The assassination of John F. Kennedy catapulted Lyndon Johnson into the Oval Office. Once there, he drew upon the experiences of a long career in Congress to become one of the most prolific legislative presidents in history, passing bills that addressed many economic and social problems.
The successes of Johnson’s domestic efforts would be overshadowed by his failure to bring the Vietnam War to a satisfactory conclusion after tremendously expanding American commitments to resist the spread of communism in that country.
Objective: Students should be able to describe major events during the Johnson presidency.
- Classroom computer with projector and speakers
- Class copies of handouts
1. Start class by showing footage of the “Bloody Sunday” massacre at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which can be found here:
Talk about the pressure that large demonstrations coupled with television put on Johnson. Two of his most significant achievements were the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson, who was from Texas, went against the majority wishes of Democrats from the south to maneuver these bills through Congress. The Civil Rights Act overcame a major filibuster to pass, an account of which can be found here:
These two acts remain two of the most enduring legacies of the civil rights movement and among the most important and celebrated laws in American history.
2. Johnson also attempted to ameliorate economic inequality. Despite the overall strength of the economy persistent, large pockets of poverty existed. These were chronicled in the book The Other America, by Michael Harrington. An excerpt can be found here:
Johnson’s “War on Poverty” took several forms, including the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity and Medicare. Share some basic statistics about the cost of healthcare with your students. Some can be found here:
Then ask them to write a paragraph taking a position on whether or not the government should be responsible for helping pay for people’s care as they age.
3. Johnson is probably most well-known for being the president during the worst of the Vietnam War. Explain the domino theory to students to help explain why Vietnam was so important to American foreign policy at the time. Remind them that China (Vietnam’s neighbor) had become communist in the late 1940s.
While there were already American military advisors in the country when Johnson became president, it was his choice after the Gulf of Tonkin incident to ask Congress for the power to send American troops into combat. Have students read Johnson’s message to Congress after the Gulf of Tonkin. It can be found here:
- Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office
- President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam
This post is part of the series: The 1960s: Conflict, Rebellion and Change
In this collection of history lesson plans, we focus on the major personalities and events of the 1960s - including the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement.