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Lady Bird Johnson’s Whistle-Stop Tour (1964)

Gordon Wilkison

Silent | 1964

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  •  Barbecue at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall 
  •  Folk duo Ian and Sylvia perform 
  •  Cactus Pryor speaks 
  •  Lady Bird delivers a speech in Tyler at the Tyler Rose Garden 
  •  The Lady Bird Special, Braniff International Airways plane 
  •  The party departs the morning on October 26. The flight was reportedly delayed an hour due to the rainy weather. 
  •  Lady Bird and company return to Austin that night 
  •  A drill team welcomes the First Lady to Beaumont 
  •  Congressman Jack Brooks 
  •  Mayor Jack Moore of Beaumont presents Lady Bird with a key to the city 
  •  Lady Bird speaks in the McDonald Gymnasium at Lamar State College 
  •  Back at the Tyler Rose Garden 
  •   Georgia Tucker Laschinger, of Gilmer, on far left. She was one of the organizers of the Tyler stop.  
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  • About the video
  • Lady Bird Johnson Lady Bird Johnson
  • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
  • Article on Whistle-Stop To... Article on Whistle-Stop Tour
  • Letters from Lady Bird Letters from Lady Bird
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In October 1964, First Lady Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson, better known as Lady Bird, launched a whistle-stop tour across several states to promote her husband Lyndon Baines Johnson’s bid in the upcoming presidential election. The First Lady first made a four-day, 1,628-mile train ride across eight Southern states, hoping to salvage support in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She continued her campaign by plane, dubbed the Lady Bird Special, visiting Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky. This film captures Lady Bird’s tour of the Lone Star State, with stops in Austin and Stonewall on October 25, and then Beaumont, Tyler, and San Angelo on October 26. The film likely represents one of the few visual records of the campaign appearances of October 26. In the footage, presented out of chronological sequence, the First Lady meets with crowds of supporters, attending lunches and delivering speeches. Broadcast personality Richard “Cactus” Pryor makes an appearance during a barbecue at the LBJ Ranch.
Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas on December 22, 1912. Lady Bird, the nickname given by nursemaid Alice Tittle, attended high school in Marshall and junior college at Dallas’ St. Mary’s Episcopal College for Women. In 1933 and 1934, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Bachelor of Journalism, respectively, from the University of Texas at Austin. 
Mutual friends introduced Lady Bird to congressional aide and rising political star, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ proposed on the couple’s first date and the two were married a month later on November 17, 1934. Lady Bird financed her husband’s first congressional campaign for Austin’s 10th District using a portion of her maternal inheritance. During World War II, Lady Bird ran the congressional office while LBJ served in the US Navy. In 1943, Lady Bird purchased Austin Radio station KTBC. The station proved an integral part of the LBJ Holding Company and became the main source of the Johnson family’s fortune. 
LBJ’s political career gained momentum in the postwar years, and in 1960, he became Vice President to John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. As first lady, Lady Bird initiated the Society for a More Beautiful National Capitol and worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to promote the planting of wildflowers along highways. In 1964, the first lady traveled through eight southern states aboard her train, “The Lady Bird Special,” to foster support for LBJ’s presidential re-election and the Civil Rights Act. She was influential in promoting the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, referred to as “Lady Bird’s Bill,” and the Head Start program.
Following the death of LBJ in 1973, Lady Bird turned her attention to Austin. The Town Lake Beautification Project transformed Austin’s downtown lake, renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, into a useable recreation area. On December 22, 1982, Lady Bird and Helen Hays founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The Wildflower Center was established to increase awareness and research for North American flora.  During her lifetime, the former first lady received the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988. Lady Bird died of natural causes on July 11, 2007, survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. 
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the President's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment is his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.

Article copy contributed to the Archive by Sally Greene.

These letters were sent to TAMI from Sally Greene, whose grandmother, Georgia Tucker Laschinger of Gilmer, helped plan the Whistle-Stop Tour stop in Tyler. On two occasions, Mrs. Laschinger corresponded with Lady Bird about the event. Those letters are below.