• U.S.

The Vice-Presidency: All the Way with LBJ.

4 minute read

By general agreement, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson can outtalk any other ten Texans with one tongue tied behind his cheek—and last week, deep in the heart of Africa, he applied his skill on an international scale. Accompanied by his wife Lady Bird, Johnson turned up in Senegal to represent the U.S. at the first anniversary of the nation’s independence. When he left a few days later, some tens of thousands of delighted Senegalese seemed ready to go all the way with L.B.J.

While a 17-member Soviet delegation sulked in its suites, Lyndon and Lady

Bird talked, smiled and handclasped their way through the Nebraska-sized country. They surprised everybody by getting up at 4:30 one morning and driving out of Dakar into the countryside. At the fishing town of Kayar, where the per capita income is $100, the Vice President held out hope: “The rural per capita income of Texas was only $180 in 1930, and today it is $1,800.” Cried Lady Bird, catching sight of baskets piled high with peanuts: “Why it’s just like Texas!”

Moments later, hurrying down the dusty street, she was followed by a swarm of flies and by a clatter of little girls who pleaded: “Juste cinq francs, madame!” Lady Bird bravely tried to show admiration for Kayar’s tiny, windowless, wooden shacks and the village sewing machine, but as she confessed later: “What bothered me most was the fact that I knew we were leaving soon, but these people would have to go on living with these flies and in this poverty.”

Farm Boy. While his doctor, appalled by the leprosy, tuberculosis, syphilis and jaundice rates, watched anxiously, Lyndon back-patted his way through the village crowds. Entering a hovel where fly-covered dried fish and a few tins were on display, he quipped, “Is this the supermarket?” To every family accompanied by children, he announced proudly that he and Lady Bird have a couple of teen-age daughters back home. When the natives expressed their thanks for his visit, L.B.J. allowed, “This is communication like in the garment district in New York or in Johnson City, Texas.”

To Kayar’s berobed village chief, Gurtil N’Doye, Lyndon said: “I came to Dakar for Independence Day festivities because of President Kennedy’s deep interest in Africa, but I came to Kayar because I was a farm boy, too, in Texas. It’s a long way from Texas to Kayar, but we both produce peanuts and both want the same thing: a higher standard of living for the people.” The old chief, proud of the fact that such important visitors had come to his out-of-the-way village, beamed his thanks, suggested that perhaps President Kennedy could send over a few outboard motors for the community fishing boats. L.B.J. promised at least to send him a Johnson-motor for his own use.

The Rite Thing. In Dakar, the Senegalese decked themselves out in their holiday best for the festivities. With truckloads of lepers spirited out of town for the occasion, gay crowds of men and women in tunics and long print gowns gathered in the streets to watch the Americans drive by. At one point, Lyndon stopped to perform the politician’s solemn rite of addressing himself to a babe in arms. “Now that Senegal is independent, every boy has a chance to grow up and become President.” With that, he gave the baby a pen inscribed “Lyndon B. Johnson”; it looked good, so the infant tried to eat it.

Always, Lyndon was ready with the full phrase. “I have observed with pride,” he said in Dakar, “what you have produced. But what has impressed me most was the expression on your faces of hope, vision and desire for all of us to work together to make man’s lot more productive, while always conscious of social justice.” Back home, the New York Herald Tribune said: “If the Senegalese can get all that in their facial expressions, the U.N. ought to be able to do away with simultaneous translation. Just conduct its debates in pantomime.” Before he left the country, Johnson and Senegalese Premier Mamadou Dia discussed the possibility of U.S. help with a TVA-style project on the Senegal River.

On their way home, the Johnsons stopped off in Geneva and in Paris—where a 15-nation NATO honor guard put on a snappy welcome that included a band rendition of Deep in the Heart of Texas. But it was from his Senegal visit that Lyndon Johnson could take the greatest satisfaction: he had left behind him a ten-gallon hatful of plain old Texas-style good will.

-No kin.

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