In fact, as the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, recognized last week, Johnson was a giant, standing with Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as presidents who saved America. Under Johnson, the scourge of segregation was finally ended, and equal protection under the law moved from a lie to a promise. Millions were lifted from poverty, as the poor were provided a ladder up out of despair. Johnson’s reforms — Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Immigration, Medicare, child nutrition, food stamps and more — were nearly as great as those of FDR, and never matched since.

Johnson was propelled by a massive movement for Civil Rights, as Americans moved at the courage and dignity of ordinary heroes willing to stand up or sit down, protest or march, suffer abuse and jail for their rights. He was helped by allies like Dr. Martin Luther King. In the wake of the assassination of JFK, he had a legacy that he could invoke. But his leadership, passion, energy and skill were indispensable. President Obama invoked one of LBJ’s famed lines: “what the hell is the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?”

Acknowledging Johnson’s greatness in our rearview mirror is important in part because it may help our vision looking forward through the windshield.

Today, America is more unequal than ever. Our schools are segregated, by race and by class, separate and unequal. We rank second to the lowest among industrial nations in the assistance we provide to the poor. In LBJ’s time, we enjoyed a broad middle class — for many, there were good jobs and good benefits. Now the middle class is sinking; we suffer mass unemployment with the jobs that are being created too often low pay and part-time. The millennial generation is graduating into the worst economic straits since the Great Depression.

And across the country, basic rights are under assault. State after state, particularly across the South, are passing measures to suppress voting — limiting voting days, ending Sunday voting, demanding voter ID, stripping the right to vote from non-violent drug offenders who have served their time, and more. The Supreme Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act, and is rolling back affirmative action. Republicans in the Congress want to turn Medicare into a voucher, gut Medicaid and turn it into a block grant, slash food stamps, Pell grants and other support for the vulnerable. A detailed analysis by the Center of Budget and Policy Proposals finds 69 percent of the cuts in the budget just passed by Republicans in the House come from programs from poor and low wage workers.

We do well to honor Lyndon Johnson. He understood the power of government to make America better. But it is not enough to honor his legacy. It is time to stir ourselves, as he pushed himself, to not simply defend his contributions, but to extend them to meet the challenges of our day.

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4 thoughts on “LBJ’s Legacy Under Assault

  1. I said it. on said:

    The civil rights movement lulled blacks to sleep. Gov’t got busy to stop the demonstrating. America was looking crazy to the world and the government couldn’t have that. Now look at the community as a whole. We don’t see a lot of AA owned businesses, schools, and banks and we are still segregated from those who have more. We don’t fight as hard as a whole to protect each other, care about our heritage, push as hard, etc. We become outraged when bigots act out and say in shock, “Racism is alive and well in America.” Did we think it wasn’t. Some AA’s hang out and endorse people who denigrate the community because they didn’t say it personally to us, or because we get a check from them. Our websites let bigots post messages that are abusive, baseless, and classless and allow them to be left up to be read and incite an argument.

    We have to realize that just because the government allows certain blacks a platform to speak, doesn’t make them have all of the answers for the AA community, we can respect leaders without always agreeing with every word that comes out of their mouths, and we can’t get stuck in an era. We must push forward as if slavery ended yesterday because if America could go back, it would.

  2. americanize. on said:

    This turning back the clock may be a blessing in disguise,black folk will be pressure into doing for self.GOD BLESS THE CHILD THAT GOT HIS OWN.

  3. Linda on said:

    From what I have read Lyndon Baines Johnson was friends with Strom Thurmond,
    Jessie Helms and other Dixiecrats back in the day–so
    what legacy did LBJ
    really leave and what did he do for folks of color that was so great?

    Off the records and out of the earshot of the microphones he was still calling us the “N” word!!!!

    Don’t understand why Rev Jessie is embracing LBJ now!!!!

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