UT Austin acquires archives that provide insight into the 1960s

Doris Kearns was an assistant professor of history at Harvard University in 1972, teaching a course on the American presidency and begin...


Doris Kearns was an assistant professor of history at Harvard University in 1972, teaching a course on the American presidency and beginning the book that would mark the start of her extraordinary career as a popular historian, “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.” , when Richard N. Goodwin walked into his office.

A legendary speechwriter for Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Goodwin broke down, she recalled, and asked, “Hi, are you a graduate student?”

“So I honestly told him all about the presidency class I was teaching, and then I quickly realized he was just teasing me,” she said. “We had dinner that night and struck up a conversation about LBJ, JFK, the Red Sox and the 60s. And I came home that night and told two close friends that I had met the man I wanted to marry.

Dick-and-Doris, as they were colloquially known, as if a single entity, married in 1975, raised three boys and devoted themselves to work that made them leaders in their fields. He wrote about politics and society; she became the United States’ first presidential historian thanks to Pulitzer Prize-winning “No Ordinary Time” (1994) on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and six other bestsellers.

For decades, the couple kept their archives, including more than 300 boxes of diaries, letters, scrapbooks, memos and drafts of speeches that Goodwin had kept, especially from his days in the White House in the 1960s, stored in the two-story barn of their Concord. , mass., property.

When he died in 2018, Kearns Goodwin searched for a suitable venue for his articles: covering the period 1950 to 2014, they offer unique insight into the politics and debates of the 1960s and constitute a comprehensive record of Goodwin’s professional career. On Thursday, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin announced the acquisition of the Goodwin papers for $5 million, with Kearns Goodwin’s own records given to live alongside those of her husband.

“When I saw how Dick saved everything from his long and remarkable career, I was blown away,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “But I also told Doris that it should be a forfeit. Doris is an extremely important cultural figure. His own archives are invaluable to scholars studying Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK, LBJ and more. I thought they belonged together, in the same building.

What impressed Kearns Goodwin, in turn, is that the Briscoe Center sponsors and facilitates original research projects based on its archival holdings. “I was glad Dick’s papers weren’t sitting in Briscoe in a safe,” she said.

She also agreed to serve as an ambassador and advisor for the Briscoe Center and to periodically lecture at the university. After working for Johnson as a member of the White House, Kearns Goodwin accompanied him to Texas to work on his memoir; she said she was excited to return to Texas Hill Country, where Johnson’s ranch is now a National Park Service unit.

Goodwin’s records encompass his public service as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, his work as an investigator for the House subcommittee on the rigged game show “Twenty-One” (a story adapted in the 1994 film “Quiz Show”), as well as notes and memos that show how he helped shape national and international policy under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Its archives shed light on critical issues in 1960s history, including Kennedy’s New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Anti-War Movement.

From a historian’s perspective, Goodwin’s speech drafts from 1960 to 1968 are a revelation. His mastery of history and literature became the cornerstone of Kennedy’s campaign speeches in 1960. It was Goodwin who coined the phrase “Alliance for Progress” to describe Kennedy’s Latin American policies. A draft of a long-forgotten speech in Alaska ended with Goodwin’s phrase, “That’s not what I promise to do, that’s what I ask you to do with me.” Years later, material included in the collection shows that Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Goodwin to say that it was this pun that her husband had recycled in his famous “Ask Not” inaugural speech.

The documents reveal the wide berth Kennedy gave to Goodwin. When the president noticed that there was not a single black recruit in the U.S. Coast Guard contingent at his inaugural parade, he tasked Goodwin with investigating. The resulting memorandum, included in the collection, led to the racial integration of the Coast Guard in 1962.

After secretly meeting Che Guevara, Fidel Castro’s closest confidant in Uruguay, Goodwin wrote a lengthy psychological profile of the Marxist revolutionary for the president. “Behind the beard,” he begins, “his features are quite soft, almost feminine, and his mannerisms are intense.” Among Goodwin’s memorabilia acquired by the University of Texas is a wooden cigar box by Guevara.

Credit…Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin

Goodwin’s journals on the Kennedy assassination are full of ticking details. He was part of a small group at the White House when the president’s body arrived from Texas. His diary debates whether the casket should be opened or closed, seeking historical information about President Abraham Lincoln lying in state in the East Room and where the 35th President is to be buried. Working directly with Jacqueline Kennedy, Goodwin helped bring to the tomb site an eternal flame inspired by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.

In January 1964, Goodwin took extensive notes during his travels with the Peace Corps in East Africa, Iran, and Afghanistan. Then, in March, he was called upon to recast a poverty speech for Johnson. Five drafts, all part of the collection, evolved into the special message to Congress on March 19, in which the phrase “war on poverty” found a sensitive echo. Goodwin now had a hot hand, and Johnson was seeking to bring him to the White House as a speechwriter on home affairs.

Goodwin consulted his friend Robert F. Kennedy about whether he should take the job, and recounted the attorney general’s advice in his diary, now at the Briscoe Center. “From a selfish perspective – you can think selfishly once in a while – I wish you didn’t, but I guess you have to,” Kennedy told Goodwin. Although anything that makes Johnson look bad, makes Jack better, I guess. But I guess you should. If you do, you must do the best you can, and honestly, there is no other way.

The archival material allows students of politics to follow the paper trail from a Goodwin bill to a Johnson speech, then to a congressional bill and finally to federal law. Goodwin had become Johnson’s indispensable White House blacksmith. “I want to put him in a hiding place here,” Johnson told Secretary of State Dean Rusk, according to a recorded conversation at the White House on March 21, 1964. “I would put him to work day and night.” Thus began an extraordinary partnership at the height of the Great Society – a time when the President summoned Congress to pass one landmark piece of legislation after another, legislation that would change the face of the country.

Goodwin resigned in late 1965, believing that the energy and focus of the Great Society was being diverted to escalating the war in Vietnam, as he wrote in his memoir, “Remembering America.” In the months that followed, her friendship with Robert Kennedy deepened. When Kennedy went to South Africa in June 1966, Goodwin helped write his “Ripple of Hope” speech. (The words of that shimmering call for human rights are engraved on Kennedy’s tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery.) Goodwin joined Kennedy’s presidential campaign and was with him in the hospital room of Los Angeles when he died.

After the assassination, Goodwin retired to Maine, broken by Kennedy’s death. Four years later he met Kearns Goodwin at Harvard, and they became a team of writers, each editing the other’s work.

When Vice President Al Gore asked for help writing his presidential concession speech in 2000, after the Supreme Court stopped Florida’s recount, he turned to Goodwin, still known as one of the most gifted speechwriters in the Democratic orbit.

While Goodwin’s articles are a window into the inner workings of important presidencies, Kearns Goodwin’s boxes fascinate scholars interested in American history and its writing. His well-organized trove of primary sources for all of his books, including “Team of Rivals” (2005) and “The Bully Pulpit” (2013) are eminently accessible. She saved “all the research and primary sources related to every book I had written,” she said, “from the original idea of ​​how to tell the story, to interviews, to early sketches , primary sources, copies of handwritten letters.”

“Oh, how I love old handwritten letters and diaries,” she enthused. “I feel like I’m looking over the writer’s shoulder. History comes to life!

Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and the author of the upcoming “Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, and the Great Environmental Awakening “.

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Newsrust - US Top News: UT Austin acquires archives that provide insight into the 1960s
UT Austin acquires archives that provide insight into the 1960s
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