I have listened to radio and television commentaries about the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Right Bill sponsored and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Recent eye surgery limited the time I could actually WATCH news shows discussing the recent anniversary's celebration at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, TX.
From the commentary that I have had the opportunity to view or hear, most of it stressed President Johnson's political skills and leadership as former majority leader of the Senate and subsequently as president following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. What appears to have been omitted was the role of major religious organizations and Republican members of Congress in enabling President Johnson to develop a national coalition constituency in support of the passage of the bill.
Nick Kotz's book, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. and The Laws That Changed America, is one of the few that accurately describes this. Soon to be added to this discussion of President Johnson and the 1964 Civil Rights Bill are my own memoirs now being written about Johnson's presidency (and other matters) during the time of Martin Luther King Jr.'s moral and political leadership.
During the past several years, either in speeches, TV interviews or in blogs, I have recounted the role and impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. in effecting major political change in expanding civil rights protection, social justice and economic opportunity in our country. The political strategy to achieve this was developed immediately after the November 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.
As described in more detail in my memoirs, within the week following JFK's assassination, Dr. King, with his closest political advisers, especially Stanley David Levison and myself, developed the following strategic political thesis: No fundamental change would occur in America on the issues the end of racial segregation, expanded civil rights, increased economic opportunities for African-Americans and improved race relations in the United States unless it occurred under the leadership of a major white political leader from the South.
This strategic political conclusion would define Dr. King's civil rights and moral leadership on the issue of race in American until the time of his own assassination on April 4th, 1968.
Following President Kennedy's murder, we had the presidencies of white political leaders from the South of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H. Bush.
During the 2008 South Carolina Democratic Primary, a political kerfuffle occurred between candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as to whether it was Dr. King who was "primarily" responsible for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill or the leadership of President Johnson. Some African-Americans, including me, were offended at the effort to diminish the impact of Dr. King's leadership in facilitating the successful passage of the bill. At the time Senator Clinton said:
"I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done... That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it and actually got it accomplished."
We were pleased that finally, President Obama, in his speech at the 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Johnson Library, during his presidency acknowledged both the roles of Dr. King and Johnson in connection with the successful passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Bill.
Until now, President Obama seemed only to speak about the influential role that Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan has had on his presidency.