Although Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential record clearly established him as a committed champion of African American civil rights, the origins of this commitment remain less clear. This article examines LBJ's record as head of the Texas National Youth Administration (NYA) in the mid-1930s to argue that he demonstrated a genuine commitment to racial equality much earlier than many accounts suggest. Furthermore, in an attempt to offer a fuller understanding of the future president's civil rights views, it provides the first analysis of this period that places Johnson's record within a comparative framework that considers the performance of other Southern NYA programs at the same time.