Throughout February 2019, I posted brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” This is my final post for the month.
My membership in the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and my advocacy for media diversity opened a lot of doors for me. Working on committees and networking with other top editors led to me serve as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize four times, membership on the Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), appearing a few times on CNN’s Reliable Sources and co-editing a book on women in journalism.
I was elected to the board of ASNE, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to places like Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sarasota, Florida, Portland, Oregon, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, for board meetings.
A trip to Austin in 2000 was one of my favorite because ASNE President Rich Oppel, then editor of the Austin-American Statesman, took the board members, committee chairs, our spouses and guests on a bus to the LBJ Ranch, the national historic park in Stonewall, Texas. The ranch was where President Lyndon B. Johnson was born, lived, died and is buried. The president and Lady Bird Johnson donated their private home to the National Park Service but retained lifetime rights to use the home. After President Johnson’s death in 1973, Mrs. Johnson continued to live on the ranch until her death in 2007, when the property was prepared for public use.
On the day we visited, the first lady’s staff hosted the ASNE group and our guests with a tour of the ranch house and grounds. Then we went for a cookout on the property on the banks of the Pedernales River, where LBJ spent a lot of his boyhood time. My husband and I were seated next to Mrs. Johnson, by that time sight impaired but still with a very sharp mind and a keen memory of her past.
On our tour inside the Johnsons’ house, something most visitors to the ranch don’t get to do, we were able to see that nothing much had changed. It was a modest home with dated furnishings. I even got to see a rotary dial red phone, the one presidents allegedly use for only the most important and secure calls. I had learned about these red phones in school and I was pleased to know the phones are actually red.
But it was in Mrs. Johnson’s bedroom that something really caught my eye. I spotted a sterling silver hand mirror on first lady’s dressing table.
“What’s the story with this mirror?” I asked our guide. The embellished heavy silver mirror was exactly like the one my grandmother used every day of her life. I used to watch her as she styled her hair and then she would hold up the mirror and turn around in front of her own dresser mirror to check the back of her head.
“I’m not sure,” the guide said. “But if you leave your business card with me I can find out and let you know more about the mirror.”
When our group finally went outside and I had a chance to talk to Mrs. Johnson, I asked her about the silver mirror.
“Oh, I remember where I got it,” she said. “It was a gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek,” wife of the former president of the Republic of China.
“She sent it to me as a gift” after a visit.
Finally, I had some perspective on my grandmother’s mirror, which I still use to this day.
2 thoughts on “My Black History: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror”
In February, I had to write several articles for Black History Month for my church, plus coordinate the Black History Month program. So I got behind on my reading of your excerpts. Yesterday I completed them. I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially the ones about your family and family life. The excerpts about your worklife were understandably more “technical”, but interesting and impressive. I wanted to know more about some things that you left hanging, like what happened when you went to the beach on prom night, and definitely wanted to know more about your mother, who I only remember meeting once. Jackie and I were discussing the series last night, and we both were interested in knowing more about Gloria Walker (the picture of her in the first article is beautiful). And, apparently you heard us, because we received a piece about her today for your first Women’s History Month article. Thank you for that, and for the series. I think you told me you had a deadline sometime this month, so I’ll let you get back to work! Regards, Ronnie
Hi, Ronni. Thanks for your feedback on the “technical” aspects of the writing. I probably need to go back and review that for balance. Happy to report I have completed the first draft. I will spend the month of March editing all chapters. I am getting closer. You WILL learn more about Gloria Walker in the book.