November 22, 1963: John F. Kennedy has been assassinated. On Air Force One, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s swearing-in as President is witnessed by a group including Lady Bird Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy. Lady Bird reminisces: LBJ has always wanted to be President. She remembers her first date with him; it is acted out by young LBJ and Lady Bird. To her astonished amusement, he proposes and we learn that they were married within two months.
We see projections about the struggle for civil rights. The chorus sings “A Long Time Coming” as projections show that LBJ persuaded Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act.
Now we witness LBJ meeting his political advisors. Though he only becomes President in 1963, he must campaign for the presidential election in 1964. His advisors worry the Civil Rights Act will cost him the South, and ask him to find someone who can campaign effectively in the Southern states.
In the Johnson’s White House home, LBJ asks Lady Bird and their daughters Lynda and Luci if he should run again; they enthusiastically agree that he should. Asked to campaign for him in the South, Lady Bird demurs: she is too shy and inexperienced. As an inducement, LBJ tells her that if re-elected, he will pass a beautification bill, and put her in charge.
Alone, Lady Bird considers LBJ’s request. A suppressed memory surfaces; she recalls a horrific incident she witnessed as a girl. Her memory is acted out: several drunken men murder a black man. This appalling memory convinces her to overcome her fears and campaign for LBJ.
The next three scenes show Lady Bird traveling on the Ladybird Express and addressing crowds from the train’s rear platform. The further south they go, the more angry and resentful the crowds are about LBJ’s promulgation of the Civil Rights Act. We see the dignity, intelligence and bravery with which Lady Bird handles the obstreperous crowds. An FBI agent tells Lady Bird to cancel the tour due to the possibility of a bomb being planted on the train, but she is firm about continuing.
In the final scene, LBJ has won the Presidency in a landslide and is sworn in, while Lady Bird looks forward to her new role as the person who will “beautify this blessed land”. The chorus joins her in a grand finale, backed by projections of field after field of beautiful flower