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Opinion — Lady Bird Johnson helped beautify America

When we observe the environment around us nature unfolds a beautiful canvas of awe and wonder. The aesthetics involve more than just planting flowers or trees. Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson and the proponents of Arbor Day understood that perspective.

We have Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson to thank for the flowers along the highways. The wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson had a goal of preserving historic sites, conservation of natural resources and environmental protection. First Lady Johnson was a visionary in that she believed a vibrant and healthy landscape could transform lives no matter what neighborhood you lived in. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, a beautiful surrounding isn’t about wealth. She wanted to use Washington, D. C. as a springboard for this vision.

In 1964 Lady Bird partnered with environmental advocates and African American leaders to build parks and playgrounds, planting flowers and create open spaces throughout the District of Columbia and the Capitol. First Lady Johnson worked endlessly lobbying to pass the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which was known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.” It preserved the U.S.’s natural beauty by requiring junkyards along the interstate and primary highways be removed or screened as well as limiting the amount of billboards along highways and roads.

In addition, she supported the youth initiative conference on nature’s beauty along with participating in numerous discussions on beautification projects throughout the country. Lady Bird Johnson spearheaded in total 50 major conservation and beautification initiatives including the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and numerous additions to the National Park system, for example the Grand Canyon. On her 70th birthday in 1982 Lady Claudia Bird Johnson along with actress Helen Hayes founded the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center in East Austin, Texas, which preserved and protected native plants and natural landscapes in North America. In fact, she donated 60 acres of land to establish the organization.

Consequently, Arbor Day shares a commonality with the initiatives of Lady Bird Johnson in that preserving nature’s beauty would benefit all mankind. Arbor Day encourages individuals and organizations to plant trees; trees provide clean air for us to breathe, homes for animals, food for both man and animals and beauty to look at. Many countries celebrate it and it’s usually observed in the spring but depending on climate and suitable planting season it may vary.

The first Arbor Day was in a Spanish village of Mondoneda in 1594 where the mayor organized an arbor plantation festival. Subsequently, lime and horse-chestnut trees were planted and a granite marker and bronze plate commemorates the event. In modern times the small Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierre held a festival in 1805 which was led by a local priest with the entire population supporting the effort enthusiastically. This man of God believed that trees provided health, hygiene, decoration and natural beauty.

Fast forward 67 years later on April 10, 1872, an average of one million trees were planted in Nebraska and the first Arbor Day in America was organized by J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, Nebraska at an annual state board of agriculture meeting held in Lincoln. Arbor Day received global response through the efforts of Birdsey Northrop of Connecticut who was inspired by a trip to Japan in 1883 where he gave a speech. Coincidentally, in the same year, the American Forestry Association appointed Northrop as chairman of the Arbor Day Committee to organize it nationwide as well as in Australia, Canada and Europe.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt was urged by Pennsylvania conservationist Major Israel McCreight of DuBois, Pennsylvania, to talk to school children about trees and the destruction of American forests instead of only advocating to businessmen and those in the lumber industry about the effort.

On April 15, 1907 President Roosevelt issued an Arbor Day proclamation to the school children of the United States stressing the importance of forestry and trees which was to be taught in schools. I am grateful that many individuals and organizations plant trees in memory of someone that has died.

Ultimately, there is a parallel comparison to Lady Bird Johnson’s dedication of aesthetic beauty and the Arbor Day conservation of trees and the beauty they give and the benefits to our overall health. God has given us this majestic land filled with beauty and awe. Let’s roll up our sleeves and plant a flower and a tree.

Judy Moore is a tour guide at The Central High Museum and can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com. She lives in Wylliesburg.