LBJ: “I will not seek; I will not accept”

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968Walter Borton, an old Ohio University friend jogged my memory today with a comment on Facebook:

“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Tom Price, holding a small portable radio to his ear, interrupted excitedly to announce that Lyndon Johnson had just withdrawn from the Presidential race.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

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968

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.

Paul Newman 1968

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968The big news was that Paul Newman was coming to the Ohio University campus in January of 1968 to stump for Eugene McCarthy. I covered the event for The Ohio University Post.

Some bios say that Newman was a student at Ohio university and lived in the very same Scott Quadrangle dorm I did. [He couldn’t remember where his room was; I asked.]

Some say he left the school to join the armed services in 1942. He wanted to be a pilot, but washed out because of color blindness. He served as a turret gunner on an Avenger aircraft. Because of a twist of fate – his pilot developed an ear infection and was grounded – he was not on the USS Bunker Hill when it was hit by kamikaze attacks that killed more than 300 sailors.

Was a keg involved in his departure?

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Other bios say that he was invited to leave the university after he rolled a beer keg down Jeff Hill and bounced it off the president’s car. He mentioned “It’s good to be home” in his remarks, but he did not bring up anything about an errant beer keg.

Students mobbed the car carrying Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, when they arrived.

Jon Webb doing Hail Mary

Jon Webb covering  Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Jon Webb was the photographer at The Athens Messenger who started the daily picture page. I idolized the guy’s work. Still, it gave me a small amount of pleasure to see him doing a Hail Mary shot, something photographers do when they are out of position or hemmed in and need to try to get SOMETHING.

The story in The Post

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Here is the story that appeared in The OU Post, along with two of my photos:

“It’s good to be home,” Paul Newman said as he walked up to the microphone on the stage of Memorial Auditorium yesterday after being mobbed by students outside.

The former Ohio University student who dropped out of school to join the armed forces in 1942 urged a crowd of some 3000 students to make “a rich physical commitment” to the presidential candidate of their choice.

Young people are McCarthy’s capital

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968Urging the crowd to help campaign for Eugene McCarthy in Indiana this weekend, Newman said, “We can’t afford to pay your way like some of the other candidates. We don’t have the capital – you young people are McCarthy’s capital.”

Newman at Press conference

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968In a press conference, Newman said he supports the Minnesota senator because “his credentials are better than anyone else and he has demonstrated his courage.”

“McCarthy rises above politics to become a statesman. He deals with things on a higher level: an intellectual strategy, not just a political strategy,” the actor continued.

Wanted to say he was part of his time

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968“I don’t know if my campaign will persuade anyone, but that’s not going to stop me,” he said. “I have six kids and I don’t want them to say I was never part of my time.”

Newman, who also visited the Ohio State and University of Cincinnati campuses yesterday, was presented with an Ohio University sweatshirt by students in the crowd.

A Harry & Son encounter

Paul Newman at OU 01-03-1968

For the record, I don’t recognize Mr. Cool, the photographer on the right. He wasn’t on the staff of the newspapers nor yearbook. He must have been one of the Fine Arts students.

I brought up another Paul Newman anecdote when I wrote his obit on my bike blog.

Newman arrived in Lake Worth, Florida, to film Harry & Son in 1984. I went to the set, not to take pictures, but to ask the movie crew if they could switch to a different two-way radio frequency because it was interfering with The Palm Beach Post’s radio system. That was a particular problem that morning because a an airliner inbound to Palm Beach International Airport had declared a mechanical emergency. The reporters and photographers scrambling to get into position were being overridden by the movie crew.

It happened because the FCC assigned newspapers and movie crews a shared group of frequencies in the 173 MHz range. Movie companies would frequently rent their radios from a Ft. Lauderdale company and pick a channel at random. In this case, they grabbed 173.275, which we used.

They were nice enough to switch when I pointed it out. (The plane landed safely, by the way. It was a faulty indicator light in the cockpit.)

 Paul Newman photo gallery

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