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An Itch for Politics: Breaking up a Protest in Unconventional Fashion

Politics can be a tough, even nasty business. James Jones describes an incident before he joined the Foreign Service when he worked as part of the advance team for Lady Bird Johnson and how one colleague had an unusual idea to dissuade unfriendly protesters.

He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy ADST starting in September 2002.

Read other Humorous Moments or about LBJ.


“The more you itch, the more you scratch”

JONES: I graduated in July of ’64, from law school. Tommy Boggs was my closest friend in law school. His father was Hale Boggs, Whip of the House at the time [also father of NPR correspondent Cokie Roberts]. Tommy introduced me to Vice-President Johnson. The Johnsons and the Boggses were close family friends.

Through that I had done a little bit of what they call “advance work” for Vice-President Johnson and I did one advance when he became president, up to New York to the garment district….

I got a call in the summer, maybe July of 1964, about the time I was graduating, finishing my coursework at Georgetown. It was from Tommy, saying, “Would you like to advance a trip for Mrs. Johnson?”

And I said, “Sure.”

We had a meeting at the Executive Office Building. Because of the civil rights legislation, it was decided in the White House that President Johnson would not be the right one to campaign in the South. Therefore, the campaign in the South would be sort of led by Lady Bird Johnson, who was from Alabama, and Southerners treat women courteously regardless of their political philosophies. So it was decided to put together an old-fashioned Harry Truman kind of whistle stop train trip.

From Washington to New Orleans with about 34 stops along the way over a four-day period, I guess it was. And they had no advance people for this. So one vacuum after another developed and I ended up being in charge of it. So I had to pull the advance team together, assign them, and we worked a month trying to pull this off.…

Each night, I had a series of telephone calls to each one of the advance persons. Each night, there was a report as to where they were, who they got to turn out the crowds, what bands, what parents groups, the whole thing….

I remember in Charleston, South Carolina we were going to get off the train and go into the city park and have a rally, a night rally. Opponents had organized a bunch of demonstrators against Mrs. Johnson and our advance man was very clever.

It was a hot night. It must have been September, it was hot and sultry. He goes down and buys a lot of itching powder and goes through the crowd of demonstrators. Just as they’re putting their signs up he goes through and just sprinkles itching power.

Of course, the more you itch, the more you scratch, the worse it gets. All the signs were down. Nobody knew we had a demonstration against us!