Lady Bird is popular in Texas and beyond for her efforts around what at the time was called “beautification” – a term she disliked and by 1967 had actually advised her staff to inform journalism not to utilize any longer, Sweig said.
“It was called ‘beautification’ when really she was an environmentalist,” Porter said. “And, you know, when you think about what is ‘women’s work,’ you know, and planting flowers is ‘women’s work;’ gardening is ‘women’s work.’ But beautification and thinking about how we’re going to preserve our environment for future generations and start parks and, you know, lead the precursor to the Environmental Protection Agency starting in Washington, D.C. – that’s not necessarily thought of ‘women’s work.’ And I think you can, you know, look to our later first ladies to see how hard they have struggled to have a recognized impact in policy work.”
Added Sweig: “She was also about bringing the idea of access to nature in American cities to make that more democratic, to make communities in our most underserved neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. – she was a Washingtonian – have access to nature. Not just white Washington, but Black Washington.”
Lady Bird’s tapes likewise reveal how careful she was of Robert Kennedy, even prior to he challenged LBJ for the presidency. The Johnsons’ complex relationship with the Kennedy siblings gone back to them dealing with Johnson improperly at the 1960 nominating convention, Porter said.
“One thing I want to point out is when we think about when President Kennedy was assassinated, the Kennedys were coming to Texas; the Johnsons were going to host the Kennedys. It was this moment of rapprochement. They were going to, you know, show the Kennedys that there was culture in Texas and they were good hosts, and there were all these events planned,” Porter said. “And then, naturally, Dallas takes place. And it not just is this substantial, dreadful catastrophe, however it’s likewise, you understand, the Johnsons resembled … Kennedy was killed in Texas – it was in fact like an extra damage and hurt.
The Kennedys – JFK definitely, and Bobby Kennedy a lot more so than his bro – actually did lean into civil liberties. And, naturally, it’s the Black vote that in fact gets JFK into the presidency. But it’s Lyndon Johnson who does, you understand, all the legislation – he does the Voting Rights Act; he does the Civil Rights Act. And so Bobby Kennedy actually seemed like that was his bro’s tradition, and he was really, really resentful that he felt Johnson was getting credit for what JFK had actually begun.”
Porter said that part of what she likes about the motion picture and the tapes is that the Johnsons had an extremely caring marital relationship.
“Regardless of Johnson’s other activities, they not only loved each other, but they respected each other. And I think in some ways, you see her defending her husband,” she said. “You see Bobby Kennedy is an external threat to his authority, to his legacy, and she’s 100% right when Bobby Kennedy declares that he’s going to run for the presidency. They were kind of always waiting for that other shoe to drop.”
“The Lady Bird Diaries” has to do with a lady, by females, said Porter, who selected not to have any talking heads promote Lady Bird in the movie since the previous very first lady had actually left the journals to inform her story.
“It is a treasure trove of information for scholars about the time, but it’s also an important reminder about how a woman’s voice can be completely erased if we’re not vigilant about looking for this history,” Porter said. “And one thing I want to point out about the film is, people are like, ‘how did you make this film and how did you find footage?’ There was a ton of footage, but it was about Lady Bird, and so nobody asked for it until we asked for it. So it was there. This is not a film of footage that is found in a closet or is hidden for years. This is a film that was right there for the making, if somebody asked the question, ‘what did the woman in the White House think?’ And so we asked that question.”