Was Lyndon B. Johnson Actually Jewish?

The president allegedly had Jewish ancestry.

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Lyndon B. Johnson
Image via Yoichi Okamoto - LBJ Museum & Library/Wikimedia Commons

Claim

Lyndon B. Johnson was Jewish, based on his maternal ancestry.

Rating

Context

There is no available evidence to conclusively demonstrate that Lyndon B. Johnson had Jewish ancestry. Regardless, he did not identify as Jewish.

Origin

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U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson cultivated a close relationship with Israel during his time in office in the ’60s. He was the first president to invite an Israeli prime minister, Levi Eshkol, to the White House, increased arms sales to Israel, and refused to pressure Israel to give up any land it had captured during the Six-Day War.

Johnson’s ties to Israel led to speculation that he could have been Jewish through his maternal ancestors, a claim Snopes readers asked us to look into. One post on Facebook stated: 

Lyndon Johnson’s maternal ancestors, the Huffmans, apparently migrated to Frederick, Maryland from Germany sometime in the mid-eighteenth century. Later they moved to Bourbon, Kentucky and eventually settled in Texas in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. According to Jewish law, if a person’s mother is Jewish, then that person is automatically Jewish, regardless of the father’s ethnicity or religion. The facts indicate that both of Lyndon Johnson’s great-grandparents, on the maternal side, were Jewish. These were the grandparents of Lyndon’s mother, Rebecca Baines. Their names were John S. Huffman and Mary Elizabeth Perrin. John Huffman’s mother was Suzanne Ament, a common Jewish name. Perrin is also a common Jewish name. Huffman and Perrin had a daughter, Ruth Ament Huffman, who married Joseph Baines and together they had a daughter, Rebekah Baines, Lyndon Johnson’s mother. The line of Jewish mothers can be traced back three generations in Lyndon Johnson’s family tree. There is little doubt that he was Jewish.

Some Jewish traditions consider the heritage to be passed down through the maternal line, so Johnson’s purported Jewish heritage is arguably a matter of religious interpretation. We addressed this in a past story where Elvis Presley acknowledged his Jewish ancestry through a maternal great-great-grandmother.

But we do not know if this is the case with Johnson, given that the argument that he is Jewish is based on his maternal ancestors having common Jewish names. What we do know is that Johnson and his parents and grandparents identified as Christian. Johnson’s family attended Baptist churches for a few generations, according to the LBJ Library:

LBJ’s mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, was a Baptist, as were most of her ancestors for several generations. She once expressed the view that she was “grateful for…my Baptist upbringing, sermons, prayer-meeting and Sunday School.” Her father, Joseph Wilson Baines, was a leading member of the Baptist Church in Blanco, Texas. She described him as a Baptist “strict in doctrine, broad in charity, large in enterprise,” who was frequently heard to say proudly, “I am a Baptist and a Democrat.”

LBJ’s maternal great-grandfather, George Washington Baines, Sr., was one of the best-known Baptist leaders in the early history of Texas. Reverend Baines accepted a Baptist pastorate in Huntsville, Texas where, incidentally, he was the pastor for Texas hero, General Sam Houston. In 1861, he was chosen to be president of Baylor University, a leading Baptist institution of higher education in Texas and the Southwest, then and now.

LBJ’s paternal grandfather, Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr., was raised Baptist. In his early manhood, he became a member of the Christian Church. In his later years, he affiliated with the Christadelphians. According to Lady Bird Johnson, LBJ’s father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., also joined the Christadelphian Church toward the end of his life.

The Facebook post above claims that Johnson’s maternal ancestors had the names Mary Elizabeth Perrin and Suzanne Ament, both of which are common Jewish surnames. Looking into Johnson’s maternal ancestors, we were unable to find any evidence confirming their backgrounds were Jewish.

According to “Kith and Kin of Our President: Lyndon Baines Johnson,” by Edythe Johns Rucker Whitley — a book based on a genealogy given by the author to the first lady at the White House on April 24, 1964 — Johnson’s mother came from a “distinguished family” that served in the Texas Legislature.

According to the text, Johnson’s maternal grandfather “Joseph Wilson Baines married Ruth Huffman, daughter of John Smith Huffman, Junior, and wife Mary Elizabeth Perrin. The name is sometimes spelled Hoffman.”

The text claimed that “Perrin is a Huguenot family name. Members of this family came to Virginia where they became seated; later some of the descendants removed to Kentucky.” Huguenots are French Protestants who were active in the 16th and 17th centuries, who fled France because of persecution for their faith.

The 1993 book “American Presidential Families” mentions an ancestor, Susan Ament who married John Huffman. There is no mention of Suzanne (or Susan) Ament in Whitley’s book. 

A 1976 article in Texas Monthly looked at Lyndon Johnson’s family, particularly his mother, Rebekah Baines, a woman who may have believed that she married beneath her station. The article details how Johnson and his family may have refurbished and romanticized their own history: “One wishing to understand the shaping forces of Lyndon Baines Johnson must be alert to the profits of reading between the lines. Much that his doting mother wrote was romantic bilge (her enthusiastic exercises as an amateur genealogist led to claims of kinship with sources improbably close to Scottish nobility in the twelfth century), and his early biographers too willingly accepted those fumigated and refurbished memories LBJ himself permitted to escape.”

Johnson talked about his mother’s German heritage and his ancestors in a 1963 speech, commenting on the contributions of German immigrants to America: “My mother came from a German family named Hoffman, which left Europe in 1848. My neighbors here have the same story to tell, as you know. But throughout America, Germans and Americans of German ancestry have played a great role in our national life.”

Public record says that Johnson’s ancestors were largely Baptist, and Johnson himself went to church and did not identify as Jewish. There is no concrete evidence of a Jewish maternal ancestor, other than what appear to be common Jewish names popping up in his family line.

With no publicly identifying Jewish family member, we cannot say for certain that Johnson had Jewish ancestry. We can say that he did not identify as Jewish. We thus rate this claim as “Unproven.”


Sources:

Brogan, Hugh. “American Presidential Families.” New York, Macmillan Pub. Co, 1993. Accessed on 16 Feb. 2022. 

“Did Elvis Presley Have Jewish Ancestry?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/elvis-presley-jewish-ancestry/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

King, Larry L. “Bringing Up Lyndon.” Texas Monthly, 1 Jan. 1976, https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/bringing-up-lyndon/.

“LBJ and Religion.” LBJ Library. https://www.lbjlibrary.org/life-and-legacy/the-man-himself/lbj-and-religion. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

“LBJ Presidential Library | Research.” LBJ Library. http://www.lbjlibrary.net/collections/quick-facts/genealogy.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

“Lyndon Johnson: Israel Has Had No Better Friend.” Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/lyndon-johnson-no-better-friend-1.6073630. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

“Remarks in Stonewall, Texas, at a Barbecue in Honor of Chancellor Erhard.” The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-stonewall-texas-barbecue-honor-chancellor-erhard. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

Whitley, Edythe Johns Rucker. “Kith and Kin of Our President: Lyndon Baines Johnson.” United States, Whitley, 1967. Accessed on 16 Feb. 2022.