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Interview with Lady Bird Johnson, June 28, 1977

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:01:11 - Meeting Senator Russell

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Partial Transcript: Now when did you first meet Senator Richard...

Segment Synopsis: Lady Bird Johnson recalls not officially meeting Richard Russell until Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into the Senate. She says LBJ either knew him beforehand, or knew of him, as he was quick to identify him as an influential figure. Both were appointed to the Naval Affairs Committee, LBJ in the House of Representatives in 1937 and Russell in the Senate in 1933. Johnson assumes that sooner or later they were brought together to discuss it. With LBJ being drawn to National Defense, especially when matters seemed threatening in Europe, and Russell being one of the main sources of information on the subject, Russell became a big part of their lives.

Keywords: Allies of WWII; Axis Powers; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Nazi Germany; Richard B. Russell; White House Diary; World War II (WWII)

00:06:58 - Remembering Russell

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Partial Transcript: I don't mean to crash this point, I'm just trying to help you remember...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson takes a moment to recall memories of Russell, such as the times he'd come over to their house. She explains how he was always nice to her daughters and they remember him with affection. She personally would try to have food she thought he would like, although most of the meals were already considered normal for their household.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Linda Bird Johnson; Luci Baines Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell

00:09:26 - Russell's Background

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Partial Transcript: Of course, he was a bachelor. Did he ever talk about his nieces and nephews...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson describes Russell as having a very distinct family background. Having no family of his own that he started, he often discussed his nieces and nephews. She knew of his father, who was a Chief Justice of Georgia, and had heard a story of someone seeing his family driving into Georgia.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Judge Russell; Omar Truman Burleson; Richard B. Russell Sr.; Ruth DeWeese

00:11:11 - Origin of LBJ and Russell's Relationship

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Partial Transcript: Uh, when did Senator Russel take under his wing...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson assumes the similarities between LBJ and Russell had a lot to do with their becoming friends, such as both being from rural areas. She describes Russell as very southern and old fashioned, and both Russell and LBJ had a strong sense of national defense. She suspects Carl Vinson, Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee, had more to do with their becoming friends than Chief Justice Fred Vinson.

Keywords: Carl Vinson; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Committee on Naval Affairs; Frederick "Fred" Moore Vinson; United States House of Representatives; United States Senate

00:13:59 - LBJ's Admiration for Russell

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Segment Synopsis: Johnson agrees that it is possible to describe LBJ and Russell's relationship almost as a father-son relationship with the decade age gap. She remembers how proud LBJ was that Russell had nominated him for Majority Leadership, and believes LBJ admired and respected Russell more than any other Congressman, although he enjoyed the company of others.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Hubert Humphry; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell; Robert "Bob" Kerr; United States Senate

00:19:01 - LBJ's First Race for the Senate/Russell's Candidacy for President

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Partial Transcript: Did, uh, Senator Russell and your husband ever discuss...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson doesn't recall any conversation to have taken place regarding the closeness of LBJ's first race for the Senate. She does agree that both LBJ and Russell were Democrats "by birth and conviction," as they were completely devoted to the Democratic Party. She feels that this may have put some strain on Russell as the party took a more liberal turn. When the Dixiecrats came about in 1948, many urged Russell to run as their presidential candidate. Although Johnson didn't think it was like him to accept the nomination, LBJ supported him with admiration. She considers this a benchmark in Russell's life, as from then on his respiratory illness limited him to some extent.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B Johnson; The 1952 United States presidential election; The States' Rights Democratic Party

00:25:56 - LBJ's Candidacy for President/ First Heart Attack

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Partial Transcript: What part did Russell play in that?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson doesn't recall that Russell played a large role in LBJ's nomination for presidency, but that it was mostly Sam Rayburn and John Connally. She remembers when LBJ had his first heart attack in 1955 and had to decide whether to retire from his position as majority leader or continue on. Russell was perhaps one of the first to visit the hospital, and she does not believe he would have suggested retiring.

Keywords: Civil Rights Act of 1957; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell

00:28:46 - Appraising Russell

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Partial Transcript: A close friend of your husband once noted that the President's strong suits were...

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer mentions some of things LBJ was described as being, comparing them to Russell. Johnson agrees that Russell had many of the same strong suits as LBJ, but also adds that he had integrity, was judicious, and the most able person in the Senate. She declares Russell was a wonderful friend, but not the type one would discuss intimate things with. There's only one instance she can recall in which she heard Russell talking about a woman he was seemingly in love with, but they parted ways due to religious issues.

Keywords: Catholicism; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B Johnson; Richard B Russell; emphysema

00:34:36 - Russell and LBJ on National Defense

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Partial Transcript: I'm not asking now for dates or anything like this...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson, upon discussing the Korean War, states that her only recollection is that Russell did agree with President Truman, and both LBJ and Russell had respect for whomever filled the role of presidency. National defense was constantly what brought LBJ and Russell together. She recalls a time in 1966 when Russell was over for several hours, giving her a strong feeling of some big impending decision. While LBJ was in office, he would seek opinions from several people, but Russell was always one of them when it related to national defense.

Keywords: Clark Clifford; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; George Ball; Harry S. Truman; Lyndon B Johnson; North Vietnam; Richard B Russell; Robert D Russ; Robert McNamara; Vietnam War (Second Indochina War); William Westmoreland; World War II (WWII)

00:42:23 - LBJ's First Days as President

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Partial Transcript: You had mentioned a little earlier about your, his first visit to Camp David...

Segment Synopsis: After JFK's assassination, Johnson declares LBJ "hit the ground running." Although he did not immediately move into the White House, once he did he began seeing any and all government leaders immediately for briefings and advice, Russell being somewhere among the most immediate.

Keywords: John F Kennedy; Lyndon B Johnson; Richard B Russell; United States House of Representatives; United States Senate

00:44:48 - Difference of Views Between LBJ and Russell

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Partial Transcript: I know that, uh, President Johnson really shunned titles...

Segment Synopsis: While the interviewer suggests that Russell started in politics as a liberal and died a conservative and LBJ was conservative but many considered him liberal, Johnson argues that it was rather more the world changing than them changing. She describes Russell as the product of customs from his time and geography, and very stuck in his ways. While LBJ was the same way, he was more optimistic and did, in fact, grow more liberal. She doesn't think this difference changed the affection LBJ had for Russell, but maybe put a strain on the relationship and made things difficult for Russell, especially during the Civil Rights Movement.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell

00:50:20 - Alexander Lawrence Case

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Partial Transcript: I think that when on the, right up to the end on Lyndon's part...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson remembers a conflict between LBJ and Russell during LBJ's last year in presidency involving a judge from Georgia. Russell wanted Alexander Lawrence nominated for federal judgeship, and LBJ relayed the information to Ramsey Clark. She feels that Clark was hesitant to recommend Lawrence, and because 1968 was such a hectic year, LBJ was preoccupied with more than the nomination. Johnson believes Russell's hurt manifested itself and linked to LBJ's efforts to nominate Abe Fortas and Homer Thornberry.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; John F. Kennedy (JFK); Lyndon B. Johnson; Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK); Richard B. Russell; Supreme Court; Vietnam War

00:56:45 - LBJ's Health Decline/Russell's Funeral

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Partial Transcript: Did, uh, the gap widen...?

Segment Synopsis: When the Johnson's left for Texas in 1969, LBJ's devotion to Russell wasn't affected, but it did sadden him. While Johnson doesn't fully remember why LBJ did not attend Russell's funeral, she thinks it may have been related to his angina attacks which came frequently, especially when in stressful situations. She also recalls some correspondence between Russell and LBJ after the move.

Keywords: Buford Eddington; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell

01:00:23 - Russell's Contribution in the Senate

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Partial Transcript: What do you consider the biggest contribution...?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson believes Russell's biggest contribution to the Senate was that he was strong and able to understand the needs in national defense, as well as his ability to see that it got carried out. She feels that his being in the Senate gave it a better image, with his integrity, stature, and character. According to Johnson, Russell helped LBJ most during his presidency in evaluating the Senate, in judgement on matters relating to defense, as well as being a friend.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell; United States Senate

01:02:21 - Russell's Impact/ Johnson Family's Impression of Russell

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Partial Transcript: One thing that I'd like for us to get back on right here...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson notes the impact Russell made on her family, and that her daughters remember him with affection. Johnson's describes her most vivid impression of Russell as a towering person in the political scene and very patriotic. Although LBJ claims he should have been president, Russell had a love for the Senate. She then recalls a time she went to dinner with LBJ, Russell, and another Senator. In her opinion, Russell was the most articulate and amusing person there, with his most outstanding personality trait being his integrity.

Keywords: Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Dr. John Willis Hurst; Earle Clements; Luci Baines Johnson; Lynda Bird Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell

01:12:48 - Personal Notes on Russell's Life

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Partial Transcript: I know that we kind of touched on this...

Segment Synopsis: In comparing herself to Russell, Johnson considers herself even more optimistic than LBJ, who was more optimistic than Russell. She wishes that Russell's life was as full of happiness as it was achievements, knowing he always had family around him, but not immediate family. She remembers a time LBJ called to have Russell's nephew and family come to visit, and suggests he was reliving his life through his younger family members.

Keywords: Bobby Russell; Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell; Samuel Earnest Vandiver Jr.