Film focuses on LBJ's Civil Rights legacy

Lyndon Johnson's presidency is depicted in a new film.
Lyndon Johnson's presidency is depicted in a new film.
--Presidential portrait, White

Lyndon B. Johnson, the larger-than-life 36th president, is the focus of a new film centering on his early presidency.

    The film, LBJ, tells the story of the period following the assassination of John F. Kennedy when Johnson, who had been Kennedy's vice president, takes over as the country's leader. A capable legislator, Johnson spearheads efforts to pass civil rights legislation that Kennedy wanted. Directed by Rob Reiner, Woody Harrelson stars in the title role (see trailer below).
    While historians give Johnson high marks for the civil rights legislation, his handling of the Vietnam War is another matter. In the 2010 Siena Research Institute presidential ranking, historians scored presidents based on various aspects of the presidency, such as leadership, relations with Congress and foreign policy. Johnson won the highest score of all presidents in the category “relationship with Congress.” But the historians also gave him the lowest ranking in the category “foreign policy accomplishments.”
    Here are the basics, along with links for further study:

Personal: He was born on a farm near Stonewall, Texas, Aug. 27, 1908. He graduated from Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos (now known as Texas State University-San Marcos) in 1930 and taught school from 1928 to ’31. He married Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor in 1934.

Legislative career: After spending four years as secretary to Rep. Richard M. Kleberg in Washington and two more years as state director of the National Youth Administration of Texas, Johnson ran for Congress and won in 1937. His biography on the U.S. House of Representatives website notes that Johnson was the first member of Congress to enlist in the armed forces after World War II began. He served as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy in 1941-42. After the war, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1949 to '61, when he resigned to become Kennedy’s vice president.

Civil rights: During Johnson's presidency, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

  • The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It required equal access to public places and employment and also enforced desegregation of schools and the right to vote. As described by the National Park Service website, it didn’t “end” discrimination, but opened the door to progress.
  • The 1965 Voting Rights Act was approved following attacks on Civil Rights protestors, particularly the March 7, 1965, assault of peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Johnson signed the legislation -- prohibiting denial of the right to vote based on “literacy tests” -- into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The law also contained enforcement provisions for areas of the country where there was a history of discrimination. As the result of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, however, jurisdictions “no longer need to seek clearance for the new voting changes, unless they are covered by a separate court order,” according to the U.S. Justice Department.
  • The 1968 Civil Rights Act is known for addressing discriminatory housing practices. Called the Fair Housing Act, it was passed by Congress four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It prohibits discrimination by housing providers such as landlords and real estate companies.

The Great Society: Johnson undertook an aggressive social reform agenda. He declared a war on poverty and worked to improve education and heath care, revive inner cities and increase opportunities for low-income Americans.

The Vietnam War and Johnson's retirement: Hoping to beat a Communist insurgency in Vietnam, Johnson escalated the U.S. role in the war and prolonged the fighting. The anti-war movement at college campuses began to grow, and young men burned draft cards in protest.
    Famously, Johnson announced in 1968 that he would not seek a second term. In a 2008 Los Angeles Times article, James R. Jones, who had served as Johnson’s appointments secretary in 1968, noted that Johnson’s father and grandfather had both died at age 64, “and he felt that he would not complete a second term, as he would be 64 during the last year of that term.”  
     But the single biggest factor in Johnson’s decision was Vietnam. “His [Johnson’s] middle-of-the-night awakenings to get the casualties report; his ongoing concern about the safety of his son-in-law, Chuck Robb, who was a Marine officer in the thick of heavy combat; his personal sense of responsibility each time he met with troops soon to be heading to Vietnam; and his growing sense of the futility of achieving total victory -- all of this had taken a toll on his vitality,” Jones wrote.

Death: Johnson died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on Jan. 22, 1973. He was 64. “The day before his death, he had learned that peace was at hand in Vietnam,” recounts the LBJ Presidential Library website.

       To know more:


     Ranking the presidents, best to worst

     New presidential ranking places Obama 12th

     10 presidents and the fight over health care

     Voting rights -- past, present and future

      If you wish to comment, like us on Facebook and tell us what you think.