In 1938, a young congressman named Lyndon Johnson stretched the limits of his authority and risked his political career to provide American sanctuary for hundreds of European Jews threatened by the Nazis. “Operation Texas,” which the famously gregarious Johnson never bragged about, was an early indication of the politician’s commitment to justice and equality.
As President, Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, finally ending 44 years of discriminatory quotas which kept Jews and others trapped in Europe while a genocide against them ensued.
The Holocaust Museum Houston created the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in 1994 to honor individuals and organizations who have taken a stand against injustice, hatred and prejudice, and used their skills and influence to make a better world for all people. On Tuesday May 7, before an audience of more than 900 at the Hilton Americas-Houston, HIAS and BakerRipley, an organization that has helped low-income families and individuals in the Houston area since 1907, were awarded the 2019 LBJ Moral Courage Awards.
After receiving the award, HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said, “It is a great honor for me to accept this award on behalf of HIAS, because it is from the Holocaust Museum Houston, because it is named for LBJ, whom all of us at HIAS consider to be a hero, and because it is an award for moral courage.”
“The LBJ Moral Courage Awards are particularly special this year as we honor two organizations that have had a huge impact on refugees and immigrants," said Benjamin Warren, Chair, Holocaust Museum Houston. "Both HIAS and BakerRipley exemplify the Museum’s mission of education, action and respect, and their vital work has created a better society by helping millions of people, both locally and globally.”
Closing the evening, Luci Baines Johnson, Lyndon Johnson's daugher said, "It is so right for me to stand with you now to celebrate the Moral Courage of HIAS and Baker Ripley. It too is personal and the “right thing to do.” Since its inception, HIAS has helped 4.5 million refugees and asylum seekers escape violence and persecution and rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Since the horror of the Holocaust these skills and commitment have never been more needed."
Previous recipients of the Moral Courage award have included President George W. Bush, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, activist and actress Mia Farrow; Sen. John McCain; Journalist Daniel Pearl; filmmaker Steven Spielberg; and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, among others.