This week has been filled with anniversaries — August 26 marked the 88th anniversary of the nineteen amendment, guaranteeing the right of women to vote. August 28, the 45th annversary of Dr. King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And August 27, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lyndon Johnson.
There was a time or fifteen in my life when I despised LBJ, but I’m older and a bit wiser now. I was moved by Robert Caro’s piece in the New York Times on LBJ’s birthday.
Caro connects Barach Obama’s speeech with Dr. King’s, and also with one Johnson gave to Congress in 1965 to introduce what became the Voting Rights Act.
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
Caro says that at this point LBJ paused. Then he continued, “And we shall overcome.”
Johnson was an outsided figure, complex, flawed, irascible, passionate. One unsubstantiated story has him saying that the Voting Rights Act would give the South to the Republican Party for fifty years. Maybe so, but come November, less than 18 months of that timeframe will remain.