I don’t want to have this answer be an indication that I’m going to answer every message I have received on the Presidential rankings and/or debate or justify each individual ranking, but I do want to quickly make a point on this.
First of all, I never said that LBJ was 100% responsible for the passage of either the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act — credit belongs to the activists, to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, to the moderate Republicans who offset the opposition by the Southern Democrats, and to many other people and politicians, including JFK. But it was Johnson, his political skills, and his mastery of legislative government who got the legislation through Congress and signed it. It was Johnson who saw that there was political value in using the national mood following Kennedy’s assassination along with the events of the Civil Rights Movement to recognize that the time was right to get the legislation passed. I don’t mean that he felt the time was right to grant equal rights — he had frequently noted that the time for action had long passed — but that, politically, the stars were aligned for actually being successful at getting something done. John F. Kennedy was a good leader with fantastic political skills, but he was overly cautious — especially with civil rights — and when it came to legislative success, Kennedy had not proven himself. Not as a member of Congress, and not as President.
President Kennedy did make an important and influential address on civil rights on June 11, 1963. His then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson made a speech that was quite similar on equal rights and race less than two weeks earlier, on Memorial Day, at Gettysburg. Is it possible that this was a coordinated roll-out of the Kennedy Administration’s civil rights policy or purely a direct response to the President taking command of the Alabama National Guard and order the desegregation of the University of Alabama when Alabama Governor George Wallace stood at the door to protect segregation? Sure, that’s possible. But considering how little Kennedy involved Johnson in policy, I doubt that it was coordinated, and even if it was, the President would have been out in front on the issue, not the Vice President.
So, is it possible that LBJ’s speech forced the issue? Vice President Biden spoke out on his support for same sex marriage in 2012, and it resulted in President Obama having to speak out and note that his position on the issue had evolved and that he now supported same sex marriage, as well. Obama and his staff didn’t want to have to cross that bridge yet, especially prior to the 2012 election, but they had to act because the VP acted. Perhaps the incident at the University of Alabama gave President Kennedy a reason to make that speech on June 11, 1963 and clearly state his position on civil rights because his Vice President — a man who was as Southern as the South gets — was out in front of him on the issue and had forced his hand.
On civil rights, John F. Kennedy believed the right things, but he was extremely cautious about actually taking the dramatic actions that were needed. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement openly criticized him for this. And while the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were originally worried about LBJ and weren’t sure if they could trust him, especially once he assumed the Presidency, if you could ask any of them today who did more for civil rights or who they would rather have fighting for them when it came to actually achieving their goals, I am convinced their answer would be Lyndon B. Johnson.
In closing (I said this would be done quickly, but I got carried away), if you’re going to disagree or debate with me or anyone else (which is totally cool…seriously, I have no issues with that) and you’re going to bring up the other person’s “evidence”, you should definitely be solid when it comes to the main facts — I ranked LBJ at #5, not #6. That’s a big one, especially since you’re bringing up his positioning in my rankings. I hope that doesn’t like a petty attack at your comments because that’s not my intention and it’s why I’m sticking it at the end after my explanation. It’s just that with something like that, you’ve gotta come correct, for lack of a better phrase. Also, I didn’t list every accomplishment or every failure of every President in my rankings because I barely had the time and energy to do what I did do; going even deeper into would have resulted in every entry being 6,000 words long. Lyndon Johnson achieved more than just civil rights — few Presidents had more domestic accomplishments than President Johnson. But, let’s just say that civil rights was his “only” accomplishment — imagine gigantic quotation marks surrounding the word “only” — if civil rights was the “only” thing that LBJ achieved, isn’t that enough? Ask John Lewis or Dorothy Cotton or Joseph Lowery or Andrew Young or Diane Nash or C. T. Vivian how important the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were, and see what they thought about LBJ’s accomplishments.
The Constitution doesn’t make any mention of marriage — whether it is heterosexual marriages or same sex marriage, so there shouldn’t be any Constitutional concerns about the institution of marriage.
On the other hand, the Constitution guarantees equal rights for citizens of the United States and equal protection of those rights under law. So, what IS unconstitutional is any action by the States to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property” or any attempt to “make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities” of citizens. Marriage, or the choices individuals make about their own personal relationships, shouldn’t be a political issue. It shouldn’t even be a political debate. It’s a basic civil right that American citizens are born with, not something that a group of Americans should have to fight for. The legalization of same sex marriage shouldn’t ever be ruled unconstitutional (and, fortunately, we’re heading in the right direction) — prohibiting that right is what doesn’t fit with the ideals of our Constitution. It shouldn’t even have to be fought for, but Americans have had to fight for human rights in a country supposedly built on a foundation of equality and liberty for all. And, in 2014, that battle is still raging.
No two Presidents did more for Civil Rights in the United States than Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. Lincoln and Johnson also both gave classic speeches at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s speech in November 1863 dedicating the cemetery near the battlefield where thousands had fought and died months earlier is unforgettable. LBJ’s Gettysburg Address is overlooked and largely unknown to many Americans, but it is a speech just as important and worthy of attention as Lincoln’s.
At the time, Johnson was stuck in the Vice Presidency — a job that he hated and which had little power or visibility — and there’s never been a rich history of Vice Presidential oratory. But LBJ’s speech at Gettysburg brilliantly linked the sacrifices made by the soldiers who died in 1863 during the Civil War’s most famous battle with the Americans fighting in 1963 for equality and human rights. When he spoke at Gettysburg on Memorial Day 1963, LBJ was six months away from assuming the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and, as President, Lyndon Johnson helped turn the words that he spoke that day into actions, reinforce the ideals that Lincoln set forth in his 1863 speech, and give deeper meaning to the sacrifices so many Americans had made throughout our country’s history to truly achieve freedom and equality for everyone.
Here is the Memorial Day address by then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on May 30, 1963:
On this hallowed ground, heroic deeds were performed and eloquent words were spoken a century ago.
We, the living, have not forgotten — and the world will never forget — the deeds or the words of Gettysburg. We honor them now as we join on this Memorial Day of 1963 in a prayer for permanent peace of the world and fulfillment of our hopes for universal freedom and justice.
We are called to honor our own words of reverent prayer with resolution in the deeds we must perform to preserve peace and the hope of freedom.
We keep a vigil of peace around the world.
Until the world knows no aggressors, until the arms of tyranny have been laid down, until freedom has risen up in every land, we shall maintain our vigil to make sure our sons who died on foreign fields shall not have died in vain.
As we maintain the vigil of peace, we must remember that justice is a vigil, too — a vigil we must keep in our own streets and schools and among the lives of all our people — so that those who died here on their native soil shall not have died in vain.
One hundred years ago, the slave was freed.
One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.
The Negro today asks justice.
We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, “Patience.”
It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands. Unless we are willing to yield up our destiny of greatness among the civilizations of history, Americans — white and Negro together — must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.
Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.
To ask for patience from the Negro is to ask him to give more of what he has already given enough. But to fail to ask of him — and of all Americans — perseverance within the processes of a free and responsible society would be to fail to ask what the national interest requires of all its citizens.
The law cannot save those who deny it but neither can the law serve any who do not use it. The history of injustice and inequality is a history of disuse of the law. Law has not failed — and is not failing. We as a nation have failed ourselves by not trusting the law and by not using the law to gain sooner the ends of justice which law alone serves.
If the white overestimates what he has done for the Negro without the law, the Negro may underestimate what he is doing and can do for himself with the law.
It it is empty to ask Negro or white for patience, it is not empty — it is merely honest — to ask perseverance. Men may build barricades — and others may hurl themselves against those barricades — but what would happen at the barricades would yield no answers. The answers will only be wrought by our perseverance together. It is deceit to promise more as it would be cowardice to demand less.
In this hour, it is not our respective races which are at stake — it is our nation. Let those who care for their country come forward, North and South, white and Negro, to lead the way through this moment of challenge and decision.
The Negro says, “Now.” Others say, “Never.” The voice of responsible Americans — the voice of those who died here and the great man who spoke here — their voices say, “Together.” There is no other way.
Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware to race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.
Well, technically, the government wasn’t found guilty of assassinating him. There was a civil trial where the jury awarded a token sum to the King Family and suggested that there was a conspiracy responsible for Dr. King’s assassination and that various parties were involved, possibly including the government, but there were no specifics and the government wasn’t explicitly named in the suit.
As for books, I’d suggest Michael Eric Dyson’s April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America.
Also, I can’t help but suggest Taylor Branch’s monumental trilogy America in the King Years, which doesn’t focus solely on Dr. King and his assassination, but the entire Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s role in it. The story touches on all aspects of the Movement, but it is framed in the lifetime and activism of MLK. The three books in Branch’s trilogy are: Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963; Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965; and, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Branch’s trilogy is about as definitive of a series as you can find on Dr. King and the Movement. The trilogy is definitely a commitment of time, however. Each volume is an average of about 1,000 pages.
This can’t be a real question, right? Somebody is absolutely playing a joke on me, aren’t they?
There is no chance that a human being capable of breathing on their own would seriously think “Malcolm X” means “Malcolm the Tenth”, as if he took a regnal name like the Pope or the Queen of England. Right? No way is there somebody out there with enough intelligence to use a computer and ask a question who thinks Malcolm X’s father was named “Malcolm IX”. Is there?
I am flabbergasted. No…worse…I am absolutely embarrassed. Because I think this person really does think that the “X” at the end of Malcolm’s name is a Roman numeral.
Honestly, I don’t even have the words. I am completely and utterly speechless.
I mean….holy shit.
As a Southerner, I am happy to know that a fellow Southerner is in the White House who is concerned about civil rights…LBJ is a man of great ego and great power. He is a pragmatist and a man of pragmatic compassion. It just may be that he’s going to go where John Kennedy couldn’t.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggesting that LBJ seemed far more willing to fight for civil rights than JFK ever had, following a one-on-one meeting with President Johnson less than two weeks after the Kennedy Assassination
He has one of the most magnetic personalities that I have ever confronted. When you are close to Nixon he almost disarms you with his apparent sincerity. You never get the impression that he is the same man…who made a tear-jerking speech in the 1952 campaign…And so I would conclude by saying that if Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after meeting then-Vice President Richard Nixon, 1957
I can’t really give you any articles off the top of my head, but there’s a really great book that was recently released by the University Press of Florida which is an academic study of LBJ’s work for Civil Rights — Freedom’s Pragmatist: Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights by Sylvia Ellis.
It comes from the fact that I am more passionate about protecting the civil rights of all Americans than any other issue. You can’t legislate love and none of us are equal until all of us are equal.
It’s not just because one of my best friends is gay and one of my closest family members is gay. That certainly plays a part, but there’s a selfishness about my feelings, too. If the civil rights of these people that I love and care about are infringed upon, then my civil rights are also being trampled. There should be no conditions to total, unrestrained equality for all Americans.
And, as corny as it might sound, it’s a lot about love. This is a cruel, harsh world. Imagine trying to make it through your journey without ever being able to make the commitment you might want to make to the person you love. Imagine if it was literally against the law for you and your partner to take that special leap. Think about being with somebody for 40-50 years and not having any spousal rights as the person you love is dying in a hospital bed. It is so difficult to find the right person to spend your life with. Love is a powerful force that leads you different places and it’s not everyday that you find that special person who loves you back. So, imagine if you found that person but there were obstacles to your relationship — not because of any problems in the relationship, but because the government closes the doors and windows and tries to leave your love out in the cold rather than the warmth of someone else’s home or heart.
I always say it, but you cannot legislate love. Love is like water…it will find a way to flow and fill one’s cup. Why make one of the hardest things in the world — finding the perfect partner for life — even more difficult to achieve?
It’s not a gay issue or straight issue, religious issue or moral issue — it’s a civil rights battle just as important as those which made gains in the 1950s and 1960s. It has always been a civil rights issue, and it will always be a civil rights issue until that day when everybody is truly equal. Up until that point, I’ll do whatever I can to fight on behalf of people that I love so that they can love whoever it is that they want.
Hubert H. Humphrey became a hero to progressives because of a ballsy speech that he gave at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in support of civil rights. HHH was Mayor of Minneapolis at the time and running for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota, so it was basically Humphrey’s coming-out party as a national figure and he didn’t disappoint. Instead of being cautious, Humphrey took the lead in fighting for a pro-civil rights section in the Democratic platform. HHH’s speech helped get it adopted as part of the platform and resulted in many Southern delegates walking out of the convention. Southerners formed the States’ Rights or Dixiecrat Party and nominated South Carolina’s Governor Strom Thurmond as a third party candidate for the Presidency that year. Thurmond actually won four states and 39 electoral votes but it wasn’t enough to play the spoiler and President Truman still won reelection.
Humphrey’s controversial/courageous speech at the ‘48 DNC was really good and ended with this memorable conclusion:
“My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights. People — human beings — this is the issue of the 20th century. People of all kinds — all sorts of people — and these people are looking to America for leadership, and they’re looking to America for precept and example.
My good friends, my fellow Democrats, I ask you for a calm consideration of our historic opportunity. Let us do forget the evil passions and the blindness of the past. In these times of world economic, political, and spiritual — above all spiritual — crisis, we cannot and we must not turn from the path so plainly before us. That path has already lead us through many valleys of the shadow of death. And now is the time to recall those who were left on that path of American freedom.
For all of us here, for the millions who have sent us, for the whole two billion members of the human family, our land is now, more than ever before, the last best hope on earth. And I know that we can, and I know that we shall began here the fuller and richer realization of that hope, that promise of a land where all men are truly free and equal, and each man uses his freedom and equality wisely well.
My good friends, I ask my Party, I ask the Democratic Party, to march down the high road of progressive democracy. I ask this convention to say in unmistakable terms that we proudly hail, and we courageously support, our President and leader Harry Truman in his great fight for civil rights in America!”
On December 31, 1963, Lyndon Johnson had been President of the United States for just over a month. Forty days earlier, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas and LBJ was now entering 1964 — a Presidential election year — as the incumbent President, albeit an accidental one.
After several somber, tense, and exhausting weeks, LBJ was spending the Holidays at the LBJ Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. On that New Year’s Eve, many members of President Johnson’s staff gathered at the Forty Acres Club in Austin, Texas to celebrate a birthday party for LBJ aide Horace Busby. President Johnson wanted to join the festivities, but a tired Lady Bird wasn’t interested in going out, so LBJ gathered his secretaries at the LBJ Ranch and boarded a helicopter for the short flight into Austin.
Austin and its main businesses in the early 1960s were no different than any other city in the Segregated South. Although the party for Busby was being held at the Forty Acres Club on the campus of the University of Texas, the hangout’s strict code of segregation had previously led to controversy. In 1962, an African-American official from President Kennedy’s newly-formed Peace Corps was denied service at the Forty Acres Club, which led to a minor boycott and the resignations of several University of Texas staff members who had held club memberships. Still, segregation was strictly enforced, just as it was in restaurants, bars, hotels, bus stations, playgrounds, cemeteries, and basically anywhere that one group of people might come into contact with another group of people throughout the South.
When President Johnson and the secretaries that he had brought along with him to the party arrived at the Forty Acres Club, the simple fact that the President of the United States was about to attend a gathering at a segregated business could have caused a major national controversy. It was still early in LBJ’s Presidency and the fact that Johnson was from the South had worried civil rights leaders when JFK tapped Johnson as his running mate in 1960. Up to that point, LBJ had not yet done anything as President to neutralize the fears of liberal Democrats who mourned President Kennedy’s assassination as the loss of potential civil rights legislation.
Everyone inside the Forty Acres Club recognized that the President was about to arrive when Secret Service agents entered the building and began scanning the guests and taking up positions. Music was playing, cocktails were being served, conversations were cascading throughout the room, but there was also a sense of dread amongst those on LBJ’s staff who realized that the President’s decision to frequent a segregated nightclub in Austin would likely require some major explaining when the news got out.
And then, when Lyndon Johnson walked into the Forty Acres Club, it became clear that he might not be the President that some worried he may be. As he entered the strictly segregated club, the President of the United States was arm-in-arm with one of his secretaries — Gerri Whittington. One of the guests, Ernie Goldstein turned to LBJ aide Bill Moyers and asked, “Does the President know what he’s doing?” Moyers didn’t hesitate. He responded, “He always knows what he’s doing.” Whittington asked Johnson a similar question. “Mr. President,” she asked as they headed inside the club, “do you know what you are doing?” Johnson didn’t hesitate. “I sure do. Half of them are going to think you’re my wife, and that’s just fine with me.”
Gerri Whittington was an African-American woman and in the final hours of 1963, the President of the United States had taken it upon himself to integrate the Forty Acres Club in Austin.
Nobody had suggested it. Nobody had demanded it. Nobody had expected it. There were no focus groups convened and no polling data was consulted. Political calculations had nothing to do with it. It was as simple as Lyndon Johnson wanting to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his staff — a staff which included an African-American woman. On the last night of 1963, Lyndon Johnson brought a black friend to what had been a strictly segregated, all-white club because he wanted to, but he also did it because he realized that he was now the most powerful man in the world and it was something that he could do. As LBJ said in other situations, “Well, what the hell is the Presidency for?” On that last night of 1963, LBJ showed that the Presidency was for breaking down barriers and beginning the journey that made a big, brash Texan from the Hill Country the man who did more for Civil Rights than any other President besides (maybe) Lincoln.
Gerri Whittington, who had been asked to join LBJ’s secretarial staff in the White House shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated, continued to work in the White House for President Johnson until the day he left office and flew home to retirement in Texas. She was the White House’s first black executive secretary and one of her fondest memories wasn’t desegregating the Forty Acres Club with LBJ, but the day in June 1967 when President Johnson steppped out of the Oval Office with Thurgood Marshall and shared the news that he was appointing Marshall as the first black Supreme Court Justice. Other than the President and Marshall, Whittington was the first person to know of the historic nomination.
As for the Forty Acres Club, the rigid segregationist policy that had previously been the rule literally disappeared overnight. The very next day, January 1, 1964, a curious party-goer from the night before called the club to see if it might have been an aberration or a one-time concession to the power of the Presidency. When he asked if black guests were now allowed at the Forty Acres Club, he was told, “Yes, sir. The President of the United States integrated us on New Year’s Eve.”