Monday, May 26, 2008

Lyndon Johnson's 100th

This year would have been Lyndon Johnson's 100th birthday and Congress recognized this with some tributes. LBJ was not only President, but also a Congressman, a Senator, and Majority Leader. You can see the entire proceedings in the House and Senate logs, but I actually got these snippets from a HNN article (there are two more at HNN, but I picked the two Texans in LBJ's honor).

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX)
... In 1964, Lyndon Johnson used his formidable legislative skills, honed from his days right here in this Chamber as majority leader, to pass the Civil Rights Act. Then, in 1965, he pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act was the culmination of a decade-long civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But in a real sense, it was the fulfillment of a two-century struggle to give life to the words in our Declaration of Independence, ``that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.''

During his term in office, President Johnson also embarked on a war on poverty, creating government programs such as food stamps, the Job Corps, the Community Action Program, and Vista, among others. The war on poverty was a part of a larger initiative that President Johnson called the Great Society. One of the most important aspects of the Great Society was improving American education. President Johnson believed that every American needed a solid public education to turn the aspirations of the Great Society into reality. In his words:

"We must open the doors of opportunity, but we must also equip our people to walk through those doors."

From 1963 to 1969, President Johnson signed over 60 education bills, including a pair of landmark achievements: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act. He also launched Project Head Start. In a very real sense, he was America's first education President. As a Texan and an American, I am certainly proud of the achievements of
President Lyndon Johnson. In his farewell speech, President Johnson said:
"I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped make our country more just, more just for all its people, as well as to ensure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity."

It has been almost 40 years since that speech and 100 years since his birth. Looking back, I think we can safely say that our country is more just, and it is more prosperous, thanks in part to the leadership of President Johnson.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
... It is an honor to recognize President Lyndon Baines Johnson, not simply because he was President, but because he represented an era, because he convened a time in America that was troubled. But he was a true champion of civil rights for all Americans and he led the Nation during very turbulent political times, from the Civil Rights movement, the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Vietnam War.

... He was a United States Senator and served as both minority and majority leader. He holds the current distinction of being the youngest Senate majority leader at the age of 46. He was also Vice President, head of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities, and President of the United States.

As President, as was noted, he nominated historically the first African American, the first minority to be nominated to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, who, of course, we all know argued that premier and prominent case civil rights legacy, Brown v. Board of Education, to the United States Supreme Court. All the world took note that this southern President from Texas could nominate an African American to the Supreme Court. That was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

... Johnson successfully championed civil rights when he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1948. Even then, as I said, as a son of the south, he was unashamed of his belief against segregation. In 1957, when a civil rights bill came before Congress, Johnson favored the bill and worked hard behind the scenes to win its passage. He moved from one side to the other, persuading southern Democrats and northern liberals to compromise. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation to pass since reconstruction, was signed by President Eisenhower in September 1957. Civil right was bipartisan in this body, and President Johnson knew that.

... Let me close by simply acknowledging one of the greatest moments I think this Congress had a chance to witness, and that was the President's speech to Congress as he dealt with this question of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. As he spoke to the Speaker and to the Members of Congress, he said, ``I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors from every section of this country to join me in that cause. At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.''

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