Lyndon Johnson on Civil Rights
School was dismissed. We got in the car and headed to my grandmother's house, [and when asked how I felt], I said I was very sad. "And scared," I added. Mrs. Riles had given me a reason.
I doubt if many children outside the South would have described their reaction to his death as fear.
Fortunately, though Lyndon Johnson was a southerner, he carried through on Kennedy's promise to end segregation. As a political scientist, I have read scores of academic papers on Johnson's legislative approach. Some believe that Johnson was able to do what Kennedy could not have: assemble a coalition of northern Democrats and liberal Republicans to ram through landmark legislation.
While the "beginning of freedom," said Johnson, "freedom is not enough. It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through the gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. Equal opportunity is essential, but not enough."
Source: Blacks & the 2008 Democratic National Convention, by David A. Bositis, Joint Center For Political And Economic Studies; table 1 on page 15; 1936-56 data from Everett Carll Ladd, Jr., and Charles D. Hadley, Transformations of the American Party System; 1960-80 presidential preference data from Gallup Opinion Index; details available at www.JointCenter.org
In 1964, the black preference for the Democrats became a landslide, as president Lyndon Johnson rallied a grieving nation after Kennedy's assassination to demand passage of the strong civil rights bill JFK had proposed during his last year in office. Backed by a national outcry, Johnson jammed through the far-reaching legislation, which ended discrimination against blacks in virtually every area of national life. Ironically, it was only with strong Republican support that the bill was able to pass.
"It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough."
With the affirmative action and quota laws that were subsequently passed, Blacks were no longer viewed as individuals.
The president should take civil rights to the people, over the heads of Congress, and take it to the country as a moral crusade flattening all opposition with the sharp edge of principle and moral rightness. He had prophesied the civil rights legislation would bog down, led into quicksand by the crafty parliamentary-wise southern Senate patriarchs, unless special and visibly muscular efforts were put forth. Now he was in the captain's chair and he spoke almost eagerly about his commitment to get civil rights off its backside in the Congress and give it legs. He would not compromise, he said, for this was going to be a fight to the finish and he had no qualms about the outcome.
Two years later, Johnson still insisted vehemently in private that the Jenkins arrest resulted from a GOP frame-up and "someday we will prove it."
[In Oct. 1964] he released a statement of sympathy for Jenkins who "has worked with me faithfully for 25 years, with dedication, devotion and tireless labor" but with no appreciation for Jenkins the public servant.
50 or perhaps even 30 years earlier, the charge of a homosexual on the White House staff would have loosed a flood of sustained and severely damaging moral indignation. But by 1964, a considerable portion of the American population was educated enough to view homosexuality not as a sin but as a physical deviation or a form of sickness.
"For those who would seek to keep any group in our nation in bondage I have no sympathy or tolerance. I believe sincerely, that we have a system of representative government that is strong enough, flexible enough, to permit all groups to work together toward a better life."
As Majority Leader, he lived up to the sentiments he had expressed when he was a freshman Senator. He spearheaded the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It was the first civil rights legislation to be enacted in 82 years. He was equally successful in getting congressional approval for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which established a new registration procedure designed to insure Negroes the right to vote.
Malcolm X noted that 1964 was an election year, a time: "When all of the white political crooks will be right back in your and my community with their false promises which they don't intend to keep." He said that President Johnson and the Democratic Party supposedly supported the civil rights bill but there was very little evidence of genuine interest. He maintained that, even though the Democrats controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate, politicians hadn't taken genuine action to pass the bill.
|Other past presidents on Civil Rights:||Lyndon Johnson on other issues:|
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Past Vice Presidents:
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