LBJ Presidential Library Austin affirms Johnson’s legacy as civil rights hero

Nov 18, 2013

by Karen Rubin
[posted on on 11/17/2013]

The country is marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and thinking of the tumultuous events during his brief time in office. But it is also the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Baines Johnson's ascendancy to the Presidency, and on a recent visit to Austin, Texas, I was reminded of Johnson's remarkable legacy.

In fact, what Johnson did then is resonating in today's headlines: Civil Rights Act which he passed in 1964 - we are fighting that same fight today, and had echoes during the 50th anniversary March on Washington this summer. The Voting Rights Act, which he passed in 1965, which the Supreme Court just eviscerated. Medicare which he passed in 1965, which is echoed in Obama's fight to implement the Affordable Care Act. Even Social Security, food stamps, public education are all threatened with austere cuts, when we can look back.

Our memory - and our appreciation - of LBJ is tainted, certainly, by the Vietnam War - and that has echoes, to some degree as Obama attempts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, America's longest War.

But even in this, my emotion was tempered by the reminder that it was Kennedy who entangled our soldiers in Vietnam; LBJ was pursuing a Cold War mentality that feared a Domino effect if Vietnam would fall to the Communists and a strategy of negotiating from strength. But I also came face to face with a little appreciated or remembered fact: Johnson had a negotiated peace at the ready in October 1968, just before the Presidential election, and Nixon's handlers convinced the South Vietnamese government not to make peace because Nixon would get them a better deal when he was President. Tens of thousands of American soldiers died and tens of thousands were physically and mentally scarred, in the five years that it took before Nixon finally declared victory and left South Vietnam to the Communist North Vietnamese regime. read more