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Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Bill.

Library of Congress

A master of the art of practical politics, Lyndon Johnson came into the White House after the tragedy of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. He was energetic, shrewd, and hugely ambitious. Clifford Alexander, Jr., deputy counsel to the president and an African American, remembered President Johnson as a larger-than-life figure who was a tough but fair taskmaster. His legislative program "had such a positive effect on black Americans [it] was breathtaking when compared to the miniscule efforts of the past." The cornerstones of that program were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Civil rights leaders from across America led by Martin Luther King, Jr. gathered in the East Room of the White House to witness the signing of the Civil Rights Act that signified a major victory in the struggle for racial equality to which they had dedicated their lives. President Johnson also made two political appointments–Robert Weaver as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Thurgood Marshall as associate Supreme Court justice. For the first time African Americans had positions in the Cabinet and on the Supreme Court. President Johnson appointed more black judges than any president before him and opened the White House not only to black athletes and performers but also to black religious, civic and political leaders in significant numbers. Johnson saw his place in history as being directly related to the improvement of race relations in America and according to Alexander "he was a huge success."

Footnotes & Resources

Read more: Clifford Alexander, Jr., "Black Memoirs of the White House--LBJ," American Visions, February-March, 1995, 42-43.

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