President Lyndon B. Johnson became President of the United States upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were interested in moving the issue of civil rights forward. At this time in history, African-Americans were segregated from whites in society and were not treated equally. The issue of civil rights focused on rectifying this social injustice. As president during the tumultuous period of the 1960s, President Johnson played a tremendous role in moving civil rights forward. This paper will focus on President Johnson’s role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
By all means, the most important success of President Johnson’s presidency with regards to civil rights was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This Act sought to change much of the history of the United States. After the assassination of President Kennedy, President Johnson indicated in his first speech to Congress that he would make the passage of this bill his priority. He stated that it would be a memorial to President Kennedy for whom civil rights was a priority. Shortly thereafter, President Johnson met with civil rights leaders to focus on the passage of the bill. He again focused on the importance of the bill during his first State of the Union speech in January, 1964.
During this time, there was a significant amount of violence against civil rights workers. President Johnson continued to focus on his passage of the bill. He succeeded. On July 2, 1864, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The law made it illegal to discriminate against a person based upon sex, race, religion or ethnicity. It is still one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed and signed into law.
However, President Johnson was not done with his legacy to the civil rights movement. He recognized that this was not enough to achieve racial harmony and equality in the law. He realized that blacks did not receive the right to vote as frequently as did whites. Blacks were disenfranchised as a group and this impacted them politically and socially. President Johnson focused on this issue next. He met with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to work on this issue and promised Dr. King that he would pass legislation on this issue. Dr. King had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in civil rights. Once again, there was significant violence against those who worked for civil rights. Within a short period of time after this, Malcolm X was assassinated. President Johnson realized that he was battling strong forces that did not want to see civil rights for blacks in the United States.
President Johnson pushed his Voting Rights Act of 1965 into Congress. On August 6, 1965, he signed the Voting Rights Act. However, there were significant problems developing. Riots and violence were occurring across the United States as a result of the civil rights movement and the legislation. The Watts Riots in Los Angeles were condemned by Johnson for their use of violence to achieve change.
In 1966, Johnson sent another civil rights bill to Congress. This bill addressed the issue of housing discrimination. At the same time, he was struggling with the continued problem of Governor George Wallace who refused to support the right of African Americans to march and also refused to desegregate the schools. In 1967, Johnson extended the civil rights legislation for five years. In 1968, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This act also focused on the discrimination in the housing market.
Throughout the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson fought political and social forces to sign a number of pivotal pieces of civil rights legislation. As a president, his effect on the civil rights movement was tremendous.