Roseann M. Mandziuk, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at TXST, delivers her Fall lecture on Lady Bird inside the LBJ Museum auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 27. Daily Record photo by Zoe Gottlieb
LBJ Museum’s Fall Lecture takes audience aboard ‘Lady Bird Special’
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s accomplishments are common knowledge for many Texans, but few know what Lady Bird Johnson achieved with her famed Whistlestop Tour in 1964.
“Lady Bird Johnson summoned all of the rhetorical resources of her own experience to hold the mirror up to South,” said Roseann M. Mandziuk, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Texas State University. “The place that she reflected to the audience was grounded in the abiding faith that the people of the South would recognize their pride and their noble past and in turn, embody the new roles that she argued were consistent with that image and identity.”
Mandziuk described Lady Bird’s rhetorical power and efforts to reconcile Southern ideals and traditions with civil rights reform and legislation during her LBJ Fall Lecture entitled “Recipes and Reconciliation: Lady Bird Johnson’s 1964 Whistlestop Tour” hosted by the LBJ Museum of San Marcos on Thursday.
The Whistlestop Tour refers to Lady Bird’s 1,628-mile, four-day campaign trip aboard a 19-car train dubbed “Lady Bird Special” during the 1964 presidential campaign, in which Lady Bird delivered 47 speeches across eight states.
Lady Bird and White House staff made inroads in the South by, among other strategies, “providing audiences with a significant concoction of Southern recipes, localized rhetorical appeals, and old-style political performance,” Mandziuk said.
Children onboard the Lady Bird Special were given peppermint taffy, balloons, and toys, and adults enjoyed classic Southern fare on the train, such as Smithfield baked ham and peanuts, buttermilk biscuits and smothered steak, and corn fritters and chicken dumplings.
Mandziuk also described the 15 women who joined Lady Bird on the campaign trail as young, attractive ladies wearing “bright blue dresses, white gloves, and white, low-brimmed hats,” yet another strategy Lady Bird used to “play upon traditions of Southern femininity.”
But Lady Bird had more tactics in her arsenal than just showmanship, noted Mandziuk. In the speeches she delivered across 47 towns, Lady Bird ensured “love and respect for the South always came first.”
Mandziuk remarked that Lady Bird’s strategies were successful in two ways. For one, they helped secure the outcome of the 1964 election, but also marked a “significant moment in the First Lady transition” from maintaining style and appearances to becoming an agent of political change.
In an interview with the Daily Record, Mandziuk explained how she came to research Lady Bird Johnson.
Mandziuk grew up in Michigan and joined Texas State as a faculty member in 1987. Today, she resides in Austin, the home of the LBJ Presidential Library.
“It’s hard to be there and not encounter the Johnsons, right?” Mandziuk said. “I’m a real history buff, and I especially love the 1960s.”
Mandziuk said one day, she came across a reference to the Whistlestop Tour and thought to herself, “’Well, that’s it.’”
“I [was] fascinated that she would go into this hostile territory, and she would be willing to face down these hecklers and go without [LBJ], and so I thought that was a really interesting moment as somebody that teaches rhetoric and teaches some political communication,” she said.
It would take another 10 weeks of research for Mandziuk to be prepared to give a lecture on the material.
“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would go and maybe do four hours at the library,” Mandziuk said. “You have to make an appointment, and you have to work with the research person. They bring a little cart out, they bring you these boxes, and they just say, ‘The Whistlestop stuff is in here.’
“It’s a time-consuming thing,” she added. “You can only take in a computer, a pencil, and a notepad. You have to leave everything else in a locker out in the hallway.”
Mandziuk said she hopes future political leaders learn lessons of “tolerance” from Lady Bird.
“In [Lady Bird’s] time, she wanted the South that she loved to let go of this segregation, and this legacy of division and this dark past,” Mandziuk said. “It’s interesting, because I see some of that holding on to mythology of this nostalgic something that never really existed [with] the January 6 insurrection — that there was an America at some time that was great, and we’re losing it.
“But that America never existed,” she said.
The LBJ Museum hosts two annual lectures, one in the Fall and one in the Spring.
Past lecturers include Neil Spelce, former Austin broadcaster who took a tour with LBJ, Dr. George Abbey, LBJ’s director of NASA, and Dr. David Zarefsky, author of “Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam, and the Presidency: The Speech of March 31, 1968.”
The Record asked LBJ Museum Board President Wayne Kraemer what he hopes people will take away from this year’s Fall Lecture.
“When we think of Lady Bird Johnson, we think of her as wildflowers, the Lady Bird Wildflowers Center, and we don’t think of her in a political role,” Kraemer said. “And I think, as Dr. Mandziuk said, she was the transition that create[d] a political niche for the First Lady, not just a social niche.”
“Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers” is an exhibit now on view at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, until August 2023.