Thursday, July 3, 2014

50 Years Since The Civil Rights Act: A Time for Reflection

It's been fifty years since Lyndon B. Johnson managed to get the Civil Rights Act through Congress. This landmark bill was a huge step forward in the fight for equal rights between blacks and whites as it - among other things - ended racial segregation in schools, at the workplace, and at facilities available to the general public, e.g. theaters and retailers.

I have collected a few articles dealing with this important anniversary.

First, The Atlantic has a good piece that examines The Supreme Court's influence and the importance of LBJ's efforts:

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.” 
The Daily Beast also covers the story with an emphasis on the bipartisan cooperation that ensured that the bill was finally signed into law.

Also, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin Texas was paid a visit by former presidents Carter, W. Bush, Clinton and current president Obama to mark the occasion. The library has a wealth of information on LBJ (of course) and is a good place to start, although - since the library is dedicated to him - it's wise to keep a critical mind. Go here to learn about 10 things that are different because of the Civil Rights Act was passed.

The excellent NPR adds audio. Michel Martin talks to historians Charles Cobb and Taylor Branch.

LBJ's legacy has to a great extent been overshadowed by the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. However, historians are increasingly paying emphasis on LBJ's achievements during the civil rights movement - and deservedly so.

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