served as assistant director for the American Council of Human Rights. She also served as the first national executive director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., of which she was a member.

At the encouragement of her husband, William Beasley Harris, a prominent attorney in the District, Harris enrolled in The George Washington University Law School, where she graduated in 1960, first in her class.

During this time, while still active in the fight for civil rights, Harris became increasingly involved in the Democratic Party. Her ability to organize and manage did not go unnoticed. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy selected Harris to co-chair the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights, described as an "umbrella organization encompassing some 100 women's groups throughout the nation."

In October of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Harris ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to be chosen as a United States envoy. For Harris the historic moment was bittersweet, saying, "I feel deeply proud and grateful this President chose me to knock down this barrier, but also a little sad about being the 'first Negro woman' because it implies we were not considered before."

Signing of the Voting Rights Act. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence Mitchell, and Patricia Roberts Harris. August 6, 1965.

With the change of administration in 1968, Harris' diplomatic role ended. She returned to Washington, D.C., and became the first woman to serve as Dean of Howard University's School of Law.

In the early 1970s, Harris' involvement in the Democratic Party culminated in her being named chairman of the powerful credentials committee and an at-large-delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

The election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 thrust Harris into the spotlight, again for another "first." Shortly after taking office in 1977, Carter selected Harris to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Again Harris made history, this time by not only becoming the first African American woman to become a Cabinet Secretary, but also the first to be in the line of succession to the Presidency, at number 13.

During her confirmation hearing, Senator William Proxmire challenged her nomination and asked her if she felt capable of representing the interests of the poor and less fortunate in America. By this time in Harris' life she had established herself as not only a recognized leader for civil rights, but also as a prominent corporate lawyer and businesswoman. Some, including a few black leaders, wondered if Harris had grown out of touch with the very people she was charged with serving.

Harris' answer silenced her critics and perhaps best explains what motivated her throughout her life:

"Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining car waiter. …a black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn't start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong… if my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts may end up being part of the system."

During her tenure as HUD Secretary, she helped reshape the focus of the department. A staunch supporter of housing rehabilitation, Harris funneled millions of dollars into upgrading deteriorating neighborhoods rather than wiping them out through slum clearance. She developed a Neighborhood Strategy Program that subsidized the renovation of apartments in deteriorated areas. In addition, she expanded the Urban Homesteading Plan and initiated Urban Development Action Grants to lure businesses into blighted areas. She poured millions of dollars into renovating deteriorating housing projects throughout the nation.


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