“Forty eight years ago today – I was in the front row of a student government meeting upstairs in Baker Center at Ohio University – I think Rita Corriel was presiding and suddenly from the back of the room, if memory serves, Tom Price, holding a small portable radio to his ear, interrupted excitedly to announce that Lyndon Johnson had just withdrawn from the Presidential race. I’m not sure what happened next but I suspect we recessed to the Union bar & grill to drink.”
OU Post reporter Carol Towarnicky chimed in: “From a different angle: While you were all at the Student Government meeting — what was the issue that had everyone there? — I was in The Post office with, I think, one other person and we were listening to LBJ’s speech. When he said, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept” I screamed. Then I didn’t know what to do because there was no way to reach people, but it turns out everyone knew anyway. What an exciting time putting out the paper that night.”
Post editor Bill Sievert remembers it this way: “Those of us Posties who were present (and most of the people in the room) cheered Tom Price’s announcement. Then we finished covering the meeting and went back and joined Carol Towarnicky in putting out the paper. It was hard work but somebody had to do it. (We drank much, much later in the night.) Tagging Ken Steinhoff; he’ll remember if he took the picture. He has a photographic memory.”
How I remember it
My perspective: Nobody knew what Johnson was going to speak about on that March 31 evening. The speech started off sounding like he was positioning himself to steal thunder from challengers Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy by announcing measures they had been advocating, demonstrating that his was the power to act, while his critics had only the power to propose, wrote The New York Times.
I’m not sure where this group was watching the speech on a TV. It could have been in the Scott Quadrangle dorm lounge where I lived, or it might have been in the Baker Center Student Union, where The Post had its offices in the basement. I shot a few half-hearted frames early in the speech, even resorting to my fisheye lens, signalling that I wasn’t expecting much to happen. When I blew up one frame, I’m pretty sure I saw my future Athens Messenger colleague Bob Rogers lolling in the doorway, equally as disinterested in what was happening as I was.
When LBJ said, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” there was an audible gasp in the room. If I captured any emotion, it’s on film that I haven’t found yet. Right after he spoke those words, I looked over at a calendar, thinking, “Surely the President of the United States won’t follow that up by saying ‘April Fool!”
It was March 31, not April First, and, no, he wasn’t kidding.