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Thursday, Dec 25, 2014

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On May 7, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at noon from the West Portico of Memorial Auditorium on Ohio University's 160th anniversary.

Photo courtesy of: University Archives

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President Barack Obama's campaign trail made its way to Ohio University's College Gate on Oct. 17, 2012.

Photographer: Brien Vincent

Johnson rides into town

OHIO students and community members lined the streets to welcome President Lyndon B. Johnson, who rolled into town in an open convertible.

Photo courtesy of: University Archives

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Obama rally conjures up memories for attendees of OHIO's last presidential visit

Nearly 50 years later, area residents encounter another president on College Green


Wednesday's speech by President Barack Obama comes nearly 50 years following Ohio University's last presidential visit by former President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 7, 1964.

Johnson spoke at noon from the West Portico of Memorial Auditorium on Ohio University's 160th anniversary. It was the fourth speech of 10 he delivered that day, focusing on his War on Poverty, announced in January of that year.

"This is the world that waits for you. Reach out for it now. Join the fight to finish the unfinished work in your own land and in the rest of the world. And I know, as surely as God gives us the right to know what's right, that you will succeed," Johnson told the sea of Ohio University students packed onto College Green on the pristine spring day.

Joanne Prisley, area resident and former assistant dean of women at Ohio University, was among the attendees that day.

Prisley said while today's presidential rally has parallels to Johnson's visit, the political climate was much different on campus. Prior to the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971—which lowered the voting age to 18—most college students did not yet have the right to vote. And the political fervor of the late-1960s had yet to set in.

"In '64, we were not yet into all of the demonstrations and student unrest around here … We were still worrying about J-prom and Homecoming and such," Prisley said.

Riding on the heels of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, Johnson's visit had people on edge, though security did not reflect those concerns, Prisley added.

"Back in those days, people didn't fuss so much about security … There was no ticket to get to the campus. People lined the streets. He was in an open (convertible)," she said.

Even with today's security checkpoints and road closures, many of those who lived through the assassinations of the 1960s couldn't help but worry, according to Assistant Dean of OHIO's Honors
Tutorial College Jan Hodson.

"Today older people like me were kind of quietly saying to each other 'I hope nothing happens.' … I think my generation was really struck by all those assassinations that happened when we were young, and we sort of associate a presidential visit, a political visit, with all the things that could go wrong," she explained.

For Hodson, who helped welcome Johnson to Athens as a 12-year-old member of the Glouster High School marching band, the colors of Johnson's visit are still vivid.

"I can close my eyes right now and see exactly what I saw that day—the silver of his hair, and his face was really red and ruddy and tan," Hodson said. "Of course, the colors do stand out because we were only used to seeing everything in black and white."

Others, like Bill Martin, who heralded Johnson's arrival with the Jackson High School marching band, were less star struck by the encounter.

"That's when Appalachian became a minority. Lyndon said so in his speech. We didn't know we were poor until Lyndon told us we were," said Martin, while soaking in Wednesday's Obama rally. "We had mixed feelings about being called poor because like everybody else, we were a proud people. But I think Lyndon was probably right … and that was the beginning of Appalachian assistance," he added.

Though the differences of the days are marked, Prisley said the heightened sense of political activism on modern-day campuses is a good thing.

"Now you have young people extremely active in politics – both parties. … And they're very adept at what they do," she said.