LBJ in History Matters
In the book, On Leadership, John Gardner writes “Leaders act in the stream of history. As they labor to bring about a result, multiple forces beyond their control, even beyond their knowledge, are moving to hasten or hinder the result.” (Gardner, 1990, p. 8) Gardner also tells us “In the real world, the judgments one makes of a leader must be multidimensional, taking into consideration great strengths, streaks of mediocrity, and perhaps great flaws. If the great strengths correspond to the needs of a critical moment in history, the flaws are forgiven and simply provide texture to the biographies.” (Gardner, 1990, p. 8) Lyndon Johnson was this type of leader. He has been credited with enacting the most sweeping set of civil rights laws in history. He was a brilliant statesman and a ruthless politician. He was compassionate and cruel. He demonstrated leadership when his country desperately needed it. Let’s discuss some of the attributes that define Lyndon Johnson as a leader.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, three amendments to the Constitution were ratified. The Thirteenth Amendment, adopted December 6, 1865, prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. (Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 2010) The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted July 9, 1868, provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. “ (Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 2010) The Fifteenth Amendment, adopted February 3, 1870, provides that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” (Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 2010) These are not the only federal laws dealing with civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was reenacted in 1870, prohibits discrimination “in jobs and housing on the basis of race”. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the last law of this type passed for 82 years. It guaranteed “the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations of inns, of theatres and other places of public amusement, and of public facilities and public conveyances of every type.” (Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, 2002, p. 688) These laws did little to change the situation for African-Americans in the period following the Civil War and into the first half of the 20th Century. Few African-Americans received equal protection under the law. ‘Separate but equal’ became the justification for segregation and discrimination. African-Americans, especially in the Southern States, were not allowed to register to vote. A variety of methods was used to deny voting rights including literacy tests, voucher systems, poll taxes and intimidation.
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v Board of Education, that segregation in public schools was illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling overturned the “1896 Plessy v Ferguson ruling that sanctioned separate but equal segregation of the races.” (Brunner, 2007) This case was significant because it stated, “… that ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.’ As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and...