The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson

The transcripts from the Johnson administration in the Presidential Recordings Digital Edition comprise converted versions of volumes originally published in print by W. W. Norton as well as born-digital versions published by Rotunda and created by the editors and researchers at the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program. Currently, they are grouped into three different series: eight chronological volumes of transcripts covering Johnson’s telephone conversations from 22 November 1963 through 4 July 1964; three thematic volumes of transcripts on Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty; and a volume of the more significant transcripts from the tumultuous year of 1968.

  • Read the Preface to the Norton LBJ volumes, by David Shreve
  • Read the Introduction to the PRDE LBJ volumes, by David G. Coleman


  1. The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power
  2. Toward the Great Society
  3. Mississippi Burning and the Passage of the Civil Rights Act
  4. Johnson and Civil Rights
  5. Vietnam
  6. The War on Poverty
  7. The Election of 1964
  8. Johnson Telephone Tapes: 1968

The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power

These three volumes cover the first 65 hours of the nearly 800 hours of Lyndon Johnson’s White House recordings. The Johnson of these first tapes is quickly learning how to become president. Despite the newness of the job, Johnson leaves no doubt that he intends to be much more than a caretaker. At home, he pushes forward a liberal civil rights agenda, launches a war on poverty, brokers compromises on contentious legislation, and reacts to a scandal involving a former aide—all while forcing through one of the largest tax cuts in U.S. history and leading a single-minded drive to control the federal budget. Abroad, he courts favor from Western European leaders, adjusts to the rising nationalism in the developing world, and talks peace with the Soviets. These first months also bring unexpected challenges. Johnson soon confronts a coup in Vietnam, a bloody anti-American riot in Panama, and a near civil war in Cyprus.

Volume One, 22 November 1963 – 30 November 1963, ed. Max Holland

Read the Editor’s Introduction

This volume begins just before the Kennedy assassination on 22 November 1963, with transcripts of tapes that document the movements of Air Force One at Dallas’s Love Field. Transcripts of conversations between Washington and the cockpit of an airplane carrying the Kennedy Cabinet to Tokyo then reveal the shock as news of Kennedy’s death spreads and the transition to a new government begins. Finally, this volume covers the dramatic events of Johnson’s first nine days as an accidental president.

Volume Two, December 1963, ed. Robert David Johnson and David Shreve

This volumes opens on the first day of December as Johnson moves forward with his national call to “Let Us Continue” and covers the entire month before ending with Johnson on holiday at his Texas ranch.

Volume Three, January 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson

This volume begins with President Johnson enjoying a relaxing New Year’s Day at home along the Pedernales River and spans the entire month of January, one of the most heavily recorded and most intense months of his presidency. During this month, the post-assassination grace period effectively ends, and Johnson struggles to make the presidency his own.

Toward the Great Society

These three volumes consist of approximately 80 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes has begun to settle into his new role as president, commanding negotiations with Congress, engaging world leaders, and reshaping the administration in his own image. While continuing to work toward the passage of the landmark civil rights bill amid a southern filibuster, Johnson also manages the progress of legislation authorizing an unprecedented federal attack on poverty and begins preparations for his upcoming fall presidential campaign. The recordings also provide unparalleled insights into Johnson’s growing concerns and private doubts about the U.S. military engagement in Southeast Asia.

Volume Four, 1 February 1964 – 8 March 1964, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany

Volume Five, 9 March 1964 – 13 April 1964, ed. David Shreve and Robert David Johnson

Volume Six, 14 April 1964 – 31 May 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

Mississippi Burning and the Passage of the Civil Rights Act

These two volumes focus on 34 critical days in Johnson’s presidency—1 June 1964 to 4 July 1964—and consist of approximately 33 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes makes a seminal contribution to American history by championing the passage of the Civil Rights Act, continues to struggle with America’s course in Vietnam, and faces a developing crisis in Mississippi that tests his commitment to civil rights and stretches his political skills to their limits.

Volume Seven, 1 June 1964 – 22 June 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

This volume opens on the first day of June, as the Senate takes a key step toward closing debate on the civil rights bill—and toward its eventual passage. The volume wraps up on 22 June with the ominous announcement that three civil rights workers have disappeared in Mississippi.

Volume Eight, 23 June 1964 – 4 July 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and David C. Carter

This volume opens on 23 June with the White House in full crisis. Scrambling to react to the disappearance and presumed murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, LBJ tapes more on that day than on any other in his presidency. As the mystery in Mississippi deepens over the next two weeks, Johnson puts the finishing touches on the Civil Rights Act, signing it on 2 July. The volume closes on Independence Day as Johnson basks in triumph with old friends at his Texas ranch.

Johnson and Civil Rights

Within PRDE lies a powerful two-million-word narrative of the American presidency, race relations, and the civil rights movement from 1962 to 1968. The 2018 publication of Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights, Volume 2 and John F. Kennedy and Civil Rights, 1963 (upcoming, Summer 2018) completes a multivolume series that examines how two American presidents managed era-defining racial crises and passed landmark legislation, while confronting divisive civil disorders and a violent campaign of southern white supremacist terrorism. Taken together, these volumes in PRDE provide insightful clues for understanding, in LBJ's words, the "America that is yet to come."

Volume One, 6 July 1964 – 5 November 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany

This volume documents almost 200 presidential conversations involving significant discussions of race, politics, and the civil rights movement during the summer and fall of 1964. With a few notable exceptions, all of these conversations take place over the telephone, with President Johnson usually speaking either at the White House or the LBJ Ranch in Texas. These calls occur generally in three chronological periods. For July and early August 1964, the tapes tend to archive Johnson's responses to white anti-civil rights violence in Mississippi and Georgia, and to civil disorders in New York City and several other northeastern cities. From early August to early September, they focus on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenge and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final section of recordings, the smallest in size, cover aspects of the presidential campaign from the end of August to the election in early November.

Volume Two, 5 November 1964 – 25 December 1968, ed. Kent B. Germany

This volume picks up LBJ's once-secret civil rights story on the day after his 1964 election and carries it to the end of his presidency. Forming a template for how an American president managed profound domestic crises and passed landmark legislation, it puts a reader directly into some of the most pivotal moments of the civil rights movement: the Selma to Montgomery march, the fight for the Voting Rights Act, and the violent campaign of southern white terrorism against civil rights activists.

Spanning a chaotic four years, this volume explores the President's responses to civil disorders in Watts, Detroit, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.—three of which required a U.S. Army deployment. It also documents Johnson's attempts to rebuild the Democratic Party for a post–Jim Crow South, to stop warrantless wiretapping, and to appoint more African Americans to high-level positions, including Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, Johnson's recorded conversations offer a personal history of 1960s politics, detailing his complex relationships with several figures, including Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Abe Fortas, and dozens of other high-level officials.

Vietnam, ed. David G. Coleman, Ken Hughes, and Marc J. Selverstone

The onset of the American war in Vietnam, which was at its most violent between 1965 and 1973, is the subject of these annotated transcripts. Covering the period July 1964 through July1965, these transcripts highlight some of the most consequential developments in the conflict, transforming what had been a U.S. military assistance and advisory mission into a full-scale American war. From the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964 to Johnson’s announcement in July 1965 of major new combat deployments, these months span congressional authorization for military action as well as the Americanization of the conflict. In between lie developments of increasingly greater significance, including the decision to deploy the Marines and the shift from defensive to offensive operations.

The War on Poverty, ed. Guian A. McKee

Read the Editor’s Introduction

Volume One

This volume, which includes all of Johnson’s recorded conversations about the War on Poverty during the second half of 1964, traces Johnson’s intense effort to pass the economic opportunity bill. Although it is primarily a record of the President’s attempt to lobby, negotiate, and cajole Congress toward this end, it captures dimensions of Johnson’s personality, political style, and policy views that would eventually shape his management of the War on Poverty—and his presidency. Through these recorded conversations, listeners gain a sense of Johnson’s famous skill as a legislative tactician and of his ability as a deal maker and a flatterer who understood the ways of Washington, and especially of Congress, at an intimate level. Gradually, though, something else builds through the recordings: a sense of what Johnson actually thought he was doing in implementing an unprecedented federal initiative to address the problem of lingering poverty amidst the broad prosperity of the post–World War II United States. We gain, as we can from no other source, a new understanding of what Lyndon Johnson actually believed.

Volume Two

The second volume in PRDE’s War on Poverty series allows readers to trace the implementation of this core piece of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Covering the period from January 1965 to December 1968, the volume traces Johnson’s continual struggle during these years to control both the political and policy dimensions of the War on Poverty. The volume highlights in particular Johnson’s frequent frustration with the Community Action Program and its mandate to insure the “maximum feasible participation” of the poor in planning and implementing program activities. Even more powerful is Johnson’s concern about the political threat posed by Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other Senate liberals, who sought to use the limitations of the War on Poverty as a rationale for a more expansive effort to confront poverty and racism in the United States—and potentially, as the basis for a Kennedy run for the presidency. The volume thus presents the rare spectacle of a president opposing additional funding for one of the signature programs of his own administration. The War on Poverty transcripts offer readers a firsthand view of the challenges facing an ambitious but embattled president struggling to implement an unprecedented but contested domestic policy initiative.

The Election of 1964, Volume 1, ed. Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone

This collection of roughly 240 conversations traces the efforts of President Lyndon B. Johnson to win the White House in November 1964. Having assumed the presidency upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and then enacted key elements of Kennedy’s legislative agenda the following year, Johnson sought to capture the Oval Office in his own right. These conversations highlight the path he took toward that goal, as well as his efforts to build his party’s majorities in Congress and to elect Democrats to statehouses and governorships around the country.

Covering a fifteen-week period from July through October 1964, the conversations in this release illuminate Johnson’s thinking on a range of subjects central to the election and American politics. These include the role of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in the upcoming campaign, the selection of a vice presidential running mate for the Democratic ticket, and machinations surrounding the Democratic convention in Atlantic City, as well as broader strategic concerns related to the campaign against Arizona senator Barry M. Goldwater Sr., the Republican candidate for president. Johnson weighed these considerations against the backdrop of several developments in foreign and domestic affairs, including an escalating war in Vietnam, a newly won victory for civil rights, an emerging war on poverty, and several political scandals—any one of which posed a threat to Johnson’s electoral chances.

This tranche of 120 transcripts includes the first and second of four installments that, collectively, will comprise an initial volume on the 1964 election. A forthcoming second volume, covering the period October 1964 through January 1965, will complete the series.

Johnson Telephone Tapes: 1968, ed. Kent B. Germany, Nicole Hemmer, and Ken Hughes

This collection of roughly 200 conversations highlights some of the most consequential developments in American politics and life during the watershed year of 1968. Offering unique insights into the challenges President Johnson faced in pursuing civil rights legislation, managing the war in Vietnam, and prosecuting his own War on Poverty, these transcripts detail Johnson’s further efforts to stem civil unrest at home, address political developments abroad, and finesse the presidential election that November.

The initial releases in this collection included conversations on the Pueblo incident with North Korea, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the departure of Robert S. McNamara as secretary of defense and the arrival of his replacement Clark M. Clifford, the political challenges posed by senators Eugene McCarthy [DFL–Minnesota] and Robert F. Kennedy [D–New York] for the Democratic presidential nomination, the mounting fiscal worries and tax concerns facing the country, the creation of federal housing policy, and the President’s decision not to seek reelection.

A second release during 2018 touched on the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the social unrest these events engendered; the presidential campaigns of Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, and Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace; Cold War concerns regarding arms control and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia; the turbulence of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and the final weeks of the election campaign, replete with Johnson’s attempts to negotiate a complete bombing halt in Vietnam and to broker peace talks with the Vietnamese Communists, as well as Nixon’s efforts to thwart him in those efforts.

This third release included conversations with Republican presidential candidate Nixon about Vietnam and the upcoming election; discussions with several aides and party officials both prior to and during the Democratic convention in Chicago; party divisions over a Vietnam plank in the Democratic platform; the selection of a vice presidential running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey; the political machinery of the Democratic party; the violence attending the Chicago convention; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia; and domestic concerns such as crime, civil rights, and housing.

The fourth and final release in this collection includes over 80 conversations from the period just prior to and after the 1968 presidential election. These involve some of President Johnson’s most significant exchanges on the emerging bombing halt in Vietnam and attendant efforts to begin peace talks with the Communist Vietnamese. Republican efforts to thwart the commencement of those talks before election day—activities that became known as the Chennault Affair—are also well represented in this release. So, too, are Johnson’s reflections on the election campaign—including action to address the violence at the Democratic convention that August—as are the President’s efforts to shape the direction of the Democratic Party and his conversations with President-elect Richard Nixon, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and other officials about staffing the incoming Nixon administration.