The Music Has Gone out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968

The Music Has Gone out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968

The Music Has Gone out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968

The Music Has Gone out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968

Synopsis

After the passage of sweeping civil rights and voting rights legislation in 1964 and 1965, the civil rights movement stood poised to build on considerable momentum. In a famous speech at Howard University in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared that victory in the next battle for civil rights would be measured in "equal results" rather than equal rights and opportunities. It seemed that for a brief moment the White House and champions of racial equality shared the same objectives and priorities. Finding common ground proved elusive, however, in a climate of growing social and political unrest marked by urban riots, the Vietnam War, and resurgent conservatism.

Excerpt

On March 15, 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a Joint Session of Congress to call for federally enforced voting rights legislation. He spoke just eight days after “Bloody Sunday,” when Alabama state troopers, local law enforcement officials, and deputized white supremacists had brutally attacked African Americans on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge as they peacefully marched for voting rights. “There is no Negro problem,” the president insisted in the nationally televised speech. “There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.” in evoking Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 characterization of race as an “American dilemma,” Johnson sought to forge a national consensus on the need to eliminate discrimination at the ballot box.

Three months later, in a June 4, 1965, address at historically black Howard University, the president challenged the nation to confront the interwoven problems of poverty and discrimination that still hobbled black America— “another nation.” Lyndon Johnson’s rhetoric committed his administration to an expanded definition of equality that promised equal results rather than simply equal opportunity. in the aftermath of the Selma beatings, Johnson’s insistence that race was a national issue had seemed designed to soften the sense of regional persecution felt by many white southerners who were well aware that their region would be disproportionately affected by his call for voting rights legislation. If black Americans shared Johnson’s view that racism was a national issue, however, most white Americans living north of the Mason-Dixon Line in the spring of 1965 still saw the dilemma of race as a “southern problem.”

Delivered during the months that are often seen as the high-water mark of the civil rights movement—and of the Johnson administration—the speech at Howard read differently in the aftermath of the Watts riots in August 1965 and during subsequent outbreaks of urban unrest. Despite several riots the previous summer in depressed inner-city neighborhoods, not until the urban explosion in the Watts area of Los Angeles did most whites appear ready to accept the president’s argument that race was fundamentally an “American problem.”

It is not clear whether Johnson initially grasped the most far-reaching im-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.