An official once escorted me on a tour of the White House where the general public usually does not venture. Nausea had struck me while in the Blue Room during a public tour with my family. Before I could ruin President Lyndon Johnson’s nice carpet, a uniformed officer accompanied me away, then down some steps — to relief — in a basement restroom. A photo on the White House steps, alongside my dad and brother, shows me ghostly white and growing a bit green around the gills.
At age 9, during that early August 1965, perhaps I could have scampered away from the officer and explored some important history in the making. Had it been Aug. 6, I might have wandered into the room as President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law in the presence of dignitaries that included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
As he infamously did to one of his beagles, LBJ might have picked me up by the ears. Surely Dr. King would have rescued me with a chuckle, a handshake, and assurance that the new act promised a fairer country for my generation to grow up in.
Those were purposeful, heady days for our nation. In contrast to current times, government boldly tackled national issues, explored space and, admittedly, trod deeper down a dark path in Vietnam. But 1965 marked the high-water point for President Johnson’s “Great Society.”
Just days earlier, on July 30, Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid acts in the presence of former President Harry Truman.
Earlier that summer, I enjoyed a multi-week program at L. J. Bell school provided by the Elementary/Secondary Education Act only signed into law that April. Apart from summer school for making up failed classes, that non-graded program provided kids earlier exposure to a variety of subjects, along with plenty of outdoors activity.
I liked my first black classroom teacher that summer. She held our attention with interest, kindness, and yes, Mrs. Hager would have been a fine addition to Bell’s staff.
Later that August, the U.S. House would pass the 1965 Immigration & Nationality Act that LBJ signed several weeks later. Shamefully past due for revamping now, it addressed many issues then.
It’s just as well that I stayed close to that WH officer, though. I’m not sure that President Johnson, or Dr. King, could have rescued me from Mrs. Nancy’s “Wait until I get you home!”
Douglas Smith lives in Rockingham and is a frequent writer of letters to the editor.