"It All Began So Beautifully": Lady Bird's Emotional Memories of November 22, 1963

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 18 2013 12:15 PM

"It All Began So Beautifully": Lady Bird's Emotional Memories of November 22, 1963

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Two or three days after the Kennedy assassination, Lady Bird Johnson made a tape recording of her memories of November 22—primarily, as she told Time in 1964, “as a form of therapy to help me over the shock and horror of the experience.” The new First Lady submitted a transcript of this tape to the Warren Commission, to serve as her testimony about the events of that day. Lady Bird and Abe Fortas, an LBJ advisor and family friend, made the pencilled notations on this draft document.

In the Dallas motorcade, Lady Bird rode in the vice-presidential car, separated from the Presidential limousine by four motorcycles and the presidential follow-up car.  The Johnsons’ car was a convertible; LBJ, Lady Bird, and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough sat in the backseat, with Mrs. Johnson in the middle. Texas was the Johnsons’ home state. Many of the dramatis personæ of that day—including Yarborough, Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie, and the judge, Sarah Hughes, who swore LBJ into office—were Johnson friends.

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Lady Bird’s memories are episodic, but almost cinematic in their clarity and detail. When the motorcade arrived at the hospital after the shooting, as the Secret Service “began to pull, lead, guide, and hustle” the group inside, Mrs. Johnson writes:

I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink just like a drift of blossoms lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.

Lady Bird also excels at noting the emotional tone of each phase of the long, fraught day. In the hospital, she asks to be taken to Jackie and Nellie Connally, and finds Jackie in a “small hall” outside of the operating room. “You always think of her—or someone like her as being insulated, protected,” Lady Bird reflects. “She was quite alone. I don’t think I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life.”

To read the five-page transcript—hosted on the LBJ Library’s new digital archive covering the transition between the JFK and LBJ administrations—click here, or on the image below.

FirstPageLadyBirdFinal
Edited Transcript of Lady Bird Johnson's Audio Diary, 11/22/1963.

The LBJ Presidential Library's digital collection, "Nov. 22, 1963: Tragedy and Transition."

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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