Sam and Eliza Johnson’s youngest daughter was Jessie, my grandmother. Jessie was born in 1887, and of course I only knew her in the last 20 or so years of her life, and the first 20 or so years of my life. Nevertheless, she had a great influence upon me in those formative years.
She was always staunch and determined in her attendance at all Christadelphian meetings. Although she was a Berean Christadelphian, she always made a point of attending all Central and Unamended gatherings within driving distance. After all, she had known many of the brothers and sisters, of all fellowships, before the divisions had even happened. Later on, when I had a driver’s license, she enlisted me to drive her to all the gatherings. As my grandmother’s chauffeur, I met and listened to the best of visiting Central Christadelphian speakers, as well as the best of visiting Unamended speakers too — including several generations of the Zilmer clan, considered by many to be the first family of North American Christadelphians.
Grandma was also a voracious reader, a fierce defender of the faith, outspoken in all her opinions. I remember as a child, being somewhat embarrassed during lectures and exhortations, because Grandma would speak up and audibly recite along with the speaker whatever Bible verse he was quoting. And occasionally she would interject a loud “Amen!” as well. I still have, today, many of her Christadelphian books, with her name in the front, and her notes in the margins, and various passages boldly underlined. And when Grandma underlined something in her books, she never underlined it lightly. It was always boldly underlined!
After Lyndon’s mother, Rebekah Johnson, died in 1958 and his Aunt Frank died in 1961, Lyndon drew particularly close once again to my grandmother, his “Aunt Jessie”. She had been near him, and taken care of him often, in his very earliest years, when she was still a young single woman living practically next door to her brother Sam, Jr., Rebekah, and Lyndon. Also, because Rebekah was a city girl when she married Sam, and unused to the life of a farmer’s wife, her sister-in-law Jessie (single at the time) was nearby and often available to help her. Jessie would do chores around the farmhouse, and also teach Rebekah what she needed to know in her new role — things like caring for a garden and farm animals, and all the intricacies of running a household in a Hill Country community and a country with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and few modern conveniences. As Grandma would tell us, “When you feed a little kid, bathe him, change his diapers, and put him to bed, all that sort of thing — it’s hard to think of him as anything more than a barefoot Hill Country boy — no matter what else he grows up to be!”
Even in his years as President, when he was perhaps the most powerful man in the world, Lyndon would often talk with his “Aunt Jessie”. He would tease her playfully about her unwillingness to vote for him, but she always said, “Lyndon, I love you very much, but I will only vote for Jesus Christ, and you know it!” For her part, she would still continue to remind him — vigorously — of what he had learned as a child and a young man: “Always take care of the Jews; they are God’s people!”
His fondness for her was shown when he became President upon the death of John Kennedy. Soon thereafter, Lyndon invited his Aunt Jessie to come to Washington, D.C., and live with him and his family in the White House. But she declined, and chose to live very close to her only child, my mother Ruth, and her family — Dad, myself and my younger brother Wesley. Of course, this kept her close to her beloved Christadelphian brothers and sisters in Texas also.
Grandma did accept invitations to visit the White House, as well as an invitation that came her way to visit Israel and meet Prime Minister Golda Meir, the first (and only) woman to lead the State of Israel. But she was always eager to get back home, so she could go the Christadelphian meetings, and not lose touch with her real family and her faith.
Grandma died in 1973, at the age of 86, only a month after her nephew Lyndon died. She was buried in the Johnson Family Cemetery, near him, but also near her own parents and the other Christadelphians now buried there. By now, these include my father, mother and brother also. Many Christadelphians now rest there, awaiting the resurrection. It is a mile or so down the road from the old Christadelphian campground, still in use after more than a century. The old cemetery is the nearest thing I know to holy ground. I visit it often, and listen in hopes of hearing the familiar voices again.
Note: There is a little-known episode in the life of Lyndon Johnson, now called “Operation Texas”, in which he worked diligently to save many European Jews out of a Nazi-threatened Europe before World War II began. This is discussed in some detail in my book, A Bible Journal, in the chapter entitled “Lyndon Johnson and the Jews”, pages 167-173. A Bible Journal may be ordered from The Christadelphian Tidings, http://www.tidings.org.
To be continued.
This post is part of a series authored by brother George Booker. Click here to see all previous posts in the series.
Note: This post has been updated – see footnotes for more information.
This is the story of a United States President who was raised amongst a Christadelphian family and community and was impressed with a love of the Jews as a child and later in life, to the degree that he helped change the course of Israel’s history in one of Israel’s darkest hours.
US President ‘Lyndon Johnson’ was the 36th President of the USA, and was in power during Israel’s Six Day War.
Johnson was distinctly known for his extensive work in assisting the Jews during his various role in government and ultimately as President.
It has been said that both his Aunt – Sister Jessie Johnson Hatcher and his grandparents were very influential in his life and would always remind him, “Watch the Jews. Take care of them any way you can. They’re God’s chosen people.”
Four years into Johnson’s administration, five Arab states were preparing to go to war with Israel, and were backed by an additional nine Arab powers who were also financing and providing military support.
On the eve of the war, Egypt had constructed fortified defenses, and massed approximately 100,000 troops in the Sinai. These forces had 950 tanks, 1,100 APCs, and more than 1,000 artillery pieces. Syria ’s army had a total strength of 75,000 and amassed them along the Syrian border. Jordan ’s army had 55,000 troopsand 300 tanks along the Jordanian border.
As the Six Day War started, here is a glimpse of what Israel was up against:
5+9 Arab States
As the Arab forces massed on Israels borders, Israel begun the war through a preemptive strike. The Arabs responded by attacking Israel on all fronts, yet despite the odds, the outcome of the war was nothing short of remarkable.
With six days, Israels seemingly inferior military decisively won the war and captured the following territory from the Arab states:
452 Arab warplanes were destroyed compared to only 46 Israeli warplanes.
It was a war which defied any rational expectation causing even secular writers to call it a “miracle”. The ‘Jewish observer’ commented:
“Seven days ago, we wrote that the Jewish people cannot rely on miracles. But what has happened since then cannot be comprehended in any other terms.”
How did Sister Jessie Johnson Hatcher contribute to this outcome?
It was from her that President Johnson had developed a strong loyalty to Israel and this is evident from his actions during the war and also through the statements of other political observers after the war.
As early as two weeks prior to the Six Day War, President Johnson, disregarded advice from both the US State Department and Pentagon, and secretly authorized the supply of military hardware to Israel by air, even when an embargo on weapons shipments had been placed on the Middle East.
“When war appeared imminent in 1967 Johnson warned Israel that the U.S. could not provide support if it attacked first but he subsequently disregarded that statement, which had probably been made for the sake of diplomacy, and made certain that military equipment was delivered to Israel to ensure its survival.”
Seven months after the War, on Jan. 7, 1968, President Johnson toasted Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, saying:
“Welcome to our family table. All Americans and all Israelis-know… that none… can ever live by bread alone.
One of your ancestors said it for all men almost 2,000 years ago… for peace it is written, ‘pursue it’. That is our intention in the Middle East… to pursue peace…”
If we are wise, if we are fortunate, if we work together – perhaps our Nation and all nations may know the joys of that promise God once made about the children of Israel:
‘I will make a covenant of peace with them… it shall be an everlasting covenant.’”
Did Johnson learn about this covenant in the Christadelphian Sunday School that he attended? – An interesting thought.
It might seem quick to attribute his political decisions to the influence of his Aunt, so it is appropriate to ask; how much of his decisions were actually impacted by the influence of his Aunt?
The effect of religion on Johnson’s pro-Israel stance is not just a Christadelphian opinion and has been acknowledged by political observers including Michael Oren, an Israeli Ambassador to the United States, who has written of the influence of Johnson’s grandfather and aunt. Oren contends that it was Johnson’s religious outlook that emboldened him to disregard State Department advice that providing support for Israel would alienate the Arabs and jeopardize oil supplies”
1938 saw the beginning of World War 2 instigated by the Nazi regime. As Nazi persecution increased in Germany and eventually across Europe, the Jews who lived in those regions began to look for places of refuge elsewhere. This is prophesied in part in Jeremiah 16:15-16
But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.
The Fishers of verse 16 can be read as the Zionist movement which attracted many Jews to the establishment of a homeland in Israel, and the Hunters could be read as the Nazis who specifically targeted the Jews, hunting them down throughout Europe. The latter was forceful, the earlier was persuasive, but they both caused the Jews to seek a homeland of their own.
It was around this time in 1938, that Johnson was a United States Congressman and in his capacity he worked covertly in an operation called “Operation Texas” to establish a refuge in Texas for European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Wikipedia says the following:
In part, Johnson was influenced in his attitude towards the Jews by the religious beliefs that his family, especially his grandfather (Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr.), who was a member of the Christadelphian church, shared with him.Christadelphians believe that the Jews are God’s chosen people…
In reference to Operation Texas, Texas historian James M. Smallwood commented that LBJ “apparently took seriously his grandfather’s charge.”
President Johnson was just one individual who was impacted by the example and views of family or friends who were Christadelphians.
Others in modern history include Sir. Winston Churchill – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WW2, Arthur Balfour – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the early 1900’s, Stephen Harper – recent Prime Minster of Canada, also had associations with Christadelphians which supported and/or influenced their strong pro-Israel policy stance.
Update: It has come to light after having published this post that some of the initial information was incorrect. It is true that President Johnson’s Aunt, Sister ‘Jessie’ was an influence during his childhood and was still around to remind him of the importance of the Jews and the state of Israel in God’s plan during his presidency, but she didn’t directly raise him as suggested earlier. The post has since been updated and republished.