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How Twitter and Time Have Helped Americans Reassess LBJ's Legacy

LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on.

This post has been updated to include portions of an interview with LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago today.

"It's hard to realize that 50 years ago, people of color in many parts of this country, particularly in the Deep South, would not be accommodated at restaurants or at hotels or at motels, there were separate educational facilities and separate water fountains – we essentially lived in an apartheid state," LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove says.

Both theLBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin and the LBJ Ranchin Stonewall are celebrating the anniversary of the signing.

Today, the library staff is taking to Twitter to reenact the President’s day 50 years ago. They’ll start this morning at eight – and will be tweeting pictures along with the play-by-play. They're also encouraging Twitter users to include #LBJ50 on relevant posts.

"We're taking Twitter users through that day, this historic day in 1964, and exactly what happened running up to Johnson signing the act before addressing the nation about its importance," Updegrove says.

The signing was actually penned in on the President's daily schedule. It appears it was added after the printed version of the schedule had been made.

“LBJ was not going to let this slip out of his hands and as soon as soon as he got senate approval he wanted to get it into law," Updegrove says. "He had a signing in the east room of the White House. He invited many of the congressional leaders who made it happen. He also invited many of the Civil Rights leaders. You can see in the famous picture of Johnson signing the act over his left shoulder is Martin Luther King.” (See that photo, above).

KUT has been covering the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act all year, including coverage of the LBJ Library's Civil Rights Summit, how Texans experiencedthe Civil Rights Movement and a Tony-Award winning play starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ.

Updegrove says he believes this year – and, specifically, this past spring's Civil Rights Summit – finally marks a "tipping point" in LBJ's legacy.

"He's always been known for Vietnam, it's a rightful part of his legacy, but I think that overshadowed some of his more lasting accomplishments and more important accomplishments as president," Updegrove says. "I think that once the Civil Rights Summit occurred, he became in the minds of most Americans 'the Civil Rights President' because you had four presidents coming to the library to pay homage to the courage that it took to pass those acts at that time. And I think it took Lyndon Johnson to do that."

Updegrove says he thinks it takes at least a generation to fairly assess presidents because it takes that long for passions to cool. But, he says, it's taken even longer for LBJ because of the divisiveness of the Vietnam War.

Today in the Johnson City/Stonewall area where President Johnson was born, lived and buried, the LBJ Ranch is holding a free event to mark the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act signing. The ranch is showing a documentary and has erected a temporary exhibit that includes the pens President Johnson used to sign the act. The ranch will be open late today – until 9 p.m. – to accommodate extra visitors.

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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