I was watching a drama-documentary on President Lyndon B Johnson on Sky-Atlantic last night. Called “All The Way”. It starred Bryan Cranston in the title role.
I was 11 years old and already interested in politics when LBJ became President of the United States after President John F Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
After the charismatic Kennedy, LBJ would always seem disappointing.
More so, as I got more interested in politics, the Johnson years would be depressing. The Summer of Love (1967), the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Vietnam and Race Riots are the legacy.
Yet that in retrospect is unfair on Johnson’s first term which was marked by the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
I dont think LBJ gets enough credit.
An “accidental President”, he was a southerner (from Texas) but outside the “Deep South” where segregation was rampant. While Kennedy was in favour of Civil Rights, I dont know if a Massachusetts liberal could really have delivered it. Of course Kennedy’s death did provide some sympathy and goodwill to his successor but it was Johnson who had to negotiate Civil Rights legislation thru Congress in the face of the good ole boys in the Dixiecrat wing of the Democrat Party.
Yet LBJ…the folksy occasionally profane cowboy is constantly in the shadow of Kennedy.
Three years ago, I went to Texas…a city called San Marcos about half way between Austin and San Antonio. It is a “college town”, home of Texas State University and alma mater of Lyndon Johnson.
It is an unusual part of Texas…hill country, a liberal oasis in a conservative State, it was actually had some Union sympathies during the American Civil War.
I went there, knowing little about LBJ beyond what I had seen on TV screens in the 1960s.
But there was always a doubt in my mind about LBJ. Just how sincere was he about Civil Rights. The museum tells the story of Felix Longoria…a young man from Texas killed in the Pacific in World War Two. His repariated body could only be buried in a “Mexican” cemetry in his home town. It came as a shock to me to realise just how much anti-hispanic prejudice was officially tolerated in Texas in the late 1940s. LBJ, then a US Senator was instumental in having Felix Longoria buried in the Arlington Military Cemetry.
I think this speaks volumes for President Johnson having the right instincts.