Posts tagged: LBJ

A Country Remembers

By , April 11, 2014 5:38 am

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.

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Yet Another Step Forward

By , January 9, 2014 1:14 am


I knew my paternal grandfather but not for long as he died in 1947. When he was born in 1859, the United States of America permitted three to four million human beings to live out their lives as slaves. That is about 155 years ago. Starting with the Civil War, our shamed nation has slowly plodded forward towards fulfillment of the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

1862 – the Emancipation Proclamation
1865 – the 13th Amendment
1940’s – Jackie Robinson breaks into baseball
Late 1940’s – Marion Sweatt, after having fought for his country, is denied admission to the University of Texas Law School
Early 1950’s – Black youths denied entrance into St. Mary’s Seminary, Houston
1954 – Supreme Court orders end to segregated schools but it doesn’t happen
1964 – The first major civil rights act followed by a half dozen others through the influence of Lyndon Johnson
2004 – Barack Obama elected President of the United States
2014 – Charlie Strong becomes head coach at the University of Texas

This may not mean a lot to many younger people today but any person of my age and who remembers “The Way We Were!” can appreciate this decision with thankfulness that slowly – slowly – slowly we are moving towards the ideals on which this country was founded. For that let us thank God.

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The Impact of LBJ

By , April 16, 2013 4:17 am

In the course of producing this little blog, I try to touch on a range of issues going from theology, politics, history and economics. Of course, in my opinion, they are all delightfully intertwined! Today, I had a brief but enjoyable experience at the LBJ Library here in Austin, Texas. The former director of the library- Harry Middleton- has taught a course for years on the the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Each year he has kindly asked me to direct one class during this course to reflect on how the LBJ presidency affected my work as a parish priest.
It is an easy subject to talk about. Most of the students have had no experience with the cruel segregation that marked life in the South prior to the upheaval created by the President over a short three or four years, when he was able to produce major structural changes in governmental and racial issues. First came the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the first serious break that blacks had received since the end of the Civil War. That was followed by the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and many others.
If you were a Black American in 1955, you would see tremendous cause for hope and optimism by 1965. While changes required action by both the House and the Senate, those changes would never have occurred except for LBJ. Mr. Robert Caro has made a career of writing about the extraordinary life of President Johnson, completing four books to date, with one to go. I have read them all, but would primarily recommend Passage of Power for those interested in this fascinating story.
Now to the parish. I was serving a poor area during these turbulent years. Dramatic changes I witnessed first hand included better educational opportunities (via Head Start), better housing, more open job opportunities, and a surge in self-confidence in the poorer members of our society. Sadly, over all of this wonderful activity, there was a cloud- the VietNam War. I leave that subject for another day.
If you’re in Austin, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus. This library will give you a wonderful picture of this administration’s crucial work under President Johnson from the early 1930′s until his death in 1973, only 63 years old.

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The Hope-filled ‘60’s – Looking Back

By , March 27, 2012 1:32 pm

The 1960’s were an extraordinary time in the United States. They were filled with hope and chaos. Nationally, the Vietnam War raged on and on. Thousands of young Americans were dying and tens of thousands of Vietnamese were suffering the same fate. The draft was on and many young people were making every effort to avoid it because they instinctively knew that the war was so senseless, so wasteful and so unnecessary.

On the Church side of the ledger, things looked differently. Konrad Adenauer was leading a prosperous, peace loving Germany and the agony of the Second World War was beginning to fade, at least slightly. In the Church there was optimism everywhere. John XXIII, that rotund, little parish priest from the Italian alps, sat on the throne of Peter. He was loving and lovable. He looked at the problems in the Church and for the first time in more than 100 years called for a world-wide council of bishops. Change was in the air. Hope was in the air. Optimism was abundant. So there you had that decade. You had war and chaos and conflict, and you had faith, hope and optimism.

As a young priest, I had already been in several very diverse parishes and in the late ‘60’s was serving the national office in Washington, D.C. I had the thrill of witnessing close at hand the remarkable legislative accomplishments of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In the South, the Freedom Riders were beaten and sometimes killed but the War on Poverty with all of its ramifications and the Civil Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act and Open Housing Act were all passed in that same decade. I remember the whole decade very well and I hope that I never forget it. No one should.

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