Curators of Bush Library at SMU can learn from history of LBJ museum

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Looking back almost 40 years, the director of Texas' first presidential library says he should have been tougher on Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Harry Middleton, 86, said he and fellow staffers in the 1971 opening of the LBJ museum at the University of Texas at Austin were too close to the former president to give a highly critical account of the controversies that defined his tenure – especially the Vietnam War.

It wasn't until 1982, when historians and other outside experts helped redesign the museum, that it fully explored how the war split the country.

"We really wanted to do a good job, but we also surely wanted to make sure it was OK with him," he said.

The second effort, made after LBJ died, was more objective than the first, Mr. Middleton said, convincing him that an advisory panel should have been used at the start.

The evolution of the LBJ library frames the task ahead for curators of the President Bush library at SMU in Dallas as they shape the legacy of another wartime president about to leave office with low approval ratings.

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