LBJ's civil rights courage

Tumultuous era required adept legislative touch to begin road to equality

By Ken Esten Cooke— It’s difficult to remember what the country was like 50 years ago, and for those of us who weren’t alive, difficult to imagine.

The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was the beginning steps on a continuing road to equality for our entire population.

Part of his genius was in helping the south change from within. Being “one of them,” LBJ was able to help persuade southern legislators in ways that weren’t as “top-down” as northerners who approached the subject. His efforts led to huge change in the south, which benefited from economic investment as northern money flowed into the area once ugly civil rights fights subsided.

Also was a former public school teacher who had taught at an all-Mexican American school in Cotulla, Johnson had a personal view of the living conditions of blacks and Mexican Americans.

LBJ used military integration, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and bloody clashes in the south to help persuade lawmakers of the time that changes were needed. After being dogged by a cartoonish persona, LBJ used sheer legislative skill and his personal guile to change the country.

Today, this country still faces racial gaps in education, income and incarceration, to name a few issues. But the huge strides made in the past five decades would not have been possible without the courage and skill of our 36th president.

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