LBJ's Civil Rights Legacy: Long and Nearly Forgotten

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The April 2014 Civil Rights Summit in Austin will help remind Americans of the legacy of President Lyndon Johnson, other than the Vietnam War. (Published Thursday, Apr 10, 2014)

    President Lyndon Baines Johnson's legacy has long been overshadowed by the way he escalated the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

    While the April 2014 Civil Rights Summit in Austin will not erase that, the LBJ Presidential Library is hoping the summit will help more people understand LBJ's role in two domestic policies that changed the United States of America forever.

    In 1954, segregation was the standard across the U.S. south, including Texas. From classrooms to cafes, blacks and Hispanics were forbidden to be in the company of white people.

    Blacks who dared to vote paid poll taxes or were forced to take impossible exams.

    In 1963, at the urging of civil rights leaders, President John F. Kennedy held a nationally televised address on civil rights.

    "100 years of delay has passed since [President Abraham] Lincoln freed the slaves yet their heirs, their grandsons are not fully freed," said Kennedy.

    Just months later, on Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy's life ended in Dallas. But the work continued through a new president, a Texan, LBJ.

    "My fellow citizens, we've come now to a time of testing. We must not fail," said President Johnson during an address to the nation before signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin. It affected schools, governments and businesses that accommodated the public like hotels and restaurants.

    There were protests and leaders who wouldn't enforce it. But LBJ pressed on.

    "It is wrong, deadly wrong to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country," said Johnson in another address to country.

    In 1965, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was on hand as LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act into law, stopping racial intimidation at the polls.

    The impact was swift. In Mississippi, voter registration among blacks increased from seven percent in 1965 to 60 percent in 1967.

    In 1972, just a month before his death, Johnson told an audience at the LBJ Presidential Library the work was far from over.

    "Until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skin, emancipation will be a proclamation not a fact," said Johnson.