Information

LBJ calls for equal voting rights


On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addresses a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all.

Using the phrase “we shall overcome,” borrowed from African American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declares that “every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” Johnson reminds the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color. But states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers. Discrimination had taken the form of literacy, knowledge or character tests administered solely to African Americans to keep them from registering to vote.

“Their cause must be our cause too,”Johnson said. “Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

READ MORE: Voting Rights Act of 1965

The speech was delivered eight days after racial violence erupted in Selma, Alabama. Civil rights leader John Lewis and over 500 marchers were attacked while planning a march from Selma to Montgomery to register African Americans to vote. The police violence that erupted resulted in the death of a King supporter, a white Unitarian Minister from Boston named James J. Reeb. Television news coverage of the event galvanized voting rights supporters in Congress.

A second attempt to march to Montgomery was also blocked by police. It took Federal intervention with the “federalizing” of the Alabama national guard and the addition of over 2,000 other guards to allow the march to begin.

The march to Montgomery finally began March 21 with over 3,000 participants under the glare of worldwide news publicity.

The violence, however, continued. Just after the march was successfully completed on March 25, four Klansman shot and killed Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo as she drove marchers back to Selma.

On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to Black Americans.

While state and local enforcement of the act was initially weak, mainly in the South, the Voting Rights Act gave African American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among Black voters increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon extended the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and lowered the eligible voting age for all voters to 18.

READ MORE: When Did African Americans Get the Right to Vote?


LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Just five days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson went before Congress and spoke to a nation still stunned from the events in Dallas that had shocked the world.

Johnson made it clear he would pursue the slain President's legislative agenda—especially a particular bill that Kennedy had sought but that faced strong and vehement opposition from powerful southern Democrats.

"No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long," Johnson told the lawmakers.

Then, serving notice on his fellow southern Democrats that they were in for a fight, he said: "We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law."

Forty years ago, Johnson set out to do what he had done in 1957 and 1960 as Senate majority leader—steer a civil rights bill through a Congress controlled to a great extent by southern Democrats who so strongly opposed it. But he was no longer majority leader and could not buttonhole wavering members in the cloakroom or do horse-trading with them to get what he wanted or promise rewards or punishments.

This is the story of how Lyndon Johnson set the stage for this legislation years before and how he choreographed passage of this historic measure in 1964—a year when the civil rights movement was rapidly gaining strength and when racial unrest was playing a role in the presidential campaign.

The story is often told, but this account is supplemented with details discovered in recent years with the opening of Johnson's White House telephone recordings and with excerpts from the oral history collection at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.

It begins in 1957, with Johnson as Senate majority leader, engineering passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, a feat generally regarded as impossible until he did it.

"To see Lyndon Johnson get that bill through, almost vote by vote," said Pultizer Prize–winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro, "is to see not only legislative power but legislative genius."

One key to Johnson's success was that he managed to link two completely unrelated issues: civil rights and dam construction in Hells Canyon in the Sawtooth Mountains of America's far northwest. Western senators were eager for the dam, which would produce enormous amounts of electricity. For years the advocates of public power and private power interests had fought to determine whether the dams would be built by government or private companies.

Those favoring public power were generally liberals from the Northwest states they were liberal on civil rights as well, but they had no large numbers of African American voters in their states to answer to, so a vote against civil rights would not hurt them very much. LBJ brokered an agreement that traded some of their votes to support the southern, conservative position favoring a weak civil rights bill. In return, southerners would vote for public power at Hells Canyon.

A key issue in the 1957 bill, as originally written, was its provision that certain violations of it could be tried in court without benefit of a jury. But, as Senator Hubert H. Humphrey recalled, the issue of whether to have jury trials included in the 1957 bill was a terribly difficult matter even for many of the liberals. Humphrey said his populist background had emphasized the importance of jury trials, yet he realized that southern juries would never convict any white person accused of violating a civil rights law.

Nevertheless the liberals took the hard line, that there should be no jury trials, and that violations of the law should be subject to criminal contempt proceedings, not civil contempt. Humphrey also remembered that LBJ had convinced Senator John F. Kennedy to vote for jury trials, and that it never seemed to hurt Kennedy's liberal credentials. Jury trials were included in the final act.

As a result, the 1957 Civil Rights Act was nearly toothless legislation—which is one reason it was able to win Senate approval. Still, it had significance. George Reedy, an assistant to LBJ for many years, anticipated later authors with his evaluation of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, when he wrote in 1983:

In his oral history, Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who wrote the 1957 bill, may have overstated his case when he said that the finished Civil Rights Act "was a revolutionary bill . . . . it was worth the compromise. . . . I think the liberals were pretty jubilant that we had this breakthrough."

Johnson also engineered Senate passage of the 1960 Civil Rights Act, which again was nearly toothless. Both acts primarily focused on voting rights, and neither provided realistic means of enforcement. But they placed the civil rights issue on the legislative agenda and foreshadowed future battles for broader, tougher legislation.

The Kennedy administration took office in 1961 as national sentiment in favor of stronger civil rights legislation,with means of enforcement, was growing.

President Kennedy, however, was loath to ask the Congress for strong legislation on the issue. Although he was personally sympathetic to the plight of African Americans, his political instincts warned against taking action.

Then came one of those events that forces the hand of a cautious leader.

On May 2, 1963, a horrified country watched on television as the public safety commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama, T. Eugene "Bull" Connor, and his policemen and firemen descended on hundreds of African American marchers, including schoolchildren, with attack dogs, nightsticks, and fire hoses.

In response to the resulting national uproar, on June 11 Kennedy went on national television to announce that he was sending a tough civil rights bill to the Congress. A few hours later, Medgar Evers, director of the Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was murdered in the driveway of his house.

Kennedy now began a very public lobbying campaign, pressing various private organizations to desegregate and demonstrate support for his bill. This was sure to arouse the enmity of powerful southerners in the Democratic-controlled Congress, and that had serious implications: Southern Democrats chaired twelve of eighteen committees in the Senate and twelve of twenty-one in the House. It meant putting the President's entire legislative agenda at risk.

One part of that agenda was the President's proposed tax reduction, which he wanted badly. He believed that it would stimulate the economy and thus have a salutary influence on the 1964 election. But it needed time to do its work, so it had to be passed soon. That would be difficult. Congressional conservatives already disliked the bill on its face because it would create deficits.

If Kennedy were to insist on a civil rights bill, it could well tie up the Congress in a wrangle that might keep the tax bill from ever reaching to the House floor.

Kennedy decided to take the chance, but he had nagging doubts. He asked his brother Robert, "Do you think we did the right thing by sending the legislation up? Look at the trouble it's got us in." They had no choice, the attorney general responded, the issue had to be faced up to—and right away.

On June 26 the House Judiciary Subcommittee No. 5 began hearings on the civil rights bill. The subcommittee was dominated by liberals and chaired by Celler, who also headed the full committee, which was more balanced in membership. It was expected that the bill would not have much trouble in the subcommittee, and in August, Celler announced that they would begin closed sessions to "mark up" the bill into final form.

But President Kennedy had secretly asked Celler to hold up the civil rights bill until the tax bill was out of the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Representative Wilbur Mills of Arkansas. If the civil rights bill came out first, Kennedy feared that Mills would retaliate by killing the tax measure—and Mills, a fiscal conservative, disliked the tax cut on principle in any case. Even if Mills did not quash the bill, conservatives on the Senate Finance Committee were perfectly capable of doing so.

Meanwhile, the pressure for action on civil rights continued to grow. The biggest lobbying effort ever seen in the nation's capital, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, took place in the summer of 1963.

There had been considerable worry in the administration that the event would turn ugly, perhaps degenerate into a massive riot. It had happened at other marches. A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a chief organizer of the march, recalled meeting with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson on that question:

The whole question involved there was the correctness of the strategy of staging a march as big as this in Washington. And how it could be controlled, so that it would not get out of hand. . . . President Kennedy was a bit worried about it. . . .

One of the problems was the matter of spilling over into the streets and becoming involved with violence. Now, our position was that we could not guarantee what would happen, but we had taken the precautions to plan the march [in detail], with a view to avoiding violence.

On August 28, nearly a quarter of a million people gathered around the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall to listen to Martin Luther King, Jr., declare, "I have a dream." There was no violence.

On September 10 the House Ways and Means Committee at long last approved the tax cut bill, thus clearing the way for Celler's subcommittee to mark up the civil rights bill—not that the tax bill was out of the woods by any means. It still had to go to the House Rules Committee, chaired by powerful archconservative "Judge" Howard W. Smith, a Democrat from Virginia, where it would be scheduled for consideration by the full House—unless Smith killed it first.

Then, external events altered the congressional schedule.

On September 15, four little African American girls were killed in Birmingham when a bomb exploded under the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. There was enormous national outrage, and the liberals on the Celler subcommittee responded by introducing amendments to the civil rights bill to strengthen it far beyond what William McCulloch, the leading moderate Republican member, thought could be voted out of the House.

Chairman Celler, however, accepted the amendments. His strategy was to report out of the subcommittee a bill so strong that it could not win approval in the full committee. Then Celler would work for compromise and get most of what he had wanted in the first place.

The stronger version of the bill was reported favorably to the full committee on October 2, and the political infighting began in earnest.

Lawrence F. O'Brien, President Kennedy's and later President Johnson's chief of liaison with the Congress, recalled it this way:

[Y]ou had a battle on two fronts simultaneously. You had a battle with the conservatives on the committee, the southern Democrats, conservative Republicans, but you had just as tough a battle with the liberals. Their position was the old story of the half loaf or three-quarters of a loaf, and [now they were saying] "we'll settle for nothing less [than the whole loaf.]" . . . We shared their views, and we'd love to do it their way.

We were accused by some of being weak-kneed but, my God, are you going to have meaningful legislation or are you going to sit around for another five or ten years while you play this game? Those liberals sat around saying, "No, we won't accept anything but the strongest possible civil rights bill, and we won't vote for anything less than that." To kill civil rights in that Judiciary Committee was an appalling possibility! And it was not only a possibility, it came darn close to an actuality.

The Kennedy administration had wanted to get past the civil rights fight by the end of 1963, so as not to have the struggle continue into the following election year. That hope had by now gone by the boards, even if the committee reported favorably on the bill, and promptly. It took until November 19 for the measure to make it to the Rules Committee to be scheduled for consideration on the floor of the House. And Rules Committee Chairman Smith was certain to seek ways to stifle the bill first.

But at 12:30 p.m., on a sunny November 22 in Dallas, everything changed.

Jack Valenti, a top aide to Johnson, gave this account of what happened on the night of John Kennedy's assassination:

Twelve hours later, LBJ was in his home in Spring Valley, three trusted friends by his side—the late Cliff Carter, Bill Moyers, and myself. He lay on his huge bed in his pajamas watching television, as the world, holding its breath in anxiety and fear, considered that this alien cowboy was suddenly become the leader of the United States.

That night he ruminated about the days that lay ahead, sketching out what he planned to do, in the almost five hours that we sat there with him. Though none of us who listened realized it at the time, he was revealing the design of the Great Society. He had not yet given it a name, but he knew with stunning precision the mountaintop to which he was going to summon the people.

In his address to the joint session of Congress on November 27, President Johnson gave notice that he wanted quick action on both civil rights and the tax bill:

I urge you again, as I did in 1957 and again in 1960, to enact a civil rights law so that we can move forward to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color. There could be no greater source of strength to this Nation both at home and abroad.

And second, no act of ours could more fittingly continue the work of President Kennedy than the early passage of the tax bill for which he fought all this long year. This is a bill designed to increase our national income and Federal revenues, and to provide insurance against recession. That bill, if passed without delay, means more security for those now working, more jobs for those now without them, and more incentive for our economy.

On November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, Johnson met with Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, to talk about the civil rights bill.

"He was asking us if we wanted it, if we would do the things required to be done to get it enacted," Wilkins recalled. "He said he could not enact it himself. He was the President of the United States. He would give it his blessing. He would aid it in any way in which he could lawfully under the Constitution, but that he could not lobby for the bill. And nobody expected him to lobby for the bill, and he didn't think we expected him to lobby for the bill. But in effect he said—and he didn't use these words - 'You have the ball now run with it.'"

This was Johnsonian hyperbole. Given LBJ's legendary record for "lobbying" members of Congress, the President could only have meant that he couldn't get civil rights passed by himself. In fact the President had been on the phone that same day with the minority leader of the Senate, Everett Dirksen, the Illinois Republican.

"If Congress is to function at all and can't pass a tax bill between January and January, why, we&'re in a hell of a shape. . . . They ought to pass it in a week," Johnson told Dirksen. "Then . . . every businessman in this country would have some confidence. . . . We've got an obligation to the Congress. And we've just got to show that they can do something, because we can't pass civil rights. We know that."

Johnson meant that the southern senators were sure to filibuster against the civil rights bill, and there weren't yet enough votes to shut off the debate.

Ted Gittinger conducted oral history interviews for twelve years at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and is now director of special projects there.

Allen Fisher has been an archivist at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library since 1991 and works primarily with domestic policy collections.


LBJ Fights the White Backlash

By Jeremy D. Mayer

The 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, NJ. (NARA, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library)

"If we have to get elected on civil rights, then we're already defeated . . . unless we can get the campaign on some other basis, why it is just going to be agonizing."
- Lyndon B. Johnson, July 24, 19641

It was the summer of 1964, and Lyndon Johnson was scared. Having just achieved one of the greatest congressional victories in history by passing the Civil Rights Act (CRA) over the strident objections of his native South, Johnson was now confronted by black riots in several urban centers. He feared that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, would exploit the racial turmoil by appealing to the white backlash. The riots were even labeled "Goldwater rallies" since the conflagrations helped the GOP so directly. Would racial politics cost LBJ the White House?

Both Johnson and Goldwater would face several tests of their character in the long election season of 1964, tests involving the CRA, urban riots, the George Wallace candidacy, and the white backlash. The election of 1964 is considered by many to be the most racially polarized presidential contest in modern American history. As such, it has been seen as a watershed in the evolution of our two-party system in recent times.2 Yet what has been missed in previous analyses of 1964 is how assiduously both Goldwater and Johnson worked to take race off the agenda. Johnson believed that if the election became a referendum on civil rights, he might lose. Goldwater believed that history would judge him harshly if his campaign blatantly exploited the racial hatred of whites.

Still, despite these efforts, the racial implications of the 1964 campaign would linger for decades. The first Southerner to occupy the White House for more than a hundred years lost the heart of his region, signaling the dawn of an era of Republican dominance of the South in presidential politics. The first man of Jewish descent to run on a major ticket 3 would lead the Republican Party into a monochromatic whiteness from which it has not yet recovered. After 1964, Democrats could take the black vote for granted as the GOP became the party through which whites expressed their unease over black progress. The contest between Johnson and Goldwater shaped American racial politics for the next thirty-six years.

The Setting: 1964 as Johnson's "Given Moment"

As the 1964 election season opened, the contrast with the same period in 1960 could not have been more stark. The 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy had pitted two advocates of civil rights against each other, but the issue was far from central to American politics. In 1964, race was the dominant issue in domestic politics, as it had not been since Reconstruction.4 The heightened prominence given to civil rights in 1964 was produced by three key factors. First, the direct action tactics of the newly invigorated civil rights movement had, since 1960, focused the attention of the nation on the problems of Jim Crow.5 President Kennedy also helped put race at the center of American politics. The favorite candidate of many segregationists in 1960 had gradually become the greatest presidential rhetorician on race since Lincoln. After two years of delay, 1963 finally saw the Kennedy administration moving forward on integration.6 The white backlash against Kennedy was bitter a movie marquee in Georgia for Kennedy's PT-109 movie read "See the Japs Almost Get Kennedy."7

Yet neither of these two factors was as important as the decisive role of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson made Kennedy's Civil Rights Act the centerpiece of the slain President's legacy. As one of his key black supporters noted, Johnson had a knack for using the "given moments" to get legislation through Congress.8 Kennedy's sudden martyrdom was one such moment, and Johnson marshaled all of his formidable legislative skill in making the most of it. The CRA, with its broad indictment of discriminatory practices in public accommodations, threatened to alter the entire segregationist social system of the South, as well as the rest of the nation. The immense press coverage of the battle, and the sloganeering on all sides, could not help but produce national attention to the issue of civil rights on the eve of the election.

The Candidates: LBJ

Today, Lyndon Johnson is recognized as one of the greatest proponents of racial equality to ever occupy the Oval Office. Yet his selection as Vice President and his later ascension to the presidency were greeted with great apprehension by a number of leading figures in the civil rights movement.9 As a white Southerner, Johnson faced a credibility problem with many blacks. Despite coaching, Johnson had difficulty pronouncing "Negro" in a way that did not remind listeners of a poisonous homophone.10 His record was, however, very good for a Southern politician in his era. Early in his career, LBJ had been a quiet integrationist as the head of a National Youth Administration program.11 I n Congress, although Johnson often voted against efforts to stop lynching and poll taxes,12 within the context of the South at that time, he was a moderate on civil rights. Once ensconced as majority leader of the Senate, Johnson would shift on civil rights, from moderate opposition to cautious support. Johnson was one of only two Southern senators to refuse to sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956, a high-profile act that began to establish his credentials with national blacks. Johnson guided the passage of the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction in 1957, in the belief that blacks would vote Republican in 1960 unless the Democrats gave them civil rights legislation.13 J ohnson also saw personal benefits he believed throughout his career that if he wished to become a national leader, he would have to leave segregation behind.14

In the 1960 election, Johnson did not cater to regional prejudices. He endorsed civil rights, if vaguely, in nearly every speech in the South. Once in office, Johnson did not alter his course. "Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."15 Civil rights was one of the few areas in which Johnson exercised much power under JFK.16 I n the first two weeks after the assassination, Johnson established a radically different tone from JFK's first cautious months in office by meeting individually with King and other black leaders.17 He signaled to Congress and the nation that civil rights would be a top priority, and he never wavered in that commitment, even when he faced the rising white backlash of the summer of 1964.18

The Candidates: Barry Goldwater

Growing up in Arizona, Barry Goldwater knew very few African Americans, but nevertheless Goldwater endorsed integration in his family business and the Arizona National Guard, and even joined the NAACP.19 Goldwater believed throughout his life that blacks and whites were equal before the law, and in his major book, The Conscience of A Conservative, he made clear his personal view that the races were equal. However, Goldwater had a narrow definition of what federal civil rights were and what actions the national government could take in their defense. Goldwater's distaste for government would almost always trump his personal belief in racial equality. As one biographer concluded: "Throughout his life, he would accommodate the bigotry of others while personally distancing himself from it."20

After 1960, Goldwater was convinced that Nixon had lost because of his civil rights advocacy, and Goldwater began encouraging his party to peel off Southern whites on the basis of racial politics. In a speech to the Georgia State Republican Party, Goldwater pushed the abandonment of the black vote. "We ought to forget the big cities. We can't out-promise the Democrats. . . . I would like to see our party back up on school integration."21 Yet while he fought federal efforts at school integration, Goldwater also criticized the Justice Department for not prosecuting voting rights violations in the South, because these were federal civil rights.22 Goldwater persistently accused the Democratic Party of either being the party of racism or the party of hypocrisy on race.23

Goldwater, never a racist, would eventually appeal to racism in his run for the White House. Yet before Goldwater won the Republican nomination with a campaign predicated on stealing the segregationist South from the Democrats, an uncomplicated and unabashed racist firebrand would demonstrate that fear, animosity, and resentment of blacks were not limited to the white South.

The Democratic Primaries and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

George Corley Wallace, a segregationist governor of Alabama, had been pondering a race for the White House for some time, hoping to exploit Johnson's leftward tilt on civil rights and other domestic issues. Wallace had been an early fan of Kennedy and supported him in 1956 and 1960.24 By 1963, Wallace was a strident opponent of Kennedy, and had taken office as governor with a ringing endorsement of "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" The speech brought national attention to the young pugilistic governor, and Wallace began hinting that he might run for President.25

Few believed that a vociferous Southern racist would attract Northern votes, even from whites with doubts about civil rights. Yet in Indiana and Wisconsin, Wallace scored extraordinary numbers, receiving over 30 percent of the Democratic vote.26 With the Maryland primary coming up, Johnson worried that Wallace might hurt him greatly. As Johnson put it "Alabama is coming into Maryland, Alabama is going into Indiana."27 Wallace's success at selling the white South's view of race to frightened Northerners would shape much of the 1964 campaign.28 Despite Johnson's efforts, Wallace received 43 percent of the Maryland vote. Moreover, Johnson's narrow victory was only made possible by a doubling in black turnout and by what historian Dan Carter calls "creative vote totals" from Baltimore.29 Wallace eventually dropped out of the race, but his strong showing in three Northern states against a popular incumbent President demonstrated that the white backlash was dangerous to Democrats.

Given Wallace's stunning performance, Johnson might have moderated his stance on the Civil Rights Act. Yet even as Wallace was barnstorming against Johnson, LBJ spoke out in Maryland and Georgia against prejudice and racism. Far from moderating his liberalism in the face of the Wallace challenge, Johnson chose this time to announce his plans for a "Great Society" of equality and opportunity.30 More important, Johnson continued to press Congress for passage of the CRA, refusing to make major changes to co-opt wavering conservatives and Southerners. In a seminal moment in congressional history, a coalition of Northern Democrats and nearly all Republicans defeated a filibuster by Southern Democrats in the Senate on June 10.31 F ew Presidents have shown so much courage in the five months before an election.

Goldwater's Nomination Victory: Using Race Against Rockefeller

At the onset of the 1964 primary season, the Republican Party was gravely divided on matters of race. The Republican National Committee attacked the Democrats from the left on civil rights, pointing out that the 1957 and the 1960 civil rights bills were supported by far higher percentages of Republicans. They used old quotes from LBJ's segregationist days to vilify him for either racism or hypocrisy and excoriated Kennedy's delay in desegregating federal housing and in proposing his civil rights bill on accommodations.32 The RNC also studied ways to take the black vote back. Republicans were also, however, expanding their outreach to the South.33 Whatever the practicality of attempting both stratagems simultaneously, the emphasis on minority outreach does suggest that the national Republicans had not yet given up on black Republicans.34

If the Republican Party was somewhat incoherent on civil rights, there was little question where Barry Goldwater stood. As Goldwater emerged as the candidate of an increasingly radical Republican right, the plausibility of his candidacy rested upon his popularity in the South and West. The West would be won on the basis of strident anti-federal government rhetoric, but the Goldwater strategy in the South always relied on the white backlash vote. As a Goldwater adviser said days before Kennedy's assassination, the hope for victory lay in a backlash against civil rights, even though "I hate to win on that basis."35

Goldwater had to contend for the nomination with a number of other party figures, each more liberal on racial equality than he was. Indeed, one of them, Nelson Rockefeller, remained one of the most prominent civil rights proponents in either party, even providing direct financial support to controversial figures like King.36 Goldwater's opposition to civil rights was the key to his victory because he won the South's delegates, the only candidate to win an entire region. Lincoln's party had been the home of the few Southern blacks allowed to vote, and as Goldwater took the nomination, black Republicans became an endangered species. In Georgia, the triumph of the Goldwater supporters at the state convention led to the virtual elimination of blacks from leadership positions.37 In some states, the Goldwaterites were explicitly and unabashedly racist.38 Goldwater, however, continued to argue implausibly that his victory was nonracial.

Just as Johnson faced the test of working for the CRA while fighting off George Wallace, Senator Goldwater was confronted with the bill as he battled his Republican rivals and prepared for the convention. Goldwater, in a moment of high symbolism, cast his vote with the Southern Democrats against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in opposition to the majority of his own party and against the advice of top Republican leaders.39 It was this vote, more than anything else, that ignited the opposition of the Republican establishment of Rockefeller, Lodge, and Scranton.40 Yet it came too late to spur Goldwater's competitors to unify behind one moderate candidate.

Goldwater made special appeals to Southern Republicans on civil rights and law and order, statements that were designed to play on the white backlash. His speech in May in Columbus, Georgia, reeked of obsequious deference to Jim Crow. Goldwater bemoaned the "distinct cultural loss" caused by federal intervention and centralization.41 The speech had a preface, written especially for a Southern audience, that linked federal civil rights laws to violence in the streets. Goldwater did not limit his backlash themes to the South. In a speech at Madison Square Garden in May, Goldwater proclaimed:

Goldwater's rhetoric on race worked in primaries North and South, wherever the white backlash could be found.

By the opening of the Republican convention, Goldwater had the nomination. However, the specter of an independent Wallace candidacy haunted the Goldwater forces. Wallace could end any hope of a Goldwater victory, given Wallace's cross-regional appeal to racists. Ultimately, Wallace did give up all third party aspirations, claiming that he had already succeeded in putting states' rights on the agenda.43 S ince only the Republicans were talking states' rights, they could naturally expect to inherit Wallace's followers.

The decision to put Goldwater atop the ticket did not automatically result in an anti - civil rights platform. A number of prominent figures, including King, spoke to the platform committee advocating a strong civil rights plank.44 The backlash forces could not be as direct in their advocacy. White backlash was "the unspoken watchword of the 1964 convention . . . articulated only occasionally in soft whispers . . . but the presence of the white backlash tactic was felt all last week as the platform committee drafted the weakest Republican civil rights plank in memory."45 The platform drafts indicate how sharply the issue of race was dividing the Republicans. Some called for the repeal of the 1964 CRA others advocated going beyond it. One idea that made the final draft was a roadmap for future Republican campaigns against racial preferences:

Even the strong section endorsing voting rights had some plums for conservatives and backlashers since it discussed the dangers of fraud. As was seen first in the 1964 campaign, a national ballot security campaign could become a technique to depress black turnout.47 Overall, while the platform did not call for the revocation of the 1964 CRA and did endorse voting rights for blacks,48 t he differences in tone and content with the Democratic platform was stark. The Republicans clearly hoped to benefit among whites in the North and South on the basis of moderation and caution on civil rights. As the convention closed, Goldwater faced much criticism for the role that the white backlash had played in his victory and in his campaign's plans for November. An editorial warned, "A truly national party cannot afford to be lily white, nor can a truly conservative cause. . . . Goldwater's grave danger, and his party's, is that he or his supporters may be tempted to bid for this ugly and silent vote."49 The truth was, Goldwater had been planning to bid for that ugly vote for at least four years. In the next few weeks, however, Goldwater would demonstrate that there were limits to his willingness to court the backlash.

The Riots of Summer: Goldwater Surprises LBJ

The riots of 1964 have been largely forgotten in the wake of the much greater riots that came after, but for much of the summer, riots were news across the country, particularly in the East. Two weeks after the greatest legislative victory for racial equality since Reconstruction, Harlem erupted in rioting. In the fires and deaths in Harlem, some saw the end of racial liberalism. As Johnson intimate John Connally asked LBJ: "New York, what the hell are they rioting for?" Connally listed all the legislative protections that New York blacks enjoyed, including integrated schools and anti-discrimination laws.50 Johnson's fears of a white backlash, already primed by Wallace's primary challenge, reached a fever pitch at this point. "If they just keep on rioting in Harlem you are going to have unshirted Hell, and you're going to have it in New York, you're going to have the same type of rebellion there, and in Chicago and Iowa . . . this thing runs deep. You're going to see more cross-voting this year."51 It was not just political elites who immediately put urban unrest in the context of the upcoming presidential election. When hundreds of young Italian Americans challenged blacks picketing police headquarters in New York City, many of the whites carried Goldwater signs.52 Johnson called in the top leadership of the civil rights organizations and begged them to stop the riots and to call a moratorium on demonstrations until after the election most agreed.53 Johnson believed whites were watching closely to see if the administration treated riots by blacks in the North as seriously as white racism in the South.54

At this moment of high tension, Barry Goldwater made a decision starkly at odds with the common perception of his campaign as racist he offered to come to the White House to discuss the riot crisis. Johnson's initial response was one of grave suspicion. "Nothing good can come of that. . . . He wants to use this forum, he wants to encourage the backlash, that's where his future is, it's not in peace and harmony." So suspicious was the President that he suggested the FBI investigate whether Goldwater or his associates were actually behind the riots.55 " It's not our friends . . . that's going around stirring these things up, and let's leave the impression that he is, without saying so."56

However, when the two men met briefly at the White House, even Johnson was forced to concede that Goldwater gave little evidence of playing to the white backlash:

In this and other discussions of his brief meeting with Goldwater, the surprise in Johnson's voice is evident, particularly when compared to the suspicion and venom in his earlier discussions of Goldwater's putative motives.58 The two men issued a joint statement to the press, foreswearing the use of the riots for political gain, helping to remove the riots from the campaign discourse.

LBJ Seats the Segs: The Democratic Convention

Now that the Republicans had nominated Goldwater, an easy victory for LBJ seemed inevitable. Johnson, however, continued to worry that racial unrest could damage his chances. Shortly after the riots had subsided, Johnson confronted the potential for racial conflict at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Given its close proximity to centers of black population, Johnson was worried about picketing by angry black demonstrators. The spark that could set off the powder keg was the conflict over segregated Southern delegations. "If they have a hundred thousand Negroes up there . . . and they picket this thing . . . and then the convention kicks them [segregationist delegations] out, the impression throughout the country is going to be, well, they just got kicked out because the niggers wanted them kicked out," Connally told the President.59 Both Alabama and Mississippi had run segregated primaries, and SNCC activists had organized a counter-party in Mississippi called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). They demanded seats at the convention as well as the rejection of the segregationist Democrats.60

Johnson had reports from Connally and others that the failure to seat the segregated delegations would have ramifications far beyond those two states. If Alabama and Mississippi are not seated, "all hell will break loose" in South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and other Southern states.61 But Johnson also worried that some Northern delegations would object to the seating of all-white Southern slates.

Johnson rejected meeting with King to defuse the situation because, as an adviser put it, that would be "an unnecessary affront to a large number of people at this particular time."63 As the convention opened, the conflict over segregated delegations remained unresolved. Johnson enlisted the FBI in a massive surveillance campaign, both to keep outside demonstrators from the convention site and to monitor the progress of the negotiations.64 Johnson had the FBI wiretap the phones of MFDP delegates, King, and Rustin, and followed their strategies carefully.65 In their presentation to the credentials committee, the MFDP scored a public relations victory with the riveting testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer. On national television, Hamer described in vivid detail the murder of Medgar Evers and the brutality she herself had faced in her attempts to vote. So damaging to party unity did Johnson consider Hamer's speech that he chose to interrupt her nationally televised testimony by making "impromptu" remarks to the convention, thus cutting live network coverage of Hamer.66

The MFDP demanded that they be seated, while the Mississippi whites were equally intransigent. Johnson dispatched Hubert Humphrey to negotiate a compromise. Ultimately, the Mississippi segregationists were seated in full, while the MFDP was given two voting seats plus a promise that the 1968 delegations would be integrated. Johnson bent over backwards to accommodate conservative whites but still had to work to sell the compromise to whites as well as to the MFDP's dispirited leadership.67 Johnson was also furious at the pictures of dissension that were featured on all three networks. With his three Oval Office television sets blaring in the background, Johnson demanded that his aide Walter Jenkins stop the black Freedom delegates from taking the seats of the Mississippi regulars.68 He told another aide to do something to get conservative white Democrats on the television instead of complaining liberals like Edith Green and Joe Rauh.69 LBJ had shifted from worrying about the response of liberal Northerners to the seating of segregationists to worrying about the backlash among whites everywhere if angry blacks and their white supporters dominated the convention coverage.

Simultaneously, Johnson was also faced with picking a vice president. The plea from South Carolina Democrats to LBJ was typical: "Please, please, anybody but Kennedy or Humphrey."71 Humphrey, perhaps the greatest advocate of civil rights in politics at the time, was anathema to the white South and a hero to the civil rights movement. Johnson dangled the carrot of Humphrey's nomination in front of the MFDP at the convention as a reward if they knuckled under to the compromise and, conversely, threatened them with a less pro-civil rights nominee if they did not agree.72 In the face of the brewing white backlash, Johnson chose one of the few men whose civil rights history could surpass his own recently improved record. As he had with the CRA, Johnson chose to confront the backlash.

Jeremy D. Mayer is an assistant professor of political science at Kalamazoo College. He is the author of Running on Race: Racial Politics in Presidential Campaigns, 1960 - 2000, forthcoming from Random House.


LBJ and MLK

The National Archives has countless items that highlight African Americans’ struggles for freedom and civil liberties. Included are documents on the Civil Rights Movement and, more specifically, on President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s relationship during that tumultuous time.

President Johnson was known for his vision of a Great Society to end poverty, reduce crime, improve the environment, and advance civil rights.

As part of this vision, Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, dismantling official segregation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, prohibiting racist voting laws, and the 1968 Civil Rights Act, ending discrimination in housing sales. He also appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the Supreme Court.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most renowned Civil Rights leader of the movement, was widely regarded as America’s preeminent advocate of nonviolence. Drawing inspiration from his faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, he pushed for nonviolent resistance movements against racial discrimination including protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience.

Johnson and King had a personal relationship and talked on a regular basis about civil rights issues. Johnson invited King to the White House on numerous occasions, and telephoned him in person to discuss how to collaborate their efforts for racial equality.

One of the many outcomes of their relationship was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law stated that state and local governments could no longer pass voting laws based on race, and prohibited discrimination through the use of poll taxes and the application of literacy tests to determine whether voters could take part in elections. This act was described as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted because it gave many African Americans the right to vote for the first time.

On March 18, 1965, Congressman Emanuel Celler sent this telegram requesting King to testify for the proposed Voting Rights Act before Congress. King did not to testify because he was leading the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, against the violent denial of African American voting in the South. In a televised address, Johnson expressed support for the marchers and called for support for the new voting rights bill being introduced to Congress.

On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Major civil rights activists and advocates including King and Rosa Parks attended the signing ceremony. After signing, Johnson presented his pen to King.

King’s civil rights work was cut short on April 4, 1968, when he was shot and mortally wounded while he was standing on the second-floor balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. at St. Joseph Hospital.

In response to the death of one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in history, Johnson issued Presidential Proclamation 3839 designating Sunday, April 7, 1968, as the day of national mourning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He acknowledged the nation’s grief but called for maintaining the fight toward civil rights.

Days later, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the last major act in his and King’s fight towards racial equality in the United States.

During Black History Month we celebrate the strength and courage of those like Johnson and King who fought for the civil freedoms in the United States.

View the original telegram requesting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s testimony before the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on the Proposed Voting Rights Act in the East Rotunda Gallery through April 11, 2018.

And to learn more about National Archives records related to Black History Month visit our website and browse our Online Catalog .


President Johnson's Special Message to the Congress: The American Promise

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.

For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great Government--the Government of the greatest Nation on earth.

Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.

In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation.

The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.

For with a country as with a person, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul ?"

There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans--not as Democrats or Republicans-we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: "All men are created equal"--"government by consent of the governed"--"give me liberty or give me death." Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.

Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man's possessions it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.

To apply any other test--to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth--is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.

THE RIGHT TO VOTE

Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of that right to all of our people.

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.

Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.

Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application.

And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.

For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.

Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books-and I have helped to put three of them there--can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it.

In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.

GUARANTEEING THE RIGHT TO VOTE

Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.

The broad principles of that bill will be in the hands of the Democratic and Republican leaders tomorrow. After they have reviewed it, it will come here formally as a bill. I am grateful for this opportunity to come here tonight at the invitation of the leadership to reason with my friends, to give them my views, and to visit with my former colleagues.

I have had prepared a more comprehensive analysis of the legislation which I had intended to transmit to the clerk tomorrow but which I will submit to the clerks tonight. But I want to really discuss with you now briefly the main proposals of this legislation,

This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections--Federal, State, and local--which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote.

This bill will establish a simple, uniform standard which cannot be used, however ingenious the effort, to flout our Constitution.

It will provide for citizens to be registered by officials of the United States Government if the State officials refuse to register them.

It will eliminate tedious, unnecessary lawsuits which delay the right to vote.

Finally, this legislation will ensure that properly registered individuals are not prohibited from voting.

I will welcome the suggestions from all of the Members of Congress--I have no doubt that I will get some--on ways and means to strengthen this law and to make it effective. But experience has plainly shown that this is the only path to carry out the command of the Constitution.

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their own communities who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple:

Open your polling places to all your people.

Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.

Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.

THE NEED FOR ACTION

There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain.

There is no moral issue. It is wrong--deadly wrong--to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.

There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.

I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer.

The last time a President sent a civil rights bill to the Congress it contained a provision to protect voting rights in Federal elections. That civil rights bill was passed after 8 long months of debate. And when that bill came to my desk from the Congress for my signature, the heart of the voting provision had been eliminated.

This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, no hesitation and no compromise with our purpose.

We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in. And we ought not and we cannot and we must not wait another 8 months before we get a bill. We have already waited a hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone.

So I ask you to join me in working long hours--nights and weekends, if necessary--to pass this bill. And I don't make that request lightly. For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.

WE SHALL OVERCOME

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.

But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.

It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great President of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.

A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal.

A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept.

The time of justice has now come. I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come. And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.

For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.

Now let none of us in any sections look with prideful righteousness on the troubles in another section, or on the problems of our neighbors. There is really no part of America where the promise of equality has been fully kept. In Buffalo as well as in Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as in Selma, Americans are struggling for the fruits of freedom.

This is one Nation. What happens in Selma or in Cincinnati is a matter of legitimate concern to every American. But let each of us look within our own hearts and our own communities, and let each of us put our shoulder to the wheel to root out injustice wherever it exists.

As we meet here in this peaceful, historic chamber tonight, men from the South, some of whom were at Iwo Jima, men from the North who have carried Old Glory to far corners of the world and brought it back without a stain on it, men from the East and from the West, are all fighting together without regard to religion, or color, or region, in Viet-Nam. Men from every region fought for us across the world 20 years ago.

And in these common dangers and these common sacrifices the South made its contribution of honor and gallantry no less than any other region of the great Republic--and in some instances, a great many of them, more.

And I have not the slightest doubt that good men from everywhere in this country, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Golden Gate to the harbors along the Atlantic, will rally together now in this cause to vindicate the freedom of all Americans. For all of us owe this duty and I believe that all of us will respond to it.

Your President makes that request of every American.

PROGRESS THROUGH THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this Nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform.

He has called upon us to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery, and his faith in American democracy.

For at the real heart of battle for equality is a deep-seated belief in the democratic process. Equality depends not on the force of arms or tear gas but upon the force of moral right not on recourse to violence but on respect for law and order.

There have been many pressures upon your President and there will be others as the days come and go. But I pledge you tonight that we intend to fight this battle where it should be fought: in the courts, and in the Congress, and in the hearts of men.

We must preserve the right of free speech and the right of free assembly. But the right of free speech does not carry with it, as has been said, the right to holler fire in a crowded theater. We must preserve the right to free assembly, but free assembly does not carry with it the right to block public thoroughfares to traffic.

We do have a right to protest, and a right to march under conditions that do not infringe the constitutional rights of our neighbors. And I intend to protect all those rights as long as I am permitted to serve in this office.

We will guard against violence, knowing it strikes from our hands the very weapons which we seek--progress, obedience to law, and belief in American values.

In Selma as elsewhere we seek and pray for peace. We seek order. We seek unity. But we will not accept the peace of stifled rights, or the order imposed by fear, or the unity that stifles protest. For peace cannot be purchased at the cost of liberty.

In Selma tonight, as in every--and we had a good day there--as in every city, we are working for just and peaceful settlement. We must all remember that after this speech I am making tonight, after the police and the FBI and the Marshals have all gone, and after you have promptly passed this bill, the people of Selma and the other cities of the Nation must still live and work together. And when the attention of the Nation has gone elsewhere they must try to heal the wounds and to build a new community.

This cannot be easily done on a battleground of violence, as the history of the South itself shows. It is in recognition of this that men of both races have shown such an outstandingly impressive responsibility in recent days--last Tuesday, again today,

RIGHTS MUST BE OPPORTUNITIES

The bill that I am presenting to you will be known as a civil rights bill. But, in a larger sense, most of the program I am recommending is a civil rights program. Its object is to open the city of hope to all people of all races.

Because all Americans just must have the right to vote. And we are going to give them that right.

All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship regardless of race. And they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.

But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal right. It requires a trained mind and a healthy body. It requires a decent home, and the chance to find a job, and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty.

Of course, people cannot contribute to the Nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check.

So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.

THE PURPOSE OF THIS GOVERNMENT

My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Tex., in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn't speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.

Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.

But now I do have that chance&mdashand I'll let you in on a secret&mdashI mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.

This is the richest and most powerful country which ever occupied the globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the President who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion.

I want to be the President who educated young children to the wonders of their world. I want to be the President who helped to feed the hungry and to prepare them to be taxpayers instead of taxeaters.

I want to be the President who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election.

I want to be the President who helped to end hatred among his fellow men and who promoted love among the people of all races and all regions and all parties.

I want to be the President who helped to end war among the brothers of this earth.

And so at the request of your beloved Speaker and the Senator from Montana the majority leader, the Senator from Illinois the minority leader, Mr. McCulloch, and other Members of both parties, I came here tonight--not as President Roosevelt came down one time in person to veto a bonus bill, not as President Truman came down one time to urge the passage of a railroad bill--but I came down here to ask you to share this task with me and to share it with the people that we both work for. I want this to be the Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, which did all these things for all these people.

Beyond this great chamber, out yonder in 50 States, are the people that we serve. Who can tell what deep and unspoken hopes are in their hearts tonight as they sit there and listen. We all can guess, from our own lives, how difficult they often find their own pursuit of happiness, how many problems each little family has. They look most of all to themselves for their futures. But I think that they also look to each of us.

Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says--in Latin--"God has favored our undertaking."

God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will. But I cannot help believing that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight.

NOTE: The address was broadcast nationally.

Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume I, entry 107, pp. 281-287. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966.


The transcripts from the Johnson administration in the Presidential Recordings Digital Edition comprise converted versions of volumes originally published in print by W. W. Norton as well as born-digital versions published by Rotunda and created by the editors and researchers at the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program. Currently, they are grouped into three different series: eight chronological volumes of transcripts covering Johnson’s telephone conversations from 22 November 1963 through 4 July 1964 three thematic volumes of transcripts on Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty and a volume of the more significant transcripts from the tumultuous year of 1968.

  • Read the Preface to the Norton LBJ volumes, by David Shreve
  • Read the Introduction to the PRDE LBJ volumes, by David G. Coleman

Contents

The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power

These three volumes cover the first 65 hours of the nearly 800 hours of Lyndon Johnson’s White House recordings. The Johnson of these first tapes is quickly learning how to become president. Despite the newness of the job, Johnson leaves no doubt that he intends to be much more than a caretaker. At home, he pushes forward a liberal civil rights agenda, launches a war on poverty, brokers compromises on contentious legislation, and reacts to a scandal involving a former aide—all while forcing through one of the largest tax cuts in U.S. history and leading a single-minded drive to control the federal budget. Abroad, he courts favor from Western European leaders, adjusts to the rising nationalism in the developing world, and talks peace with the Soviets. These first months also bring unexpected challenges. Johnson soon confronts a coup in Vietnam, a bloody anti-American riot in Panama, and a near civil war in Cyprus.

Volume One, 22 November 1963 – 30 November 1963, ed. Max Holland

This volume begins just before the Kennedy assassination on 22 November 1963, with transcripts of tapes that document the movements of Air Force One at Dallas’s Love Field. Transcripts of conversations between Washington and the cockpit of an airplane carrying the Kennedy Cabinet to Tokyo then reveal the shock as news of Kennedy’s death spreads and the transition to a new government begins. Finally, this volume covers the dramatic events of Johnson’s first nine days as an accidental president.

Volume Two, December 1963, ed. Robert David Johnson and David Shreve

This volumes opens on the first day of December as Johnson moves forward with his national call to “Let Us Continue” and covers the entire month before ending with Johnson on holiday at his Texas ranch.

Volume Three, January 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson

This volume begins with President Johnson enjoying a relaxing New Year’s Day at home along the Pedernales River and spans the entire month of January, one of the most heavily recorded and most intense months of his presidency. During this month, the post-assassination grace period effectively ends, and Johnson struggles to make the presidency his own.

Toward the Great Society

These three volumes consist of approximately 80 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes has begun to settle into his new role as president, commanding negotiations with Congress, engaging world leaders, and reshaping the administration in his own image. While continuing to work toward the passage of the landmark civil rights bill amid a southern filibuster, Johnson also manages the progress of legislation authorizing an unprecedented federal attack on poverty and begins preparations for his upcoming fall presidential campaign. The recordings also provide unparalleled insights into Johnson’s growing concerns and private doubts about the U.S. military engagement in Southeast Asia.

Volume Four, 1 February 1964 – 8 March 1964, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany

Volume Five, 9 March 1964 – 13 April 1964, ed. David Shreve and Robert David Johnson

Volume Six, 14 April 1964 – 31 May 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

Mississippi Burning and the Passage of the Civil Rights Act

These two volumes focus on 34 critical days in Johnson’s presidency—1 June 1964 to 4 July 1964—and consist of approximately 33 hours of the nearly 800 total hours of Johnson’s White House recordings. The Lyndon Johnson of these tapes makes a seminal contribution to American history by championing the passage of the Civil Rights Act, continues to struggle with America’s course in Vietnam, and faces a developing crisis in Mississippi that tests his commitment to civil rights and stretches his political skills to their limits.

Volume Seven, 1 June 1964 – 22 June 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee

This volume opens on the first day of June, as the Senate takes a key step toward closing debate on the civil rights bill—and toward its eventual passage. The volume wraps up on 22 June with the ominous announcement that three civil rights workers have disappeared in Mississippi.

Volume Eight, 23 June 1964 – 4 July 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and David C. Carter

This volume opens on 23 June with the White House in full crisis. Scrambling to react to the disappearance and presumed murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, LBJ tapes more on that day than on any other in his presidency. As the mystery in Mississippi deepens over the next two weeks, Johnson puts the finishing touches on the Civil Rights Act, signing it on 2 July. The volume closes on Independence Day as Johnson basks in triumph with old friends at his Texas ranch.

This volume documents almost 200 presidential conversations involving significant discussions of race, politics, and the civil rights movement during the summer and fall of 1964. With a few notable exceptions, all of those conversations take place over the telephone, with President Johnson usually speaking either at the White House or the LBJ Ranch in Texas. These calls occur generally in three chronological periods. For July and early August 1964, the tapes tend to archive Johnson’s responses to white anti–civil rights violence in Mississippi and Georgia, and to civil disorders in New York City and several other northeastern cities. From early August to early September, they focus on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenge and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final section of recordings, the smallest in size, cover aspects of the presidential campaign from the end of August to the election in early November.

Johnson and Civil Rights

Within PRDE lies a powerful two-million-word narrative of the American presidency, race relations, and the civil rights movement from 1962 to 1968. The 2018 publication of Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights, Volume 2 and John F. Kennedy and Civil Rights, 1963 (upcoming, Summer 2018) completes a multivolume series that examines how two American presidents managed era-defining racial crises and passed landmark legislation, while confronting divisive civil disorders and a violent campaign of southern white supremacist terrorism. Taken together, these volumes in PRDE provide insightful clues for understanding, in LBJ's words, the "America that is yet to come."

Volume One, 6 July 1964 –𠂕 November 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany

This volume documents almost 200 presidential conversations involving significant discussions of race, politics, and the civil rights movement during the summer and fall of 1964. With a few notable exceptions, all of these conversations take place over the telephone, with President Johnson usually speaking either at the White House or the LBJ Ranch in Texas. These calls occur generally in three chronological periods. For July and early August 1964, the tapes tend to archive Johnson's responses to white anti-civil rights violence in Mississippi and Georgia, and to civil disorders in New York City and several other northeastern cities. From early August to early September, they focus on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenge and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The final section of recordings, the smallest in size, cover aspects of the presidential campaign from the end of August to the election in early November.

Volume Two, 5 November 1964 –� December 1968, ed. Kent B. Germany

This volume picks up LBJ's once-secret civil rights story on the day after his 1964 election and carries it to the end of his presidency. Forming a template for how an American president managed profound domestic crises and passed landmark legislation, it puts a reader directly into some of the most pivotal moments of the civil rights movement: the Selma to Montgomery march, the fight for the Voting Rights Act, and the violent campaign of southern white terrorism against civil rights activists.

Spanning a chaotic four years, this volume explores the President's responses to civil disorders in Watts, Detroit, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.—three of which required a U.S. Army deployment. It also documents Johnson's attempts to rebuild the Democratic Party for a post–Jim Crow South, to stop warrantless wiretapping, and to appoint more African Americans to high-level positions, including Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, Johnson's recorded conversations offer a personal history of 1960s politics, detailing his complex relationships with several figures, including Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Abe Fortas, and dozens of other high-level officials.

Vietnam, ed. David G. Coleman, Ken Hughes, and Marc J. Selverstone

The onset of the American war in Vietnam, which was at its most violent between 1965 and 1973, is the subject of these annotated transcripts. Covering the period July 1964 through July1965, these transcripts highlight some of the most consequential developments in the conflict, transforming what had been a U.S. military assistance and advisory mission into a full-scale American war. From the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964 to Johnson’s announcement in July 1965 of major new combat deployments, these months span congressional authorization for military action as well as the Americanization of the conflict. In between lie developments of increasingly greater significance, including the decision to deploy the Marines and the shift from defensive to offensive operations.

The War on Poverty, ed. Guian A. McKee

Volume One

This volume, which includes all of Johnson’s recorded conversations about the War on Poverty during the second half of 1964, traces Johnson’s intense effort to pass the economic opportunity bill. Although it is primarily a record of the President’s attempt to lobby, negotiate, and cajole Congress toward this end, it captures dimensions of Johnson’s personality, political style, and policy views that would eventually shape his management of the War on Poverty—and his presidency. Through these recorded conversations, listeners gain a sense of Johnson’s famous skill as a legislative tactician and of his ability as a deal maker and a flatterer who understood the ways of Washington, and especially of Congress, at an intimate level. Gradually, though, something else builds through the recordings: a sense of what Johnson actually thought he was doing in implementing an unprecedented federal initiative to address the problem of lingering poverty amidst the broad prosperity of the post–World War II United States. We gain, as we can from no other source, a new understanding of what Lyndon Johnson actually believed.

Volume Two

The second volume in PRDE’s War on Poverty series allows readers to trace the implementation of this core piece of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Covering the period from January 1965 to December 1968, the volume traces Johnson’s continual struggle during these years to control both the political and policy dimensions of the War on Poverty. The volume highlights in particular Johnson’s frequent frustration with the Community Action Program and its mandate to insure the “maximum feasible participation” of the poor in planning and implementing program activities. Even more powerful is Johnson’s concern about the political threat posed by Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other Senate liberals, who sought to use the limitations of the War on Poverty as a rationale for a more expansive effort to confront poverty and racism in the United States—and potentially, as the basis for a Kennedy run for the presidency. The volume thus presents the rare spectacle of a president opposing additional funding for one of the signature programs of his own administration. The War on Poverty transcripts offer readers a firsthand view of the challenges facing an ambitious but embattled president struggling to implement an unprecedented but contested domestic policy initiative.

The Election of 1964, Volume 1, ed. Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone

This collection of roughly 240 conversations traces the efforts of President Lyndon B. Johnson to win the White House in November 1964. Having assumed the presidency upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and then enacted key elements of Kennedy’s legislative agenda the following year, Johnson sought to capture the Oval Office in his own right. These conversations highlight the path he took toward that goal, as well as his efforts to build his party’s majorities in Congress and to elect Democrats to statehouses and governorships around the country.

Covering a fifteen-week period from July through October 1964, the conversations in this release illuminate Johnson’s thinking on a range of subjects central to the election and American politics. These include the role of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in the upcoming campaign, the selection of a vice presidential running mate for the Democratic ticket, and machinations surrounding the Democratic convention in Atlantic City, as well as broader strategic concerns related to the campaign against Arizona senator Barry M. Goldwater Sr., the Republican candidate for president. Johnson weighed these considerations against the backdrop of several developments in foreign and domestic affairs, including an escalating war in Vietnam, a newly won victory for civil rights, an emerging war on poverty, and several political scandals—any one of which posed a threat to Johnson’s electoral chances.

This tranche of 120 transcripts includes the first and second of four installments that, collectively, will comprise an initial volume on the 1964 election. A forthcoming second volume, covering the period October 1964 through January 1965, will complete the series.

Johnson Telephone Tapes: 1968, ed. Kent B. Germany, Nicole Hemmer, and Ken Hughes

This collection of roughly 200 conversations highlights some of the most consequential developments in American politics and life during the watershed year of 1968. Offering unique insights into the challenges President Johnson faced in pursuing civil rights legislation, managing the war in Vietnam, and prosecuting his own War on Poverty, these transcripts detail Johnson’s further efforts to stem civil unrest at home, address political developments abroad, and finesse the presidential election that November.

The initial releases in this collection included conversations on the Pueblo incident with North Korea, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the departure of Robert S. McNamara as secretary of defense and the arrival of his replacement Clark M. Clifford, the political challenges posed by senators Eugene McCarthy [DFL–Minnesota] and Robert F. Kennedy [D–New York] for the Democratic presidential nomination, the mounting fiscal worries and tax concerns facing the country, the creation of federal housing policy, and the President’s decision not to seek reelection.

A second release during 2018 touched on the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the social unrest these events engendered the presidential campaigns of Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, and Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace Cold War concerns regarding arms control and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the turbulence of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the final weeks of the election campaign, replete with Johnson’s attempts to negotiate a complete bombing halt in Vietnam and to broker peace talks with the Vietnamese Communists, as well as Nixon’s efforts to thwart him in those efforts.

This third release included conversations with Republican presidential candidate Nixon about Vietnam and the upcoming election discussions with several aides and party officials both prior to and during the Democratic convention in Chicago party divisions over a Vietnam plank in the Democratic platform the selection of a vice presidential running mate for Democratic presidential nominee Hubert H. Humphrey the political machinery of the Democratic party the violence attending the Chicago convention the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and domestic concerns such as crime, civil rights, and housing.

The fourth and final release in this collection includes over 80 conversations from the period just prior to and after the 1968 presidential election. These involve some of President Johnson’s most significant exchanges on the emerging bombing halt in Vietnam and attendant efforts to begin peace talks with the Communist Vietnamese. Republican efforts to thwart the commencement of those talks before election day—activities that became known as the Chennault Affair—are also well represented in this release. So, too, are Johnson’s reflections on the election campaign—including action to address the violence at the Democratic convention that August—as are the President’s efforts to shape the direction of the Democratic Party and his conversations with President-elect Richard Nixon, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and other officials about staffing the incoming Nixon administration.

Rotunda was created for the publication of original digital scholarship along with newly digitized critical and documentary editions in the humanities and social sciences. The collection combines the originality, intellectual rigor, and scholarly value of traditional peer-reviewed university press publishing with thoughtful technological innovation designed for scholars and students.

The Miller Center is a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship, public policy, and political history and strives to apply the lessons of history to the nation’s most pressing contemporary governance challenges.

Rotunda editions were established by generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the President’s Office of the University of Virginia

The Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program is funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission


Contents

As initially ratified, the United States Constitution granted each state complete discretion to determine voter qualifications for its residents. [19] [20] : 50 After the Civil War, the three Reconstruction Amendments were ratified and limited this discretion. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) prohibits slavery "except as a punishment for crime" the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) grants citizenship to anyone "born or naturalized in the United States" and guarantees every person due process and equal protection rights and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) provides that "[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." These Amendments also empower Congress to enforce their provisions through "appropriate legislation". [21]

To enforce the Reconstruction Amendments, Congress passed the Enforcement Acts in the 1870s. The acts criminalized the obstruction of a citizen's voting rights and provided for federal supervision of the electoral process, including voter registration. [22] : 310 However, in 1875 the Supreme Court struck down parts of the legislation as unconstitutional in United States v. Cruikshank and United States v. Reese. [23] : 97 After the Reconstruction Era ended in 1877, enforcement of these laws became erratic, and in 1894, Congress repealed most of their provisions. [22] : 310

Southern states generally sought to disenfranchise racial minorities during and after Reconstruction. From 1868 to 1888, electoral fraud and violence throughout the South suppressed the African-American vote. [24] From 1888 to 1908, Southern states legalized disenfranchisement by enacting Jim Crow laws they amended their constitutions and passed legislation to impose various voting restrictions, including literacy tests, poll taxes, property-ownership requirements, moral character tests, requirements that voter registration applicants interpret particular documents, and grandfather clauses that allowed otherwise-ineligible persons to vote if their grandfathers voted (which excluded many African Americans whose grandfathers had been slaves or otherwise ineligible). [22] [24] During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld efforts to discriminate against racial minorities. In Giles v. Harris (1903), the court held that regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment, the judiciary did not have the remedial power to force states to register racial minorities to vote. [23] : 100

Prior to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 there were several efforts to stop the disenfranchisement of black voters by Southern states, [7] . Besides the above-mentioned literacy tests and poll taxes other bureaucratic restrictions were used to deny them the right to vote. African Americans also "risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote. As a result, very few African Americans were registered voters, and they had very little, if any, political power, either locally or nationally." [25] In the 1950s the Civil Rights Movement increased pressure on the federal government to protect the voting rights of racial minorities. In 1957, Congress passed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction: the Civil Rights Act of 1957. This legislation authorized the attorney general to sue for injunctive relief on behalf of persons whose Fifteenth Amendment rights were denied, created the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice to enforce civil rights through litigation, and created the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate voting rights deprivations. Further protections were enacted in the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which allowed federal courts to appoint referees to conduct voter registration in jurisdictions that engaged in voting discrimination against racial minorities. [9]

Although these acts helped empower courts to remedy violations of federal voting rights, strict legal standards made it difficult for the Department of Justice to successfully pursue litigation. For example, to win a discrimination lawsuit against a state that maintained a literacy test, the Department needed to prove that the rejected voter-registration applications of racial minorities were comparable to the accepted applications of whites. This involved comparing thousands of applications in each of the state's counties in a process that could last months. The Department's efforts were further hampered by resistance from local election officials, who would claim to have misplaced the voter registration records of racial minorities, remove registered racial minorities from the electoral rolls, and resign so that voter registration ceased. Moreover, the Department often needed to appeal lawsuits several times before the judiciary provided relief because many federal district court judges opposed racial minority suffrage. Thus, between 1957 and 1964, the African-American voter registration rate in the South increased only marginally even though the Department litigated 71 voting rights lawsuits. [23] : 514 Efforts to stop the disfranchisement by the Southern states had achieved only modest success overall and in some areas had proved almost entirely ineffectual, because the "Department of Justice's efforts to eliminate discriminatory election practices by litigation on a case-by-case basis had been unsuccessful in opening up the registration process as soon as one discriminatory practice or procedure was proven to be unconstitutional and enjoined, a new one would be substituted in its place and litigation would have to commence anew." [7]

Congress responded to rampant discrimination against racial minorities in public accommodations and government services by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act included some voting rights protections it required registrars to equally administer literacy tests in writing to each voter and to accept applications that contained minor errors, and it created a rebuttable presumption that persons with a sixth-grade education were sufficiently literate to vote. [20] : 97 [26] [27] However, despite lobbying from civil rights leaders, the Act did not prohibit most forms of voting discrimination. [28] : 253 President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized this, and shortly after the 1964 elections in which Democrats gained overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress, he privately instructed Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to draft "the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act that you can". [20] : 48–50 However, Johnson did not publicly push for the legislation at the time his advisers warned him of political costs for vigorously pursuing a voting rights bill so soon after Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Johnson was concerned that championing voting rights would endanger his Great Society reforms by angering Southern Democrats in Congress. [20] : 47–48, 50–52

Following the 1964 elections, civil rights organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) pushed for federal action to protect the voting rights of racial minorities. [28] : 254–255 Their efforts culminated in protests in Alabama, particularly in the city of Selma, where County Sheriff Jim Clark's police force violently resisted African-American voter registration efforts. Speaking about the voting rights push in Selma, James Forman of SNCC said:

Our strategy, as usual, was to force the U.S. government to intervene in case there were arrests—and if they did not intervene, that inaction would once again prove the government was not on our side and thus intensify the development of a mass consciousness among blacks. Our slogan for this drive was "One Man, One Vote". [28] : 255

In January 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, [29] [30] and other civil rights leaders organized several peaceful demonstrations in Selma, which were violently attacked by police and white counter-protesters. Throughout January and February, these protests received national media coverage and drew attention to the issue of voting rights. King and other demonstrators were arrested during a march on February 1 for violating an anti-parade ordinance this inspired similar marches in the following days, causing hundreds more to be arrested. [28] : 259–261 On February 4, civil rights leader Malcolm X gave a militant speech in Selma in which he said that many African Americans did not support King's nonviolent approach [28] : 262 he later privately said that he wanted to frighten whites into supporting King. [20] : 69 The next day, King was released and a letter he wrote addressing voting rights, "Letter From A Selma Jail", appeared in The New York Times. [28] : 262

With the nation paying increasing attention to Selma and voting rights, President Johnson reversed his decision to delay voting rights legislation, and on February 6, he announced he would send a proposal to Congress. [20] : 69 However, he did not reveal the proposal's content or when it would come before Congress. [28] : 264

On February 18 in Marion, Alabama, state troopers violently broke up a nighttime voting-rights march during which officer James Bonard Fowler shot and killed young African-American protester Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was unarmed and protecting his mother. [28] : 265 [31] Spurred by this event, and at the initiation of Bevel, [28] : 267 [29] [30] [32] : 81–86 on March 7 SCLC and SNCC began the first of the Selma to Montgomery marches, in which Selma residents intended to march to Alabama's capital, Montgomery, to highlight voting rights issues and present Governor George Wallace with their grievances. On the first march, demonstrators were stopped by state and county police on horseback at the Edmund Pettus Bridge near Selma. The police shot tear gas into the crowd and trampled protesters. Televised footage of the scene, which became known as "Bloody Sunday", generated outrage across the country. [23] : 515 A second march was held on March 9, which became known as "Turnaround Tuesday". That evening, three white Unitarian ministers who participated in the march were attacked on the street and beaten with clubs by four Ku Klux Klan members. [33] The worst injured was Reverend James Reeb from Boston, who died on Thursday, March 11. [34]

In the wake of the events in Selma, President Johnson, addressing a televised joint session of Congress on March 15, called on legislators to enact expansive voting rights legislation. He concluded his speech with the words "we shall overcome", a major anthem of the civil rights movement. [28] : 278 [35] The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced in Congress two days later while civil rights leaders, now under the protection of federal troops, led a march of 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery. [23] : 516 [28] : 279, 282

Efforts to eliminate discriminatory election practices by litigation on a case-by-case basis by the United States Department of Justice had been unsuccessful and existing federal anti-discrimination laws were not sufficient to overcome the resistance by state officials to enforcement of the 15th Amendment. Against this backdrop Congress came to the conclusion that a new comprehensive federal bill was necessary to break the grip of state disfranchisement. [7] The United States Supreme Court explained this in South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) with the following words:

In recent years, Congress has repeatedly tried to cope with the problem by facilitating case-by-case litigation against voting discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 authorized the Attorney General to seek injunctions against public and private interference with the right to vote on racial grounds. Perfecting amendments in the Civil Rights Act of 1960 permitted the joinder of States as parties defendant, gave the Attorney General access to local voting records, and authorized courts to register voters in areas of systematic discrimination. Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expedited the hearing of voting cases before three-judge courts and outlawed some of the tactics used to disqualify Negroes from voting in federal elections. Despite the earnest efforts of the Justice Department and of many federal judges, these new laws have done little to cure the problem of voting discrimination. [. ] The previous legislation has proved ineffective for a number of reasons. Voting suits are unusually onerous to prepare, sometimes requiring as many as 6,000 man-hours spent combing through registration records in preparation for trial. Litigation has been exceedingly slow, in part because of the ample opportunities for delay afforded voting officials and others involved in the proceedings. Even when favorable decisions have finally been obtained, some of the States affected have merely switched to discriminatory devices not covered by the federal decrees, or have enacted difficult new tests designed to prolong the existing disparity between white and Negro registration. Alternatively, certain local officials have defied and evaded court orders or have simply closed their registration offices to freeze the voting rolls. The provision of the 1960 law authorizing registration by federal officers has had little impact on local maladministration, because of its procedural complexities. [36]

In South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) the Supreme Court also held that Congress had the power the pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under its Enforcement Powers stemming from the Fifteenth Amendment:

Congress exercised its authority under the Fifteenth Amendment in an inventive manner when it enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. First: the measure prescribes remedies for voting discrimination which go into effect without any need for prior adjudication. This was clearly a legitimate response to the problem, for which there is ample precedent under other constitutional provisions. See Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U. S. 294, 379 U. S. 302-304 United States v. Darby, 312 U. S. 100, 312 U. S. 120-121. Congress had found that case-by-case litigation was inadequate to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits. After enduring nearly a century of systematic resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress might well decide to shift the advantage of time and inertia from the perpetrators of the evil to its victims. [. ] Second: the Act intentionally confines these remedies to a small number of States and political subdivisions which, in most instances, were familiar to Congress by name. This, too, was a permissible method of dealing with the problem. Congress had learned that substantial voting discrimination presently occurs in certain sections of the country, and it knew no way of accurately forecasting whether the evil might spread elsewhere in the future. In acceptable legislative fashion, Congress chose to limit its attention to the geographic areas where immediate action seemed necessary. See McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U. S. 420, 366 U. S. 427 Salsburg v. Maryland, 346 U. S. 545, 346 U. S. 550-554. The doctrine of the equality of States, invoked by South Carolina, does not bar this approach, for that doctrine applies only to the terms upon which States are admitted to the Union, and not to the remedies for local evils which have subsequently appeared. See Coyle v. Smith, 221 U. S. 559, and cases cited therein. [37]

Original bill Edit

Senate Edit

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced in Congress on March 17, 1965, as S. 1564, and it was jointly sponsored by Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL), both of whom had worked with Attorney General Katzenbach to draft the bill's language. [38] Although Democrats held two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of Congress after the 1964 Senate elections, [20] : 49 Johnson worried that Southern Democrats would filibuster the legislation because they had opposed other civil rights efforts. He enlisted Dirksen to help gain Republican support. Dirksen did not originally intend to support voting rights legislation so soon after supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he expressed willingness to accept "revolutionary" legislation after learning about the police violence against marchers in Selma on Bloody Sunday. [20] : 95–96 Given Dirksen's key role in helping Katzenbach draft the legislation, it became known informally as the "Dirksenbach" bill. [20] : 96 After Mansfield and Dirksen introduced the bill, 64 additional senators agreed to cosponsor it, [20] : 150 with a total 46 Democratic and 20 Republican cosponsors. [39]

The bill contained several special provisions that targeted certain state and local governments: a "coverage formula" that determined which jurisdictions were subject to the Act's other special provisions ("covered jurisdictions") a "preclearance" requirement that prohibited covered jurisdictions from implementing changes to their voting procedures without first receiving approval from the U.S. attorney general or the U.S. District Court for D.C. that the changes were not discriminatory and the suspension of "tests or devices", such as literacy tests, in covered jurisdictions. The bill also authorized the assignment of federal examiners to register voters, and of federal observers to monitor elections, to covered jurisdictions that were found to have engaged in egregious discrimination. The bill set these special provisions to expire after five years. [22] : 319–320 [23] : 520, 524 [40] : 5–6

The scope of the coverage formula was a matter of contentious congressional debate. The coverage formula reached a jurisdiction if (1) the jurisdiction maintained a "test or device" on November 1, 1964 and (2) less than 50 percent of the jurisdiction's voting-age residents either were registered to vote on November 1, 1964 or cast a ballot in the November 1964 presidential election. [22] : 317 This formula reached few jurisdictions outside the Deep South. To appease legislators who felt that the bill unfairly targeted Southern jurisdictions, the bill included a general prohibition on racial discrimination in voting that applied nationwide. [41] : 1352 The bill also included provisions allowing a covered jurisdiction to "bail out" of coverage by proving in federal court that it had not used a "test or device" for a discriminatory purpose or with a discriminatory effect during the 5 years preceding its bailout request. [40] : 6 Additionally, the bill included a "bail in" provision under which federal courts could subject discriminatory non-covered jurisdictions to remedies contained in the special provisions. [42] [43] : 2006–2007

The bill was first considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chair, Senator James Eastland (D-MS), opposed the legislation with several other Southern senators on the committee. To prevent the bill from dying in committee, Mansfield proposed a motion to require the Judiciary Committee to report the bill out of committee by April 9, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 67 to 13. [20] : 150 [39] During the committee's consideration of the bill, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) led an effort to amend the bill to prohibit poll taxes. Although the Twenty-fourth Amendment—which banned the use of poll taxes in federal elections— was ratified a year earlier, Johnson's administration and the bill's sponsors did not include a provision in the voting rights bill banning poll taxes in state elections because they feared courts would strike down the legislation as unconstitutional. [23] : 521 [28] : 285 Additionally, by excluding poll taxes from the definition of "tests or devices", the coverage formula did not reach Texas or Arkansas, mitigating opposition from those two states' influential congressional delegations. [23] : 521 Nonetheless, with the support of liberal committee members, Kennedy's amendment to prohibit poll taxes passed by a 9-4 vote. In response, Dirksen offered an amendment that exempted from the coverage formula any state that had at least 60 percent of its eligible residents registered to vote or that had a voter turnout that surpassed the national average in the preceding presidential election. This amendment, which effectively exempted all states from coverage except Mississippi, passed during a committee meeting in which three liberal members were absent. Dirksen offered to drop the amendment if the poll tax ban were removed. Ultimately, the bill was reported out of committee on April 9 by a 12-4 vote without a recommendation. [20] : 152–153

On April 22, the full Senate started debating the bill. Dirksen spoke first on the bill's behalf, saying that "legislation is needed if the unequivocal mandate of the Fifteenth Amendment . is to be enforced and made effective, and if the Declaration of Independence is to be made truly meaningful." [20] : 154 Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) retorted that the bill would lead to "despotism and tyranny", and Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) argued that the bill was unconstitutional because it deprived states of their right under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution to establish voter qualifications and because the bill's special provisions targeted only certain jurisdictions. On May 6, Ervin offered an amendment to abolish the coverage formula's automatic trigger and instead allow federal judges to appoint federal examiners to administer voter registration. This amendment overwhelmingly failed, with 42 Democrats and 22 Republicans voting against it. [20] : 154–156 After lengthy debate, Ted Kennedy's amendment to prohibit poll taxes also failed 49-45 on May 11. [39] However, the Senate agreed to include a provision authorizing the attorney general to sue any jurisdiction, covered or non-covered, to challenge its use of poll taxes. [28] : 156–157 [40] : 2 An amendment offered by Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) to enfranchise English-illiterate citizens who had attained at least a sixth-grade education in a non-English-speaking school also passed by 48-19. Southern legislators offered a series of amendments to weaken the bill, all of which failed. [20] : 159

On May 25, the Senate voted for cloture by a 70-30 vote, thus overcoming the threat of filibuster and limiting further debate on the bill. [44] On May 26, the Senate passed the bill by a 77-19 vote (Democrats 47-16, Republicans 30-2) only senators representing Southern states voted against it. [20] : 161 [45]


How LBJ Saved the Civil Rights Act

Fifty years later, new accounts of its fraught passage reveal the era's real hero—and it isn’t the Supreme Court.

In the winter of 1963, as the Civil Rights Act worked its way through Congress, Justice William Brennan decided to play for time. The Supreme Court had recently heard arguments in the appeal of 12 African American protesters arrested at a segregated Baltimore restaurant. The justices had caucused, and a conservative majority had voted to decide Bell v. Maryland by reiterating that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause did not apply to private businesses like restaurants and lunch counters—only to “state actors.” The Court had used this doctrine to limit the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment since 1883. Brennan—the Warren Court’s liberal deal maker and master strategist—knew that such a decision could destroy the civil-rights bill’s chances in Congress. After all, the bill’s key provision outlawed segregation in public accommodations. Taxing his opponents’ patience, he sought a delay in order to request the government’s views on the case. He all but winked and told the solicitor general not to hurry.

And then the conservatives on the Court lost their fifth vote. Justice Tom Clark changed his mind and circulated a draft opinion granting the appeal. In a revolutionary constitutional change, lunch counters and restaurants would suddenly be liable if they violated the equal-protection clause. But Brennan foresaw a new difficulty. By now it was June 1964, and a coalition of northern Democratic and Republican senators looked set to break a southern filibuster and pass a strong civil-rights bill. Would a favorable Supreme Court ruling actually give wavering senators an excuse to vote no? They might say there was no need for legislation because the Court had already solved the problem. So Brennan, ever nimble, engineered a tactical retreat by assembling a majority that avoided the merits of the case altogether. It was an alley-oop to the political branches. They grabbed the ball and dunked it. Ten days after the Court’s decision, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the president signed it into law.

In the popular imagination, the Supreme Court is the governmental hero of the civil-rights era. The period conjures images of strong white pillars, Earl Warren’s horn-rims, and the almost holy words Brown v. Board of Education. But in Bell, the Court vindicated civil rights by stepping aside. As Bruce Ackerman observes in The Civil Rights Revolution, Brennan realized that a law passed by democratically elected officials would bear greater legitimacy in the South than a Supreme Court decision. He also doubtless anticipated that the act would be challenged in court, and that he would eventually have his say. The moment demonstrated not merely cooperation among the three branches of government, but a confluence of personalities: Brennan slowing down the Court, President Johnson leaning on Congress to hurry up, and the grandstanders and speechmakers of the Senate making their deals, Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey foremost among them. In this age of obstruction and delay, it is heartening to recall that when the government decides to act, it can be a mighty force.

But three equal branches rarely means three equal burdens, and the civil-rights era was no exception. Although the Court-centered narrative undervalues the two political branches, of those two branches it was the executive that provided decisive leadership in the 1960s. Just as the intragovernmental cooperation of 1964 is striking in light of today’s partisan gridlock, the presidential initiative displayed during the mid-’60s is worth considering in light of Barack Obama’s perceived hands-off approach to lawmaking. Of course, no discussion of civil-rights leadership is complete without including Martin Luther King Jr., who provided moral and spiritual focus, infusing the movement with resolution and dignity. But the times also called for a leader who could subdue the vast political and administrative forces arrayed against change—for someone with the strategic and tactical instincts to overcome the most-entrenched opponents, and the courage to decide instantly, in a moment of great uncertainty and doubt, to throw his full weight behind progress. The civil-rights movement had the extraordinary figure of Lyndon Johnson.

The Civil Rights Act turns 50 this year, and a wave of fine books accompanies the semicentennial. Ackerman’s is the most ambitious it is the third volume in an ongoing series on American constitutional history called We the People. A professor of law and political science at Yale, Ackerman likens the act to a constitutional amendment in its significance to the country’s legal development. He acknowledges the Supreme Court’s leadership during the 1950s, when President Eisenhower showed little enthusiasm for civil rights, and when Congress passed the largely toothless Civil Rights Act of 1957. During those same years, the Court spoke with a loud, clear voice, unanimously deciding Brown, which ordered the desegregation of schools, and Cooper v. Aaron, which held that state segregation laws conflicting with the Constitution could not stand. But the Supreme Court does not command the National Guard or control the budget. Someone needed to enforce those decisions in the defiant South. That is why, Ackerman writes, “the mantle of leadership passed to the president and Congress,” beginning with the 1964 law.

But the political branches ventured into the fray only in the last weeks of 1963. President Kennedy had introduced the bill in June of that year with much ambivalence. As Todd S. Purdum, a senior writer at Politico, recounts in An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Kennedy had led a sheltered life in matters of race. While generally sympathetic to civil-rights ideals, he “believed that strong civil rights legislation would be difficult if not impossible to pass, and that it could well jeopardize the rest of his legislative program.” He had tried to attack literacy tests and other barriers to voting with legislation but had twice been defeated in the Senate, where the old bulls of the South wielded the filibuster with practiced skill. (Roy Wilkins of the NAACP observed, “Kennedy was not naïve, but as a legislator he was very green.”) He regarded Martin Luther King Jr. warily, and with each new southern crisis saw his agenda slipping away. But events finally forced Kennedy to act. The Freedom Riders in Montgomery, the dogs and water cannons in Birmingham, and the sit-in in Jackson all made further equivocation on civil rights impossible by the spring of 1963. Four hours after Kennedy’s speech calling for legislation, an assassin murdered the NAACP organizer Medgar Evers in his own driveway. Five months after that, the bill was stuck in the House Rules Committee—“the turnstile at the entry to the House of Representatives,” in Purdum’s phrase—and the country had a new president.

In 1963, the Reverend Joseph Carter (far left) was the first African American in his Louisiana parish to register to vote. He was jeered as he walked down the courthouse steps. (Bob Adelman/Corbis)

Purdum, whose book is an astute, well-paced, and highly readable play-by-play of the bill’s journey to become a law, describes the immense challenges facing Lyndon Johnson after Kennedy’s assassination. “When it came to civil rights, much of America was paralyzed in 1963,” he writes. That certainly included Congress. The civil-rights bill, which had been languishing in the House since June, had no hope of coming to a full vote in the near future, and faced even bleaker prospects in the Senate. In fact, Kennedy’s entire legislative program was at a standstill, with a stalled tax-cut bill, eight stranded appropriations measures, and motionless education proposals. And Congress was not Johnson’s only problem. He also had to ensure the continuity of government, reassure the United States’ allies, and investigate Kennedy’s assassination. Purdum’s version of this story is excellent, but he cannot surpass the masterful Robert A. Caro, who offers a peerless and truly mesmerizing account of Johnson’s assumption of the presidency in The Passage of Power.

Days after Kennedy’s murder, Johnson displayed the type of leadership on civil rights that his predecessor lacked and that the other branches could not possibly match. He made the bold and exceedingly risky decision to champion the stalled civil-rights bill. It was a pivotal moment: without Johnson, a strong bill would not have passed. Caro writes that during a searching late-night conversation that lasted into the morning of November 27, when somebody tried to persuade Johnson not to waste his time or capital on the lost cause of civil rights, the president replied, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?” He grasped the unique possibilities of the moment and saw how to leverage the nation’s grief by tying Kennedy’s legacy to the fight against inequality. Addressing Congress later that day, Johnson showed that he would replace his predecessor’s eloquence with concrete action. He resolutely announced: “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law.”

President Johnson talks with civil-rights leaders in the Oval Office in January 1964. From left: Martin Luther King Jr., LBJ, Whitney Young, and James Farmer. (Yoichi Okamoto/AP)

The New York Times journalist Clay Risen contends in The Bill of the Century that Johnson’s contribution to the Civil Rights Act’s success was “largely symbolic.” One might say the same thing about Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Sometimes symbolism is substance—especially where the presidency is concerned. The head of the executive branch firmly seized the initiative, taking up a moribund bill addressing the nation’s most agonizing problem. Here was Johnson, president for only five days, working out of the Executive Office Building because the White House was still occupied by Kennedy’s family and staff, with an election already looming less than a year away. Instead of proceeding tentatively, as most anyone in those circumstances would have done, he radiated decisiveness, betting everything he had right after he got it. As Caro shows so persuasively, from that moment, Johnson’s urgency and purpose infused every stage of the bill’s progress. And in the days and weeks that followed, the stagnant cloud that had settled over Kennedy’s agenda began to lift.

Symbolism was the least of it. Johnson took off his jacket and tore into the legislative process intimately and tirelessly. As the former Senate majority leader, he knew his way around Capitol Hill like few other presidents before him—and none since. The best hope of moving the civil-rights bill from the House Rules Committee—whose segregationist chairman, Howard Smith of Virginia, had no intention of relinquishing it—was a procedure called a “discharge petition.” If a majority of House members sign a discharge petition, a bill is taken from the committee, to the chagrin of its chairman. Johnson made the petition his own personal crusade. Even Risen credits his zeal, noting that after receiving a list of 22 House members vulnerable to pressure on the petition, the president immediately ordered the White House switchboard to get them on the phone, wherever they could be found. Johnson engaged an army of lieutenants—businessmen, civil-rights leaders, labor officials, journalists, and allies on the Hill—to go out and find votes for the discharge petition. He cut a deal that secured half a dozen votes from the Texas delegation. He showed Martin Luther King Jr. a list of uncommitted Republicans and, as Caro writes, “told King to work on them.” He directed one labor leader to “talk to every human you could,” saying, “if we fail on this, then we fail in everything.”

The pressure worked. On December 4—not two weeks into Johnson’s presidency—the implacable Chairman Smith began to give way. Rather than have the bill taken from his committee, he privately agreed to begin hearings that would conclude before the end of January, and then release the bill. Smith looked set to renege on his agreement in the new year, but reluctantly kept his word, allowing the bill to be sent to the full House on January 30, 1964. Risen credits others with this development, suggesting that it was Representative Clarence Brown of Ohio, a Republican member of the Rules Committee, among others, who got Smith to move. Risen is particularly sharp on the evolution of the Republicans during these tumultuous years, but here he accords them too much clout. Brown had to answer to House Republican Leader Charles Halleck of Indiana, whose support Johnson likely bought by proposing, and then personally securing, a NASA research facility at Purdue University, in Halleck’s district. And the entire Republican caucus in the House was wilting under Johnson’s relentless and very public campaign to portray “the party of Lincoln” as obstructing civil rights by opposing the discharge petition.

Johnson kept the bill moving in the Senate by dislodging President Kennedy’s tax-cut bill from the Finance Committee. As vice president, Johnson had advised Kennedy not to introduce civil-rights legislation until the tax cut had cleared Congress. Kennedy didn’t listen, and now both bills were stuck. (Like House Rules, Senate Finance had a wily segregationist for a chairman: Harry Byrd of Virginia.) Risen minimizes the significance of this problem, writing that the tax bill “presented no procedural obstacle to the civil rights bill, only a political one.” (And when does politics ever derail legislation?!) As Caro explains, the tax bill was a hostage. By holding it in committee, the South pressured the administration to give up on civil-rights legislation, with the implication that the withdrawal of the latter might produce movement on the former. But Johnson and Byrd were old friends, and during an elaborate White House lunch they came to an understanding: if Johnson submitted a budget below $100 billion, Byrd would release the tax bill. Johnson then personally bullied department heads to reduce their appropriations requests, and delivered a budget of $97.9 billion. The Finance Committee passed the tax bill on January 23, 1964, with Byrd casting the deciding vote to allow a vote, then weighing in against the measure itself. The Senate passed the tax bill on February 7, mere days before the civil-rights bill cleared the House.

Finally, Johnson helped usher the bill to passage in the Senate by working to break the southern filibuster, which was led by his political patron, the formidable Richard Russell of Georgia. In light of the Senate’s fiercely guarded independence, the president could not operate in the open he had to use proxies like Humphrey, who was his protégé and future vice president, as well as the bill’s floor manager. Johnson impressed upon Humphrey that the vain and flamboyant Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois was the key to delivering the Republican votes needed for cloture:

Johnson demanded constant updates from Humphrey and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and always urged more-aggressive tactics. (“The president grabbed me by my shoulder and damn near broke my arm,” said Humphrey.) Even though Senate Democrats did not deploy all those tactics, Johnson’s intensity nevertheless set the tone and supplied its own momentum. He kept up a steady stream of speeches and public appearances demanding Senate passage of the strong House bill, undiluted by horse-trading. And he personally lobbied senators to vote for cloture and end the filibuster. Risen contends that Johnson “persuaded exactly one senator” to change his vote on cloture. Given that it is of course impossible to know what motivated each senator’s final decision, this lowball figure is expressed with too much certitude. Evidence presented by Purdum and Caro suggests that Johnson’s importuning, bribing, and threatening may have made an impact on closer to a dozen. The Senate invoked cloture on June 10, breaking the longest filibuster in the institution’s history. The full Senate soon passed the bill. Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964, and immediately turned his energies to what would become another landmark statute: the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Risen’s attempt to minimize Johnson’s significance in the passage of the Civil Rights Act—“he was at most a supporting actor” “he was just one of a cast of dozens” “the Civil Rights Act was not his bill by any stretch”—is perplexing. In an otherwise strong book, his revisionist view is less a question of facts than of emphasis: after all, Purdum too notes that Johnson “strategically limit[ed] his own role” at key moments (careful, for example, not to upstage Dirksen). But Risen seems bent on denying Johnson his due, drawing nearly every inference against him and repeatedly overstating the anti-Johnson case. On the one hand, Risen is right to take a fresh look at the evidence and tell the story from a new perspective, focusing on unsung heroes such as Dirksen, Humphrey, Representative William McCulloch, and Nicholas Katzenbach of the Justice Department. He makes a fair point in questioning the way history awards presidents the credit for measures that by necessity cross many desks. On the other hand, Risen is simply wrong to portray Johnson as some hapless operator for trying multiple tactics and targets, some of them unsuccessfully. Johnson’s very comprehensiveness is what jarred the sluggish and paralyzed Capitol into action and ultimately moved the bill.


President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. (Cecil Stoughton/White House Press Office)

If the president led and Congress followed, where did that leave the Supreme Court? Three months after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the Court heard arguments in a pair of cases challenging the constitutionality of its most contentious provision—Title II, which outlawed segregation in public accommodations. In December 1964 the Court decided Katzenbach v. McClung and Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, upholding Title II as a valid exercise of Congress’s commerce power. In the years since, the act has been a remarkable success. Its acceptance in the South was surprisingly quick and widespread. In a stroke, the act demolished the rickety but persistent foundation for segregation and Jim Crow. Title II reached far into the daily lives of southerners, creating an unprecedented level of personal mingling between the races and making integration a fact of daily life. Title VII, meanwhile, has vastly reduced workplace discrimination, through the efforts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although years of toil, struggle, and bloodshed still lay ahead, the 1964 law dealt a major blow to the system of segregation. The past 50 years of American history are almost unimaginable without it.

And yet the anniversary prompts an ominous reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s role in civil rights. In 1954, the Court launched the federal government’s assault on segregation, with Brown. In 1964, it got out of the way of the political branches, then quickly ratified their work. Today when it comes to racial civil rights, the Roberts Court is an aggressively hostile force. Recall Ackerman’s contention that the 1964 act has taken on the weight of a constitutional amendment. At a literal level, this is of course untrue: the act was not ratified by three-quarters of the states and is not part of the written Constitution. This means that a constitutional amendment is not needed to overturn the Civil Rights Act, which is vulnerable to a subsequent act of Congress or, more to the point, a decision by the Supreme Court.

Ten years ago, even mentioning this possibility would have seemed outrageous. But last June, the Court decided Shelby County v. Holder, striking down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as unconstitutional. Section 4(b) listed the states with a history of voting discrimination that were required to seek preclearance from the Justice Department or the courts before amending their voting laws. The 5–4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts is nothing short of appalling: as unpersuasive as it is misguided, it is, in Ackerman’s words, “a shattering judicial betrayal” of the civil-rights era. It is also the Roberts Court’s most brazenly activist decision: Congress has reauthorized the Voting Rights Act four times, most recently in 2006, with votes of 390–33 in the House and 98–0 in the Senate. In her brilliant dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the decision’s obtuseness: “Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Shelby County may be so unique that it portends no harm for the Civil Rights Act. After all, the preclearance regime was extraordinarily invasive. Ackerman calls it the biggest federal intrusion into the prerogatives of the southern states since Reconstruction. But Title II of the Civil Rights Act is also strong medicine, reaching beyond state actors to tell private businesses whom they must serve. It was by far the act’s most controversial provision—and it remains controversial among some conservatives. In 2010, Senator Rand Paul caused a sensation by arguing that the provision in the Civil Rights Act dealing with “private business owners” (ostensibly Title II) is unconstitutional. He quickly walked back his comments, but his father, Ron Paul, proudly continues to make the same argument, and the Tea Party is listening. The Heritage Foundation’s Web site files the McClung decision upholding Title II on its “Judicial Activism” page, tagged to the terms Abusing Precedent and Contorting Text. The Voting Rights Act decision can only embolden Title II’s opponents.

And they just might get a hearing. Three trends in the Roberts Court’s jurisprudence suggest that the justices would be more receptive to a challenge to Title II than any prior Court. First is its disregard for precedent. The Roberts Court has repeatedly ignored prior decisions when doing so enabled a conservative victory—most notoriously in the areas of gun regulation (District of Columbia v. Heller) and campaign finance (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). Hence it is little comfort that the Court upheld Title II in 1964. It had also previously upheld the Voting Rights Act and its reauthorizations. Second is the Roberts Court’s impatience with open-ended civil-rights measures, which some justices believe are no longer necessary. “The tests and devices that blocked access to the ballot have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years,” the Court wrote in Shelby County, dismissing the need for ongoing vigilance against voting discrimination. And third is the Court’s continued disdain for the commerce clause. Remember when Roberts’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act made the point that the act was not a valid exercise of Congress’s commerce power? He was singling out the section of the Constitution that supports the Civil Rights Act.

The 1964 law is not in imminent danger from the Supreme Court. But it is worth considering how a hostile Court changes the equation from 1964, when the judiciary acted in concert with the political branches. The new paradigm places a premium on presidential leadership, at the very least in nominating judges and justices who are in sympathy with the great statutes of the 1960s. But the battle over the Civil Rights Act shows that presidents who are serious about concrete social progress must do even more.

Lyndon Johnsons, of course, do not come along every four or every 40 years. Even if they did, Johnson brought plenty of darkness (election stealing, a credibility gap, Vietnam) along with the light (Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Great Society). Moreover, not every president needs to be a legislative genius in order to pass laws. Obama, after all, gambled big on the Affordable Care Act, investing the same type of capital in health care that Johnson invested in civil rights. It is now the law of the land. But the energy and purpose that Johnson brought to the Civil Rights Act struggle remains inspiring, and is a model for all presidents. As Richard Russell, the South’s leader in the Senate during the 1960s, put it to a friend a few days after Kennedy’s assassination: “You know, we could have beaten John Kennedy on civil rights, but not Lyndon Johnson.”


By Lyndon Johnson: Intensifying Campaign for Equal Rights

WHEN I was in the Senate, we had an extra car to take back to Texas at the close of each Congressional session. Usually my Negro employes—Zephyr Wright, our cook, Helen Williams, out maid, and Helen's husband, Gene — drove the car to the ranch for us. At that time, nearly 20 years ago, it was an ordeal to get an automobile from Washington to Texas—three full days of hard driving.

On one of those trips I asked Gene he would take my beagle dog with them in the car. I didn't think they would mind. Little Beagle was a friendly, gentle dog.

But Gene hesitated. “Senator, do we have to take Beagle?”

“Well,” I explained, “there's no other way to get him to Texas. He shouldn't give you any trouble, Gene. You know Beagle loves you.”

But Gene still hesitated. I didn't understand. I looked directly at him. “Tell me what's the matter. Why don't you want to take Beagle? What aren't you telling me?”

Gene began slowly. Here is the gist of what he had to say: “Well, Senator, it's tough enough to get all the way from Washington to Texas. We drive for hours and hours. We get hungry. But there's no place on the road we can stop and go in and eat. We drive some more. It gets pretty. hot. We want to wash up. But the only bathroom we're allowed in is usually miles off the main highway. We keep, going till night comes—till we get so tired we can't stay awake any more. We're ready to pull in. But it takes us another hour or so to find a place to sleep. You see, what I'm saying is that a colored man's got enough trouble getting across the South on his own, without having a dog along.”

Of course, I knew that such discrimination existed throughout the South. We all knew it. But somehow we had deluded ourselves into believing that the black people around us were happy and satisfied into thinking that the bad and ugly things were going on somewhere else, happening to other people. There was nothing I could say to Gene. His problem was also mine: as a Texan, a Southerner and an American.

All these attitudes began to change in the mid‐nineteen‐fifties and early nineteen‐sixties. The Supreme Court's epic 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education cast permanent doubt on the conventional’ wisdom of “separate but equal.” This decision gave the civilrights movement a new burst of hope and faith.

Nothing makes a man come to grips more directly with his conscience than the Presidency. Sitting in that chair involves making decisions that draw out a man's fundamental commitments. The burden of his responsibility literally open up his soul. No longer can he accept matters as given no longer can he write off hopes and needs as impossible.

WHEN I sat in the Oval Office after President Kennedy died and reflected on civil rights, there was no question in my mind as to what I would do. I knew that, as President and as a man, I would use every ounce of strength I possessed to gain justice for the black American.

Even the strongest supporters of President Kennedy's civil‐rights bill in 1963 expected parts of it to be watered down in order to avert a Senate filibuster. The most vulnerable sections were those guaranteeing equal access to public accommodations and equal employment opportunity.

I made my position unmistakably clear: We were not prepared to compromise in any way. “So far as this Administration is concerned,” I told a press conference, “its position is firm.” I wanted absolutely no room for bargaining. The battle would be fought with dignity and perhaps with sorrow, but not with anger or bitterness. We would win, by securing closure, or we would lose.

One man held the key to obtaining closure: the minority leader of the Senate, Everett Dirksen. Without his cooperation, we could not enlist the support of the moderate Republicans, and without Republican support we could not obtain the two‐thirds vote necessary for closure.

As the debate continued through March, April and May, a new and disturbing element of public opinion came into play. Gov. George Wallace of Alabama had declared himself a candidate for President and had entered the Democratic primaries in Indiana, Maryland and Wisconsin with an emotional campaign of opposition to civil rights and a thinly veiled racist call for law and order. Most analysts predicted that he would receive 10 per cent of the vote his actual totals more than tripled that prediction.

But the civil‐rights troops on the Hill did not fall apart. Quite the opposite—the Wallace show of strength served to emphasize more than ever the essential need for national unity through a peaceful and progressive resolution of the racial issue. In this critical hour Senator Dirksen came through, as I had hoped he would. On June 10 he took the floor of the Senate to say:

“The time as come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, In education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here. America grows. America changes. And on the civil‐rights issue we must rise with the occasion. That calls for closure and for the enactment of a civil‐rights bill.”

With this speech, Dirksen sounded the death knell for the Southern strategy of filibuster, For the first time in history the Senate voted closure on a civil‐rights bill. With all 100 Senators present and voting, we needed 67 votes for the twothirds rule to obtain closure. We got four more than that. Three weeks later the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most sweeping civil‐rights measure enacted in the 20th century.

But there was no time to rest. Tensions in the South were still running high. That same summer three civilrights workers were brutally murdered in Mississippi. Churches were bombed and lives were threatened. In the North a different set of tensions exploded—the tensions of poverty, squalor, unemployment and inadequate health care.

THE theme of “law and order” became a major thrust of Senator Goldwater's campaign for the Presidency in 1964. I shared the growing concern about violence, but I believed the real danger, far more profound than violence and far more perilous, was the increasing alienation of the black citizens from American society. Our representative system was based on the joint premise that all citizens would be responsible under the law and that the law would be responsive to the needs of all citizens. But in the field of human rights a significant number of citizens had not been fully served by our system. I feared that as long as these citizens were alienated from the rights of the American system, they would continue to consider themselves outside the obligations of that system. I tried to state this position as fully as I could in the Presidential campaign. I wanted a mandate to move forward, not simply a sanction for the status quo.

On Nov. 3, 1964, the American voters gave me that mandate. I moved to use it quickly. I directed Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to begin the complicated task of drafting the next civil‐rights bill—legislation to secure, once and for all, equal voting rights. In many ways I believed this act would be even more critical than the previous one. Once the black man's voice could be translated into ballots, many other breakthroughs would follow, and they would follow as a consequence of the black man's own legitimate power as an American citizen, not as a gift from the white man.

I would work within the Federal Government the black leadership would take their cause directly to the people. The capstone of their campaign was 54‐mile march through Alabama from Selma to Montgomery. Two abreast, blacks and whites together, the marchers walked, singing the words of an old Baptist hymn.

The singing came to an abrupt end early in the evening of March 7, when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the southern edge of Selma and were confronted by Sheriff Jim Clark and a mounted posse. The sheriff ordered the marchers to turn around. They knew their rights and refused. The Alabama state troopers took matters into their own hands. With nightsticks, bullwhips and billy clubs, they scattered the ranks of the marchers. More than 50 men and women were severely injured.

As I watched the reruns of the Selma confrontation on television, I felt a deep outrage.

The most obvious step, and the one most passionately desired by citizens in the North who supported equal rights for the Negro, was to send Federal troops to Alabama. I understood this desire and the deep concern that motivated it. But I knew that a hasty display of Federal force at this time could destroy whatever possibilities existed for the passage of voting‐rights legislation. Such action would play into the hands of those looking for a states rights martyr in Governor Wallace.

Meanwhile, there was a storm of public protest to contend with. In front of the White House scores of demonstrators marched up and down with placards. Across the nation hundreds of sympathy marches and sit ‐ins were mobilized.

Once again my Southern heritage was thrown in my face. I was hurt, deeply hurt. But I was determined not to be shoved into hasty action. If only there were some way to assure protection for the marchers without the drama of using Federal troops if only the State of Alabama would exercise its state's right and assume its constitutional obligation.

My hopes were answered on Friday, March 12, when Governor Wallace wired me requesting a special meeting to discuss the situation in Selma. I replied immediately that I would be “available at any time.” An appointment was set for noon the next day. We sat together in the Oval Office. I kept my eyes directly on the Governor's face the entire time. I saw a nervous, aggressive man a rough, shrewd politician who had managed to touch the deepest chords of pride as well as prejudice among his people.

I told him that I believed the only useful way to handle the demonstrators was to respond to their grievances.

“The Negro citizens of Alabama who have been systematically denied the right to register and vote have to be given the opportunity to direct national attention to their plight,” I said.

The Governor turned then to the question of troops. In his view, the state held the responsibility to maintain law and order. I agreed with him at once and told him that was precisely my point. I told him I had 700 troops on alert. If the state and local authorities were unwilling or unable to function, I would not hesitate one moment to send in Federal troops.

The meeting with Wallace proved to be the critical turning point in the voting rights struggle. Several days later I received word from the Governor that the State of Alabama was unable to bear the financial burdens of mobilizing the National Guard. The state could not protect the marchers on its own. It needed Federal assistance. I gave such assistance immediately. I signed an executive order federalizing the Alabama National Guard.

By March 14, the Justice Department had completed most of its work on the draft of the voting‐rights bill. Four months later our immediate goal was realized. On Aug. 6 I returned to the Capitol to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 the barriers of freedom began tumbling down. At long last the legal rights of American citizens —the right to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school—were given concrete protection.

But these legislative victories served to illuminate the full dimensions of the American dilemma. No matter how hard we tried to make up for the deprivation of the past and no matter how well we thought we knew the black man, the time would come when we would be forced to realize the measure of his bitterness. And the time would come when we would realize that legislative guarantees were not enough.

I HAD been concerned about the Dominican Republic from the day I took office, and indeed well before that time. The Dominicans had lived for 30 years under the iron‐fisted rule of dictator Leonidas Trujillo. During those years, which ended with Trujillo's assassination in 1961, those who opposed Trujillo had three choices: to go into exile, to go underground or to remain quiet. Most Dominicans had chosen the third course.

We were encouraged in 1962 when the Dominican people held their first free elections in recent times. I carried the best wishes of the American people to Santo Domingo that year when I attended the inauguration of the newly elected President, Juan Bosch, as President Kennedy's personal representative.

A military junta overthrew Bosch in September, 1963. This was a major setback for our common hopes. The U.S. Government immediately cut off economic aid and withheld recognition of the new leadership in Santo Domingo until a civilian provisional government was formed and pledged itself to hold free elections within two years.

The temporary regime was headed by former Foreign Minister Donald Reid y Cabral, a moderate who had been abroad when the coup was carried out. Reid suspected, with good reason, that a number of Dominican Army officers were plotting his overthrow in the spring of 1965. He decided to move against them before their plans were completed. On April 24, 1965, he. sent Army Chief of Staff Rivera Cuesta to a military camp northwest of Santo Domingo to cancel the commissions of four officers accused of conspiring against the Government. Instead of surrendering themselves, the officers made Cuesta a prisoner and seized control of the camp. Another uprising against the Government had started.

The situation was confused, and so were the first reports that came in from our embassy. Rebel elements had seized several radio stations in Santo Domingo and called on the people to go into the streets to celebrate the “overthrow” of the Reid Government. They responded by the thousands, some of them shouting support for Juan Bosch, others calling for the return of former President Joaquin Balaguer. The embassy reported one particularly ominous development. Trucks loaded with weapons, manned by junior officers and noncommissioned officers, were moving into the capital from the nearby rebel‐held camps. The soldiers were passing out weapons to civilians, especially to those shouting anti‐Government slogans.

From Camp David I remained in close touch by phone with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara and with McGeorge Bundy, who had gone to the White House situation room to follow developments. I decided that we must take precautions in case we had to evacuate American citizens from the Dominican Republic. At midmorning on Sunday, April 25, we ordered the Atlantic Fleet to move ships toward Santo Domingo. The ships were to remain out of sight of land but to stand by in case of need.

Conditions in Santo Domingo deteriorated. Leaders of the armed forces failed to come to Reid's support and he resigned. Pro‐Bosch rebels seized the presidential palace and installed a Bosch supporter, Jose Rafael Molina y Urena, as Provisional President pending Bosch's return. Many Dominican military officers opposed Bosch's return. They considered him “soft” on Communism, if not actually pro‐Communist. They had decided to oppose the rebel forces. That Sunday afternoon Dominican Air Force planes attacked the presidential palace with rockets and machine guns.

The situation in the streets of the Dominican capital was alarming. Our embassy reported that guns had been passed out at random—many to Communist organizers, who were putting them into the hands of their followers others to thugs and criminals, the socalled Tigres. Young boys of 12 and 13 were swaggering around the streets with guns over their shoulders. Stores and houses were being looted.

The embassy switchboard was clogged with calls from Americans—residents and tourists—begging to be taken out of the country. The embassy began putting evacuation plans into effect. Americans were, advised to assemble the next morning at the Embajador Hotel in Santo Domingo for processing and evacuation. Both the rebels and loyalists had promised not to interfere with the movement of civilians and had agreed that a cease‐fire would be put into effect during the evacuation operation.

Processing of evacuees continued through the night and the early hours of April 27 at the Embajador Hotel. All seemed quiet and orderly, or as orderly as the movement of frightened people can be. Then a disturbance broke out.

Some rioters entered the hotel and ran around the lobby and through the corridors brandishing their weapons and terrifying the women and children gathered there. Other rebels remained outside and began shooting their guns into the air and into the upper floors of the hotel, where a number of American families were staying.

The evacuation of Americans began just before noon. Buses, trucks and cars carried approximately 1,000 persons to the port of Haina, west of the capital city. I was relieved when I received the report that the evacuation had begun, but I was disturbed that the cease‐fire pledge had been broken and that lives had been endangered.

I realized then that we might have to use our own forces to protect American lives in this situation, I discussed this with. McNamara, and he assured me that marines were available from the task force sent to carry out the evacuation. Additional forces had been alerted in case of need.

That same day produced a critical juncture in the Dominican revolt. Regular army forces with tanks and infantry under Gen. Elias Wessin y Wessin started to move across the Duarte Bridge over the Ozama River to the east of Santo Domingo. Another force of about 1,000 men began entering the capital from the west. The two forces were converging on the rebel stronghold in the southeast part of the city. Dominican Air Force planes continued to strafe rebel positions.

When our embassy officers went out at dawn the next day to survey the situation, they found that Wessin's men had stopped moving. There had been a breakdown in leadership. Our observers reported that control of the rebel movement was increasingly in the hands of the rebel officers and three major Communist parties in the Dominican Republic—one oriented toward Moscow, another linked to Castro and a third loyal to Peking. None of these parties was extremely large but all were well armed, tightly organized and highly disciplined. Perhaps more important, they included dedicated professional revolutionaries trained to exploit the kind of situation in which they then found themselves.

Meanwhile, the shooting and the killing continued. Later, when the Red Cross made a careful study of the tragic events of April, 1965, investigators estimated that at least 1,300 Dominicans were killed in combat or in cold blood between the 24th and 29th of that month. At least another 700 were to be killed before peace was finally restored.

AT midmorning on Wednesday, April 28, Radio Santo Domingo, controlled by the regular armed forces, announced that a new governing junta had been formed, headed by Col. Pedro Benoit of the Dominican Air Force. One of the new junta's first acts was to contact Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett Jr. and ask that the United States land 1,200 marines “to help restore peace to the country.” Bennett gave the junta no encouragement. In his cabled report to Washington the Ambassador said: “I do not believe situation justifies such action at this time.” He did advise, however, that we make plans “in case situation should break apart and deteriorate rapidly to extent we should need marines in a hurry to protect American citizens.”

Within two hours, however, the Ambassador and his staff had made a new assessment. A high‐priority cable—a “critic,” as it is called—arrived from Santo Domingo. The Ambassador reported that the situation was “deteriorating rapidly.” He warned: “American lives are in danger.” He and the country, team, composed of the top U. S. political, economic and information officers as well as the military attaches, had unanimously concluded that “the time has come to land the marines.” Evacuation of Americans and other foreigners was continuing and protection was needed.

That afternoon I met with Rusk, McNamara, Ball, Mac Bundy and Bill Moyers. We were discussing Vietnam and Southeast Asia. We had already seen Bennett's first message advising that we hold off sending troops. As we talked, I was handed a second urgent cable from Santo Domingo saying that “the time has come.” I told my advisers that I was not going to sit by and see American lives lost in this situation. If local authorities could not provide protection, we had no choice but to provide the necessary protection ourselves. They all agreed that we had to act.

“Mr. Secretary,” I said, “I want you to get all the Latin‐American Ambassadors on the phone. Get your people to touch all bases. Get in touch with the O.A.S. Tell them the decision I am making and urge them to have an immediate meeting.”

I asked McNamara to alert the military forces. He said they were in position to move quickly. Moyers was to call the Congressional leaders and invite them to come to the White House as soon as possible.

I realized the importance of the decision. I knew it would attract a good deal of criticism—from Latin Americans as well as from segments of our own press. We had tried so hard, ever since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, to overcome the distrust of our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. I did not want those days of suspicion to return, the days when “Yankee imperialism” and “the Colossus of the North” were the catch phrases of anti‐American propagandists. But I could not risk the slaughter of American citizens. As their President, it was my duty to protect them with every resource available to me. would do it again to protect American lives.

Marine forces used helicopters to move hundreds of people awaiting evacuation. They flew from the hotel to the ships waiting to take them to the United States. All reports indicated that the movement was going smoothly.

In October, 1963, President Kennedy had been deeply concerned about possible developments in the Caribbean and Central America. He had sent a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense noting that events in the Dominican Republic and other countries in the ‐area might “require active United States, military intervention.” Kennedy was not sure we were adequately prepared for this. He asked, for example, how many troops we could get into the Dominican Republic. He asked the same question about several other countries that seemed headed for a crisis.

President Kennedy told McNamara that he thought this matter deserved “the highest priority.” He asked for an early report. In little more than a week, on Oct. 12, 1963, the month before I became President, McNamara and the Joint Chiefs produced their report. They also informed President Kennedy that they planned to heighten our readiness by holding mobility exercises in 1964. The result of all this was that U.S. forces were ready to respond quickly when they were urgently needed.

On the evening of April 28 Ambassador Bennett reported that the situation was continuing to deteriorate. Some American citizens had warned him that they had no protection in the residential areas. They expected to be the next targets of the mobs, who were sacking Dominican homes and stores. Bennett reported that demonstrators had broken into our A.I.D. office and ransacked it. He foresaw a complete breakdown in all government authority. In light of all the circumstances, he recommended that “serious thought be given in Washington to armed intervention which would go beyond the mere protection of Americans and seek to establish order in this strife‐ridden country.”

He added: “All indications point to the fact that if present efforts of forces loyal to the Government fail, power will be assumed by groups clearly identified with the Communist party. If the situation described above comes to pass, my own recommendation and that of the country team is that we should intervene to prevent another Cuba from arising out of the ashes of this uncontrollable situation.”

The next morning the O.A.S. Council met in Washington. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker explained the situation as we said it and advised the Council of the landing of the marines to protect lives and to evacuate our citizens and other nationals. A long and often emotional debate followed.

I met with McNamara to go over the latest reports. I decided that the 500 ‐man Marine force already ashore might be too small for the many tasks we were giving it. I instructed McNamara to order the remaining 1,500 men of the Marine ready force aboard ship to join the original task force at the Embajador evacuation zone. We informed the embassy immediately. A few minutes later the State Department sent another message to Bennett asking him to provide an estimate of the situation and a considered judgment as to whether direct intervention of U.S. forces was absolutely necessary. “We cannot afford to permit the situation to deteriorate to the point where a Communist take‐over occurs,” the message read.

Bennett was asked what he recommended we do in the next 6 to 12 hours. He said the most important action that could be taken was “to commit sufficient troops to do the job here rapidly and effectively.” He urged that we act immediately to overcome critical shortages of food, medicines and other supplies in Santo Domingo. He suggested interposing our forces between the rebels and those of the junta, thereby effecting a cease‐fire. We could then ask the O.A.S. to negotiate a political settlement between the opposing factions, he said.

This was the background against which we met that night. There was complete agreement that we must prevent a Communist take‐over and act on a scale that would guarantee the earliest possible end to the fighting, destruction and killing.

A NUMBER of people, then and later, thought the Communist threat in the Dominican Republic was overestimated. I did not and do not think it was. Nor do I believe that the majority of involved governments and competent analysts believe, in retrospect, that the danger was not desperately serious. With most of the moderate leaders in hiding or asylum, the Communist leadership had the keys to what Lenin once called “the commanding heights” of power in the Dominican Republic.


(1965) Lyndon B. Johnson, “The Voting Rights Act”

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many of them were brutally assaulted. One good man–a man of God–was killed.

There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our Democracy in what is happening here tonight. For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government–the government of the greatest nation on earth. Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country–to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man. In our time we have come to live with the moments of great crises. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues, issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression.

But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For, with a country as with a person, “what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

And we are met here tonight as Americans–not as Democrats or Republicans we’re met here as Americans to solve that problem. This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose.

The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal.” “Government by consent of the governed.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” And those are not just clever words, and those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty risking their lives. Those words are promised to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom. He shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.

To apply any other test, to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race or his religion or the place of his birth is not only to do injustice, it is to deny Americans and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish it must be rooted in democracy. This most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country in large measure is the history of expansion of the right to all of our people.

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument: every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to insure that right. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.

Every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.

And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write. For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin. Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books, and I have helped to put three of them there, can insure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it. In such a case, our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color.

We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath. Wednesday, I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote. The broad principles of that bill will be in the hands of the Democratic and Republican leaders tomorrow. After they have reviewed it, it will come here formally as a bill. I am grateful for this opportunity to come here tonight at the invitation of the leadership to reason with my friends, to give them my views and to visit with my former colleagues.

I have had prepared a more comprehensive analysis of the legislation which I had intended to transmit to the clerk tomorrow, but which I will submit to the clerks tonight. But I want to really discuss the main proposals of this legislation. This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections, federal, state and local, which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote.

This bill will establish a simple, uniform standard which cannot be used, however ingenious the effort, to flout our Constitution. It will provide for citizens to be registered by officials of the United States Government, if the state officials refuse to register them. It will eliminate tedious, unnecessary lawsuits which delay the right to vote. Finally, this legislation will insure that properly registered individuals are not prohibited from voting. I will welcome the suggestions from all the members of Congress–I have no doubt that I will get some–on ways and means to strengthen this law and to make it effective.

But experience has plainly shown that this is the only path to carry out the command of the Constitution. To those who seek to avoid action by their national government in their home communities, who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple: open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. There is no Constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong–deadly wrong–to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.

There is no issue of state’s rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer. But the last time a President sent a civil rights bill to the Congress it contained a provision to protect voting rights in Federal elections. That civil rights bill was passed after eight long months of debate. And when that bill came to my desk from the Congress for signature, the heart of the voting provision had been eliminated.

This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.

And we ought not, and we cannot, and we must not wait another eight months before we get a bill. We have already waited 100 years and more and the time for waiting is gone. So I ask you to join me in working long hours and nights and weekends, if necessary, to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly, for, from the window where I sit, with the problems of our country, I recognize that from outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.

But even if we pass this bill the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.And we shall overcome.As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. But a century has passed–more than 100 years–since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than 100 years ago that Abraham Lincoln–a great President of another party–signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.

A century has passed–more than 100 years–since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come, and I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come, and when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American. For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated? How many white families have lived in stark poverty? How many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we wasted energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

And so I say to all of you here and to all in the nation tonight that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future. This great rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all–all, black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor.

And these enemies too–poverty, disease and ignorance–we shall overcome. Now let none of us in any section look with prideful righteousness on the troubles in another section or the problems of our neighbors. There is really no part of America where the promise of equality has been fully kept. In Buffalo as well as in Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as Selma, Americans are struggling for the fruits of freedom.
This is one nation. What happens in Selma and Cincinnati is a matter of legitimate concern to every American. But let each of us look within our own hearts and our own communities and let each of us put our shoulder to the wheel to root out injustice wherever it exists. As we meet here in this peaceful historic chamber tonight, men from the South, some of whom were at Iwo Jima, men from the North who have carried Old Glory to the far corners of the world and who brought it back without a stain on it, men from the east and from the west are all fighting together without regard to religion or color or region in Vietnam.

Men from every region fought for us across the world 20 years ago. And now in these common dangers, in these common sacrifices, the South made its contribution of honor and gallantry no less than any other region in the great republic.

And in some instances, a great many of them, more. And I have not the slightest doubt that good men from everywhere in this country, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Golden Gate to the harbors along the Atlantic, will rally now together in this cause to vindicate the freedom of all Americans. For all of us owe this duty and I believe that all of us will respond to it.

Your president makes that request of every American.

The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety, and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change designed to stir reform. He has been called upon to make good the promise of America.

And when the attention of the nation has gone elsewhere they must try to heal the wounds and to build a new community. This cannot be easily done on a battleground of violence as the history of the South itself shows. It is in recognition of this that men of both races have shown such an outstandingly impressive responsibility in recent days–last Tuesday and again today.

The bill I am presenting to you will be known as a civil rights bill. But in a larger sense, most of the program I am recommending is a civil rights program. Its object is to open the city of hope to all people of all races, because all Americans just must have the right to vote, and we are going to give them that right.

All Americans must have the privileges of citizenship, regardless of race, and they are going to have those privileges of citizenship regardless of race.
But I would like to caution you and remind you that to exercise these privileges takes much more than just legal rights. It requires a trained mind and a healthy body. It requires a decent home and the chance to find a job and the opportunity to escape from the clutches of poverty.

Of course people cannot contribute to the nation if they are never taught to read or write if their bodies are stunted from hunger if their sickness goes untended if their life is spent in hopeless poverty, just drawing a welfare check.

So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we’re also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates. My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast and hungry. And they knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them, but they knew it was so because I saw it in their eyes.

I often walked home late in the afternoon after the classes were finished wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that I might help them against the hardships that lay ahead. And somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students, and to help people like them all over this country. But now I do have that chance.

And I’ll let you in on a secret–I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.

This is the richest, most powerful country which ever occupied this globe. The might of past empires is little compared to ours. But I do not want to be the president who built empires, or sought grandeur, or extended dominion.

Above the pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States it says in Latin, “God has favored our undertaking.” God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will. But I cannot help but believe that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight.


LBJ calls for equal voting rights - HISTORY

President Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was lauded by four successor presidents as a Lincoln-esque groundbreaker for civil rights, but President Barack Obama also noted that Johnson also had long opposed civil rights proposals.

"Now, like any of us, he was not a perfect man," Obama said in his April 10, 2014, speech at the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library. "His experiences in rural Texas may have stretched his moral imagination. But he was ambitious, very ambitious, a young man in a hurry to plot his own escape from poverty and to chart his own political career. And in the Jim Crow South, that meant not challenging convention.

"During his first 20 years in Congress," Obama said, "he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation a farce and a shame."

On one level, it’s not surprising that anyone elected in Johnson’s era from a former member-state of the Confederate States of America resisted civil-rights proposals into and past the 1950s. But given Johnson’s later roles spearheading civil-rights measures into law including acts approved in 1957, 1960 and 1964, we wondered whether Johnson’s change of course was so long in coming.

Johnson initially won election to the U.S. House in 1937, outpacing nine other aspirants on April 10, 1937, to fill the seat opened up by the death of Rep. James P. Buchanan, according to Johnson’s biographical timeline posted online by his presidential library. He advanced to the Senate in the November 1948 election, later landing the body’s most powerful post, majority leader, before resigning after his ascension to vice president in the 1960 elections.

So, Obama was speaking to Johnson’s position on civil rights measures from spring 1937 to spring 1957, a stretch encompassing many votes.

For this fact check, we asked our Twitter followers (@PolitiFactTexas) for research thoughts. A reader guided us to excerpts of an interview with historian Robert Caro, who has written volumes on Johnson’s life, presented on the Library of Congress blog Feb. 15, 2013.

The nation will be marking the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Like Lincoln, Johnson’s true motives on promoting racial equality have been questioned. Have you come to any conclusions about that?

Caro: The reason it’s questioned is that for no less than 20 years in Congress, from 1937 to 1957, Johnson’s record was on the side of the South. He not only voted with the South on civil rights, but he was a southern strategist, but in 1957, he changes and pushes through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. He always had this true, deep compassion to help poor people and particularly poor people of color, but even stronger than the compassion was his ambition. But when the two aligned, when compassion and ambition finally are pointing in the same direction, then Lyndon Johnson becomes a force for racial justice, unequalled certainly since Lincoln.