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Why the Notorious Racist, LBJ, Made Sure the 1964 Civil Rights Act that Ended a Century of Jim Crow Segregation Laws Was Passed

by John Spritzler

March 26, 2019

The purpose of this article--the reason I bothered to write it--is to help people know a key fact that the ruling class works very hard to make us not know. The key fact is this: Who we elect does not determine what the government does. No matter who is elected, the ruling class decides whether or not to have the government grant progressive reforms by considering what might happen if it does NOT do so, in particular judging whether failure to grant the reform might further spur the growth of the mass movement "in the streets" and lead it to become increasingly revolutionary in its aim.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson's (LBJ) crucial role in ensuring the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides an excellent example of this key fact.

How Racist Was LBJ?

To start with, it is important to recall how extremely racist LBJ was. One source for this is the MSNBC article online here, titled "Lyndon Johnson was a Civil Rights here. But also a racist."

The article begins with "Editor’s note: Readers may find some language included to be offensive." This is because the article, in order to tell its story about LBJ, uses the word "nig*er" spelled out in full. I will refrain from that below by inserting the asterist in quotations from the article.

The next sentence in the article reads:

"Lyndon Johnson said the word 'nig*er' a lot."

It then reports:

"In Senate cloakrooms and staff meetings, Johnson was practically a connoisseur of the word. According to Johnson biographer Robert Caro, Johnson would calibrate his pronunciations by region, using “nigra” with some southern legislators and “negra” with others. Discussing civil rights legislation with men like Mississippi Democrat James Eastland, who committed most of his life to defending white supremacy, he’d simply call it “the nig*er bill.”"

Here are some more important excerpts from the article that make it clear how truly racist JBJ was:

With the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the segregationists would go to their graves knowing the cause they’d given their lives to had been betrayed, Frank Underwood style, by a man they believed to be one of their own. When Caro asked segregationist Georgia Democrat Herman Talmadge how he felt when Johnson, signing the Civil Rights Act, said ”we shall overcome,” Talmadge said “sick.”

The Civil Rights Act made it possible for Johnson to smash Jim Crow. The Voting Rights Act made the U.S. government accountable to its black citizens and a true democracy for the first time. Johnson lifted racist immigration restrictions designed to preserve a white majority – and by extension white supremacy. He forced FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, then more concerned with “communists” and civil rights activists, to turn his attention to crushing the Ku Klux Klan. ...

So it would be tempting, on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, as Johnson is being celebrated by no less than four living presidents, to dismiss Johnson’s racism as mere code-switching – a clever ploy from an uncompromising racial egalitarian whose idealism was matched only by his political ruthlessness.

But that wouldn’t be true. Johnson was a man of his time, and bore those flaws as surely as he sought to lead the country past them. For two decades in Congress he was a reliable member of the Southern bloc, helping to stonewall civil rights legislation. As Caro recalls, Johnson spent the late 1940s railing against the “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves” in East Asia. Buying into the stereotype that blacks were afraid of snakes (who isn’t afraid of snakes?) he’d drive to gas stations with one in his trunk and try to trick black attendants into opening it. Once, Caro writes, the stunt nearly ended with him being beaten with a tire iron.

Nor was it the kind of immature, frat-boy racism that Johnson eventually jettisoned. Even as president, Johnson’s interpersonal relationships with blacks were marred by his prejudice. As longtime Jet correspondent Simeon Booker wrote in his memoir Shocks the Conscience, early in his presidency, Johnson once lectured Booker after he authored a critical article for Jet Magazine, telling Booker he should “thank” Johnson for all he’d done for black people. In Flawed Giant, Johnson biographer Robert Dallek writes that Johnson explained his decision to nominate Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court rather than a less famous black judge by saying, “when I appoint a nig*er to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a nig*er.”

Why Did LBJ Smash Jim Crow?

The reason LBJ smashed Jim Crow was because he (and the ruling class he was beholden to) feared what might happen if he (it) did not smash Jim Crow. What exactly was going on "in the streets" that produced this fear?

What frightened the ruling class in 1964 was the growing size and militancy (and, in some cases, increasingly explicit revolutionary direction*) of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) famously conducted militant sit-ins against Jim Crow segregation as described here and here. In 1961 black people in Monroe, North Carolina, had armed themselves to defend against the KKK's armed attacks on nonviolent blacks protesting the segregation of a public swimming pool, as described here. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. had a gun for self-defense, as described here in the book, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed in which the author recounts how black people throughout the South at this time used their guns and rifles to defend the nonviolent SNCC youths from the KKK and how in many cases it was only this armed defense that made the SNCC nonviolent tactics possible.

The most visible evidence of the growing size of the Civil Rights Movement was the 1963 March on Washington. For those too young to remember this dramatic event, an article about it worth reading is here:

On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During this event, Martin Luther King delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. said, in his famous I Have a Dream speech, that:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,"

he struck a chord of profound agreement from huge numbers of Americans of all races.

According to this article (previously cited)

The executive board of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations declined to support the march, adopting a position of neutrality. Nevertheless, many constituent unions attended in substantial numbers. 

The diversity of those in attendance was reflected in the event’s speakers and performers. They included singers Marian Anderson, Odetta, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan; Little Rock civil rights veteran Daisy Lee Bates; actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; American Jewish Congress president Rabbi Joachim Prinz; Randolph; UAW president Walter Reuther; march organizer Bayard Rustin; NAACP president Roy Wilkins; National Urban League president Whitney Young and SNCC leader John Lewis.

Note especially that UAW president Walter Reuther attended the march, reflecting the support it had from labor in general, not just black people!

A 2013 Washington Post article about the 1963 march headlined, "In March on Washington, white activists were largely overlooked but strategically essential," reports the story of a young white man who joined the march:

Then he joined the crowd walking around the Tidal Basin toward the Lincoln Memorial, one of between 75,000 and 95,000 white people who joined the swelling, predominantly black crowd.

That's a hell of a lot--a frighteningly lot!--of white people, if one is a member of a ruling class that can only remain in power by using divide-and-rule, and the main method of divide-and-rule for more than two centuries has been to turn the white and black races against each other.

As this article points out, the Civil Rights Movement's leaders were explicitly aiming to create a movement of all races united against inequality and injustice:

“The idea really was to say to those people in the middle, white folks in the middle, ‘You have to come and support this movement. You can’t sit on the fence anymore,’ ” remembers Rachelle Horowitz, who coordinated transportation for the March on Washington as an aide to lead organizer Bayard Rustin.

To reach those “white folks in the middle,” March organizers had to ensure that their movement not be seen as solely a “Negro thing.”

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom came at a moment when many white Americans felt personally disconnected from the burgeoning civil rights movement — even if they supported its aims. At the time, nearly three-fourths of whites said in a national survey that “Negroes should have the right to use the same parks, restaurants and hotels as white people,” but many fewer were doing anything to actively support the movement.

Note: "At the time, nearly three-fourths of whites said in a national survey that “Negroes should have the right to use the same parks, restaurants and hotels as white people”. This meant that if the ruling class was seen by the American public as defending Jim Crow segregation, it would be seen as morally wrong--as the enemy!--by three fourths of the WHITE population!

The Civil Rights Movement was clearly a growing danger to the rule of the American plutocracy that LBJ represented. The ruling class knew that if it continued to keep Jim Crow segregation laws on the books, then the Civil Rights Movement would grow larger and more and more people would conclude that ending Jim Crow would require removing the ruling class from power--revolution.

The fact that some racist southern politicians such as senators Strom Thurmond and Herman Talmadge would oppose ditching Jim Crow could not alter the fact that the plutocracy's most astute advisors (and the ones who thus most influenced LBJ) knew that Jim Crow had to be ditched. This--the Civil Rights Movement "in the streets"--is why LBJ ditched it and forced a majority of the politicians in Congress (many no less racist than LBJ) to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It had nothing to do with any love of justice, never mind love of black people, on the part of LBJ (or the other racist politicians who voted for the Act). The person sitting in the Oval Office could have been Genghis Khan and STILL he would have ditched Jim Crow, for the same reason LBJ did. (Read here how the ruling class worked to reverse the "damage" [black-white solidarity against racial discrimination] created by the Civil Rights Movement by using Affirmative Action.)

DON'T FALL FOR THE BIG LIE

The ruling class wants us not to understand the actual cause-and-effect reality behind the occasional progressive reforms that we have won in the past, like the abolition of Jim Crow. It wants us to believe that the way to win such reforms is to elect "good" politicians who are in favor of the reform. It wants us to believe this because if we do then we will spend our time and energy trying to elect a "good" politician instead of building a revolutionary movement "in the streets." The ruling class knows that if we remain in the electoral "sand box" then we will never be a threat that will force it to grant substantive reforms. The ruling class, as I discuss here, uses the elections to control us, never to enable us to control the government.

The ruling class no doubt smiles in great relief when they see us debating amongst ourselves which politician is best, which one to work for and win others to support, INSTEAD of building a revolutionary movement "in the streets" as I discuss in my articles "How We CAN Remove the Rich from Power" and "Revolutionary Community Organizing."

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* "At the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, SNCC chairman John Lewis was one of those scheduled to speak. He intended to criticize John F. Kennedy’s proposed civil rights bill as “too little, and too late,” and to refer to the movement as “a serious revolution” (Lewis, 28 August 1963). Lewis softened the tone of the delivered speech to appease A. Philip Randolph and other march organizers, but remained adamant that SNCC had “great reservations” regarding Kennedy’s proposed civil right legislation (Carson, 94). He warned his audience: “We want our freedom and we want it now” (Carson, 95)." [from this source]

 

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READ THE BOOKS IN THE "NO RICH AND NO POOR" SERIES

 

Articles by Dave Stratman

Articles by John Spritzler

Turn the World Upside Down (John Spritzler's blog #1)

End Class Inequality (John Spritzler's blog #2)

 

Books

We Can Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life by Dave Stratman

The People as Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II by John Spritzler

NO RICH AND NOPOOR: The Populist Goal We CAN and Must Win

DIVIDE AND RULE: The "Left vs. Right" Trap