Most of the years of my childhood saw President Franklin Roosevelt in office. He was elected four times! The only living president at that time was poor old Herbert Hoover who took the rap for the Depression and would not be appreciated until the 1970’s. Now we have a plethora of former presidents – two Bushes, Carter, Clinton and, of course, in office today, Barack Obama.
Austin was honored this week as these presidents convened in the Johnson Library to mark 50 years of the extraordinary progress in civil rights under the leadership of LBJ.
It saddens me that some commentators claim that this program was developed to simply offset the agonizing memory of Vietnam, which perdured throughout so much of the Johnson years. I think that this is regrettable. The Vietnam War was certainly one of the great tragedies of American history and its agony will never be forgotten. However, the magnificent progress in civil rights was a completely separate thing and the president’s memory needs to be kept in high honor in view of what he accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds.
How did a Southern senator ever succeed in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was an earthshattering breakthrough, and then see it followed by the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty and the establishment of entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and another half dozen accomplishments in the general area of civil rights?
I am glad that the former presidents came to Austin to honor Johnson and his memory. There is much to be thankful for in terms of progress in civil rights, but there is so much more to be done. I will write about that tomorrow.