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Still, Washington was not entirely a gloomy, stagnant city that winter. In ways yet undefined, the old order was changing. And amid such enormous distress there was an inevitable intensity, a sense of excitement mingled with hope, in the mounting prospect of new leaders and new policies. Washington shared this anticipation with the country, but Washington also had more personal and specific concerns.


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And there would be plenty of talk in what Henry James had called the City of Conversation. Conversation for him was always a medium through which he sought to impose his will, as well as a source of information that helped him direct his energies toward desired goals. By analyzing the composition of San Marcos College and inquiring into the wishes of diverse student groups, he had been able to consolidate and activate the powerful coalition of nonathletes that had helped topple the Black Stars.

Information was power, or, at least, a primary instrument of power.

It strengthened, made more effective, his drive for control over successively larger environments until the arena became so vast it could not be comprehended in the same fashion by even the most tireless and encompassing mind. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband and their three sons. For more than sixty years, St. Photo portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson as U.

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Senator for Texas and Majority Leader. Image is in the public domain via Wikipedia. Tagged with: doris kearns goodwin , lyndon b. Birth Year 57 if event. First Name. Last Name. Sign up for the The History Reader Newsletter. Privacy Notice. You can withdraw your consent at any time. In the middle of the turmoil, Wallace requested a meeting with the President, who granted the request at once. In the Oval Office, they discussed the question of troops. Johnson appealed to the large ambition and the populist strain that he perceived in Wallace: How could there be any fixed limits, he suggested, to the political career of the first Southern governor to combine economic and social reform with racial harmony?

Why not Wallace? Two days later, when Johnson finally sent troops to Alabama, the act was generally regarded, not as an imperious imposition of federal power, but as a necessary measure to prevent further violence. By waiting out his critics and letting the TV clips make their own impression on the country, he had succeeded in persuading most of the country that he had acted reluctantly and out of necessity, not because he was anxious to use federal power against a guilty South.

With this event, Johnson gave his fellow citizens a specific outlet for inchoate emotion and assured himself of irresistible support for his next, and now become urgent, civil rights program. The speech was Lyndon Johnson at his best—homely, compassionate, audacious, and noble—a hard practical appeal and a strong moral statement. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue.

It is wrong … to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too.

Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society

Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. Here Johnson stopped. Then Lyndon Johnson spoke of his own past. I never thought then, in , that I would be standing here in It never 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.

I want to be the President who educated young children … who helped to feed the hungry … who helped the poor to find their own way and who protected the right of every citizen to vote in every election. 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 tonight. It had been a summons and a sermon. It had been that rare thing in politics, rarer still for Lyndon Johnson—a speech that shaped the course of events. For once, Americans would honor him for a greatness of spirit as well as a mastery of technique.

For on this issue he was more than a giver of gifts; he had become a moral leader. But as time passed, and I listened, talked, and learned, it became clear that in this, as in Vietnam, Johnson was a true believer, although with a far more lucid sense of the human and political realities.

For these were people, the blacks and their white adversaries, whom he knew and had dealt with, whose variety of circumstance and opinion he had perceived through his own senses. He was a strong anti-Klansman.

Lyndon Johnson: Controversial President

The Klan controlled the state when I was a boy. They threatened to kill him several times. For there were no blacks in Blanco County, and not many in his congressional district. What I did was go around and get people to donate money for the equipment in the white areas and then apply that saving to Prairie View [a project location for Negro youth] and use it to build dorms which they so badly needed.

Stayed overnight, ate with them. Four cars drove up to the apartment where we lived on the second floor, and out tumbled ten to twelve Negroes. We have seen that in the late forties and early fifties Johnson felt it necessary to consolidate his strength among his new constituency; one far more conservative and racist than his congressional district had been. In those years he avoided being identified with the cause of civil rights. Yet one must also remember that, in the same period, the cause of black Americans had few champions among white politicians.

But with that single exception, no important steps were taken to improve the conditions of black Americans. Indeed, the issue was barely an issue, rarely rose to the surface of public debate, and when it did, was formed and fought around issues, such as the poll tax or antilynching, which were purely Southern problems. More fundamental denials of political, legal, and economic equality were neither challenged nor debated.


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In that period six civil rights bills managed to make it to the floor of Congress; six were defeated. I just never thought it should be the federal government passing the law.

Lincoln and the Art of Transformative Leadership

Now I did support a constitutional amendment repealing the poll tax, and in fact in the fifties I went around Texas arguing that Texas should repeal its own poll tax. I had other concerns. My job took me all day. Nor did I have the power to do anything about them but to stand up and sputter out. But all that changed when I became President. Then I had the power and the obligation to do something. Then it did become my personal priority. Then something could happen. In speeches, legislation, and continuing proposals, Johnson took the most advanced position on racial issues of any President in American history; appearing, at times, ahead of the civil rights movement itself, until, sadly, the war in Vietnam extended its paralyzing hand to this as to his other domestic ambitions.

Most members of Congress must also oversee the activities of a staff assigned to advise them on issues, write their speeches, answer their mail, and do their case work. In a sense, each Congressman is the proprietor of a small business. In addition, there are lectures to give, partisan obligations to meet, and necessary trips to their home district or state.