Lady Bird Johnson sitting at the table in the White House in June 1964.

'First Ladies' recap: Lady Bird Johnson was a moral compass for her husband -- and for the country

Updated 12:04 AM ET, Mon November 23, 2020

Kate Andersen Brower is author of "The Residence," "First Women," "Team Of Five" and "First In Line," and consultant on the CNN Original Series "First Ladies," now on CNNgo. Kate Bennett is a White House correspondent for CNN. The views expressed here are their own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)Lady Bird Johnson moved into a White House in mourning after President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Black cloth hung over chandeliers, windows and doorways, and Kennedy staffers sobbed in the mansion's hallways.

This was obviously not how Lady Bird wanted to become first lady. Yet over the five years of her husband Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, she would defy all expectations.
Lady Bird Johnson in 1963.
As first lady, Lady Bird helped create Head Start for preschool-aged children from low-income families, and she famously "beautified" America's roadways as the guiding force behind 1965's Highway Beautification Act. But it was her determination to always speak up for what was right, even if it put her own life at risk, that has made her one of the most effective first ladies in American history.
Lady Bird was born Claudia Alta Taylor in 1912. She grew up wealthy in a small East Texas town in a country mansion that was built by slaves. From the moment she met and married Lyndon Baines Johnson, a young congressional aide, in 1934, it was clear which roles each would play in their political partnership. She was steady where he was unpredictable, and she was as steadfast in the face of his turbulent moods as she was in her own convictions.
President Johnson sits on a porch swing with First Lady Lady Bird following his landslide election win.
When Lady Bird traveled through the South, she would refuse to stay in hotels that wouldn't accept the family's African American cook because of the color of her skin. And when LBJ ran for president in 1964, facing deep resentment from Southern Democrats for enacting that year's Civil Rights Act, Lady Bird traveled nearly 2,000 miles across eight states urging Southerners to accept the end of Jim Crow.
Lady Bird was one of the major reasons for her husband's victory that year, and she understood the complexities of her role. She said that a first lady needs to be a "showman and a salesman; a clotheshorse and a publicity sounding board with a good heart and a real interest in the folks" from all over the country, rich and poor. Lady Bird was that, and so much more.
Below, join us for a "First Ladies" viewing party as we break down seven of our favorite moments and key takeaways from this episode.

1. 'All the stars out of the skies'

Kate Andersen Brower: I love that we see both of the Johnson daughters in this episode. I've interviewed them and so enjoyed talking to them. They were young women when their father became president -- Lynda was 19, and Luci was 16 -- so they can shed light on his presidency in a very real way.
Kate Bennett: And they probably know everything! Lady Bird is again one of those first ladies who really had a lot on her plate during her tenure; the country was going through massive change.
Brower: Absolutely. LBJ would never have been president without her grit, determination and emotional support.
Can you imagine what she went through being thrust into the role of first lady because of a national tragedy? Lady Bird was in the Dallas motorcade with the Kennedys; she saw the assassination unfold and realized the impossible position her family was suddenly pushed into.
Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963.