LBJ’s speechwriter Harry Middleton honors the former president for Civil Rights Summit

Adam Hamze

Next week’s Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum will draw attention to a president who, until this semester, the University offered a class entirely about — President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Forty-five years after the end of his last term, University classes, such as “The Johnson Years,” allowed students to look at Johnson’s presidency in-depth. Following this semester’s cancelation of the course, there are no longer any classes that focus solely on Johnson’s administration.

Harry Middleton, Johnson’s former speechwriter, taught the course while he was director of the LBJ library.

“I tried to be able to make those years come alive by bringing in as many of my colleagues from my White House days as I could,” Middleton said. “I think, modestly, I gave the students something close to a firsthand experience.”

Middleton said he believes legacies will fade no matter what happens, and it’s fortunate how certain events, such as the Civil Rights Summit, bring attention back to President Johnson and what he accomplished.

“I live in this retirement community, and I’m sure everyone here is on Medicare, and I wonder how many of them remember it was Johnson that brought it into effect,” Middleton said. “As we get into modern presidents, their day is coming and will fade and not many will remember — that’s the way life works.”

Johnson, ranked as the 11th-best president by CSPAN, graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos, which is now known as Texas State University. After being sworn into office following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Social Security Act of 1965. 

According to Middleton, Johnson affected people’s lives today more than any other president, and it’s important to continue offering classes on him.

“I wonder how many students at the University of Texas at Austin are in school because of the various educational programs that were passed in the Johnson years,” Middleton said. “We used to live in a segregated society, and we don’t anymore. … He’s relevant in that regard.”

Religious studies sophomore Alex Gaudio, who tried to get into the class before it was canceled, said he has never had a class that delved into Johnson’s presidency. Gaudio said he believes it’s important for politicians to learn from past administrations. 

“Every president uses previous presidents as a precedent,” Gaudio said. “The past matters.”

Government and Plan II senior Ben Mendelson was a student in “The Johnson Years” while it was still available and said it helped him learn about moments of history he would not have been taught otherwise.

“Being in that class and seeing history really come alive — the allure of watching him tell his stories about the man that he knew … was absolutely incredible,” Mendelson said.