President Lyndon Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on. LBJ Library photo #276-10-WH64 by Cecil Stoughton]

Face the Nation - Civil Rights and LBJ

Jan 24, 2013

[posted on on January 20, 2013]

Moderator Bob Schieffer interviewed former Johnson Aide Joe Califano and former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Face the Nation about Lyndon Johnson's ability to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a segregated society. Title III of the Civil Rights Act prohibited state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion or national origin. Condoleezza Rice credits LBJ with changing "what it meant to be an American."

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just start with you, Joe. You know as we look out on Washington as divided as it is and these-- these problems that are dividing us, it occurs to me over and over the nation is not nearly as divided as it was over segregation, and-- and-- and it's not nearly as difficult, in my-- my mind to solve some of these problems as it was for Lyndon Johnson to get those civil rights bills through the Senate. How did he do it?

JOSEPH CALIFANO (Former Johnson Aide): Well, I mean, I think-- I think he-- one, I agree with you, incidentally. I think that the-- the attention, the fact that the southern Democrats controlled the Senate and they controlled the committees in the House, not only on civil rights but on virtually everything we were trying to do in the great society on spending, on those bills. I think, one, he knew those guys very, very well. He knew every guy-- every person. He knew what their price was. And he was willing to do what-- what he had to do. Number two, he is willing to give other people credit. I mean, just go back and think about, particularly the Voting Rights Act. I mean he really kind of let (INDISTINCT) Everett Dirksen and go up there, let him-- let him work on it. Let it be--

BOB SCHIEFFER: He was the Republican leader.

JOSEPH CALIFANO: And was the Republican leader. Let him-- let him have the bill. Let him do the bill. And talking about Martin Luther King, when the Voting Rights Act-- when he signed the Voting Rights Act, think about the fact that everyone said he'll give the pen to Martin Luther King. Well, he didn't. He gave the pen to Everett Dirksen and he said, you know, without Everett Dirksen, this would be a bill, not a law. And he knew how to do that. And-- and-- and he also knew that-- that-- he-- he was willing to make incredible, you know, sort of what the hell is the presidency for.


JOSEPH CALIFANO: When his staff in 1964, before his first State of the Union, the entire staff said don't go for the civil rights bill of '64, prohibiting employment discrimination and-- and public accommodations. And it's a presidential election year, and he said, no, "What the hell is a presidency for, we'll go for it." And he went for it and he got it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Condoleezza Rice, what did that mean to you?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, it meant everything. I-- I was a little girl in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated big city in America. And I remember quite well the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, and when we learned that he had died my teacher-- we were in school, my teacher was outside and I heard her say, what are we going to do now. The President is dead and there is a southerner in the White House. And there was a sense that we would not now get the great civil rights legislation. But I have just tremendous respect and, indeed, admiration for Lyndon Johnson. I-- I was telling some people at the White House when the fortieth anniversary came up of the so-called Public Accommodations Act that it meant for a little girl that we could go to a restaurant for the first time as a family. It meant that for the first time we could stay in a decent hotel driving from Birmingham to Denver, Colorado. And in these little ways it began to mean that we had begun-- only begun to overcome some of the birth defects of the United States and were being accepted as-- as full citizens. So from the eyes of an eight-year-old in Birmingham, Alabama, it wasn't a bill. It wasn't a law, it was a change in what it meant to be American. read more