tv Voting Rights Act of 1965 CSPAN August 24, 2015 11:20pm-12:22am EDT
to thank the smithsonian, the national museum for african-american history and culture for hosting us this evening. since i was the moderator, i didn't get the chance to talk. listening to this panel i thought about the summer of 1968. it was under the leadership of the southern leadership christian. with the task of writing down the addresses that led me to my own history. now there is a lawyer and a litigator and i respected in all of the ldf champions working
with julius chambers he would call me up at night and say why you sleeping. she did. she really did. summer of 1984 for many of you who were active in the campaign of jesse jackson throughout the country. and for all of you who have spent the last 14.5 years like myself fighting to renew voting in this country. i want to say thank you. especially to this panel for your willingness to fight and also your willingness to tell the story and history. we should never forget that history. because that is our history. our collective history. as americans it's our history.
as grandma francis would do every night of our childhood she would call us in order of our birth. we had lots of kids in louisiana. my grandmother voted in 1972. she would call us and recite scripture and i have to do it in her honor. do not grow weary in doing good in due season we will reap a harvest if we don't give up. i am here to say we have not given up and we thank you. 16 days from now when we commemorate that historic day just remember, too many people gave of their lives and their time and sacrifices and we shall not forget. we will march on. we will fight on and we will win this battle for voting rights in the united states of america. god bless you and thank you so much. thank you panel.
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c-span. >> our look at the 1965 voting rights act continues with a discussion on the strategy justed by president lindon johnson. later we will take you back to august 6, 1965 when the legislation was signed into law during a ceremony at the u.s. capital. >> it will be 50 year ace goi this august and later a discussion on the history of voting rights from the reconstruction era to today. >> in our hour together we will learn how lbj got the voting rights act passed in congress. and going behind the scenes with white house telephone recordings that answer that question. joining us is a history professor at the university of south carolina but also the editor of the product of the miller center at the university of virginia.
mr. germany, thanks for joining us >> thank you. it's my pleasure. >> joining us from new york, joseph califano, the assistant for domestic affairs from 1965 to 1969. also secretary of health and welfare from '70 to 79. and the author of "the triumph and tragedy of lyndon johnson. thank you for joining us. >> nice to be with you. >> before we go into the conversation and the phone calls, a little bit about your perspectives coming from mr. germany to you first. the lbj project, what is that? >> the lbj project is a gold mine project in essence. it is a group of scholars at the university of virginia, public affairs. that is trying to get all of the recordings tribed, annotated. everything you would need to know what's going on in the information. editors there try to present it. we are trying to put everything out from the assassination all the way through the end of 1969.
it is the history with the bark off. there was a lot of bark on when it comes to lyndon johnson. >> what do the telephone calls reveal was going on other than the history was concerned. >> first, lyndon johnson was extraordinarily busy. voting rights is one of many things going on in 1965. he's not going to yield on it. and you also get to see -- people call him a magician. they call him a lot of different things. one thing he definitely is is effective.
he pulls a lot of different strings. but often do it it quietly. >> why do you think lyndon johnson was so intent on getting this done, considering he already got a victory when it came to civil rights? >> well, he had the 64 civil rights act which dealt with public accommodations and discrimination in employment and discrimination in schools. but he thought the voting rights act was the most important piece of legislation he would pass. and that it would dramatically give power african-americans who were kept away from the polls intentionally and deliberately in the south. but also in some other areas for many, many years. and he indeed, as i think we may hear, he thought that would take care of 70% of the problems. he told martin luther king that. but he told us this is the most important piece of the legislation. he believed in the vote, that the vote was very important. that was his life. remember, this is a guy that was elected to congress in 1938 and
basically was in house elections, senate elections or presidential elections for the remainder of his life. he saw how important votes were. when he won big he could get voting rights and other things passed. and when he lost the first time he tried to get into the senate. >> even in your book you say part of this reason he felt there was a race against time. can you expand on this and give us his perspective. >> very much so. lyndon johnson, which i appreciate you mentioning, republished earlier this year with a long introduction about its relevance today, he was in a race against time. he thought that once there was light at the end of the tunnel what the oppressed -- move fast on voting rights, on the civil rights, on enforcing them, on other legislation. because there was inevitable impatience once you could see there was a chance whether it was health programs, jobs, education programs. and he always used to say, let's get the bill up there. let's get it passed.
let's get the departments enforcing it. and he was very, very conscious of that. and he used to say that the people we are trying to help could do the most damage through our civil rights efforts and our voting rights efforts. as we saw in some of the disturbances, the riots in watts, newark, the riots in detroit over that period of time. >> so let's start by taking a look through the phone calls. even though this was done in 65, we will go december 1964. december 14th. the president is talking to his
attorney general. it's the first conversation we hear about the two gentlemen. it was after the landslide victory in '64. here are are the discussion of voting rights act starts. let's listen to that. >> i want you take to midnight to hold on that. i basically believe that if we can have a simple, effective method of getting registered. now, if the state laws are too high, they disqualify a bunch of them, or if the registrar, standing in line too long, maybe we can work that out where the post masters can do it. let's find some way -- >> let's go with all the other alternatives. >> get the best people you've got. both post masters. let's see what you can do.
and we're going to need it pretty quick. >> all right. >> mr. califano, let's start with you about that phone call. not only is he trying to start the process, emphasizing he needs it quick, getting a simple, effective way of registering, tell us a little bit about what was going on. >> well, he had -- actually i believe on that date met with martin luther king or was meeting with him after that phone call. and with andrew young. and one of the -- the conversation was generally about what he could do for blacks in the united states about civil rights generally and also about jobs. but that conversation was the first real conversation he had with dr. king about voting
rights. and he made it clear in that meeting, which is in the white house to young and king that he was going to get voting rights to the congress and passed in the next year. so it was very much on his mind. as i said, he thought it was the crown jewel of his presidency. >> so what was the attorney general's reaction to that first conversation we just heard, especially trying to get the process started? what were the attorney general's concerns? >> well, catsen back immediately began working on it. voting rights was on the civil rights agenda. nobody ever thought anything could ever happen with it. it was a much tough erbil to pass than the '64 civil rights act.
catsen back went back and started working on drafting. i don't know if you're going to have the phone -- the next phone conversation that lbj had i think on this subject was with dr. king on january 15th. >> we're going to exactly get to that in just a bit. mr. germany, give us some perspective what you hear, especially from this conversation. >> one of the things is lyndon johnson starts off with the deal. this is his reference. we want this done faster than the midnight legislative drafting party. so lyndon johnson is deeply rooted into this long period of liberalism. so he's getting catsen back going. catsen back had been there at ole miss. he had been there all the way through the kennedy administration, johnson administration. he was the civil rights backbone in the justice department. he was the acting attorney general at this point. because bobby kennedy had run
and won as the senator of new york. so he is the person really getting this legislation to go through. catsen back is a fascinating person. he is a world war ii hero, prisoner of war of world war ii. he is an anchor. somebody who is forgotten in the mainstream understandings. >> you clearly get the sense they had a specific mind on how they wanted things to address. would that be a fair assessment? >> absolutely. what catsen back does is gets back to really start drafting this legislation. starts putting together his testimony that he is going to put before committees. johnson is a details guy. catsen back is putting together the details to make sure the is will be dotted and the ts crossed. would you agree the president clearly had a mind how he wanted this to progress even from day one? >> there's no question about it. remember, he looked at the senate.
the problem was the filibuster. he knew that he had to get -- in those days it was two-thirds of the senate. so it was 67 votes. he had to get 67 votes to break what would be a sudden filibuster and a long sudden filibuster. he knew he would have to work with everett dirkson. first, he wanted to have a real sense of the bill. he wanted to know what all the traps were. he wanted to know how to get it done so it would be effective. he wanted to make sure that the bill delivered to him and to the justice department. enough power so that they could really get something done when it came to enforcing what congress passed. and it was, as you'll see as we go along, everett dirkson became a very important part of this legislation.
and lyndon johnson knew that from the moment, if not certainly before he talked to catsen back on the 14th of december. >> let's move ahead a little bit to june 4th, 1965. president johnson goes to howard university in washington, d.c. two months before he would sign the voting rights act. delivers a speech at howard university talking about a civil rights vision, about justice. let's hear a portion of that speech. >> what is justice? it is to fulfill the fair expectations of man. thus, american justice is a very special thing. far from the first. this has been a land of towering expectations. it was to be a nation where each man could be ruled by the common consent of all and given life by institutions, guided by men themselves subject to its rule. and all, all of every station
and origin would be touched equally in obligation and in liberty. the young lay the land, the richland growing with more abundant promise than man had ever seen. here, unlike anyplace yet known, all were to share the harvest. and beyond this was the dignity of man. each could become whatever his qualities of mind and spirit would permit.
to strive, to seek, and if he could to find his house. this is american justice. we have pursued it faithfully to the edge of our imperfections. and we have failed to find it. for the american negro. so it is the glorious opportunity of this generation to end the one huge wrong of the american nation. and in so doing to define america for ourselves with the same immense thrill of discovery when dripped those who first began to realize that here at last was a home for freedom. [ applause ].
>> it's important to note he is making this speech at a historic black college here in the united states. he's clearly making an argument about the legislation that's coming. mr. germany, what do you get about what argument he's making from this speech? >> america is not a country that is black and white. he's making an argument here that america should be black and white. and that americans are all the same. and that's going to be the core of his selma speech that he makes during the selma movement. and so here early in the summer he's making the speech that this is an american problem. this is not just in the words of the day, a negro problem. and just after the clip that we just listened to, he quotes a scripture about lighting a candle inside and not letting it burn out. and that's a theme of the civil rights movement. reverend shuttles worth from birmingham was saying it's a fire that can't be put out.
>> you're listening to the speech. what's going through your mind? give us a sense where you were at the time. what's this speech about? what's going through your mind? >> well, the speech, i think, was a very important one across the board. this is a speech in which johnson laid out, articulated his concept of affirmative action. the two runners at the starting line. one had been in chains for years and one had been training for years. and it's can you call it a fair race when you put them both at the starting line. and it's also -- there's a very important point, i underscore that kent made. they made it to dr. king on one of the phone conversations and on other occasions. he said, let's not call this a bill for negro voting rights. this is a bill for voting rights for all. everyone is entitled to the
right to vote. whether they're white, black, mexican, whatever. and that's the way we should frame this. as everyone's right to vote. so i think that was also part of johnson. and lastly, i think this point about the dignity -- when he goes to congress with the voting rights bill, he talks about i'm here for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. to him the vote was at the core of our nation's ability to say, we are a democratic society. >> did he write this speech himself? how much input did he have in the speech itself? >> he had a lot of input in every speech he wrote. i think dick goodwin, who was then on the white house staff, was the main speech writer on this speech. but a lot of people took a look at it. the staffers. mcpherson.
and i do think it is important to remember that they used to go over these speeches. you can go to the lbj library and you can see what he crossed out, what he added in various drafts. as you can see, as you can do when you listen to these tapes that kent has been putting together and making available to people for years by just going online to the center down at the university of virginia and listen to the entire speech, which in this case is certainly worth listen to go. >> mr. germany, i'm impressed by the language. some of the words he uses. this is american justice. how about the language? what do you hear from that? >> there are many different lbjs.
he has his hair combed. he either has his contacts in or best glasses. he taught high school speech. so that comes out in these public speeches. behind the scenes on the telephone. sometimes you do hear of that for the statesman johnson. a lot of times he lays it out as you would when the door is is closed. so that's one of the things you do get on the private telephone recordings that you don't get in these public speeches. bill moyer said he was the 13th most interesting man he ever met in his life. they give you all 13 different versions of lbj. >> as we have been reserving up to this time, there is that conversation that take place in january 1965 between the president and martin luther king jr. before we go to the conversation, describe the relationship between the two men at the time. >> it's tricky. lyndon johnson is somebody that has succeeded, assassinated president.
victory in november 1964. martin luther king jr. is the most hated american. that's one thing we lose sight of. there was a lot of opposition of martin luther king jr. there were billboards all over the south claiming he was a communist. reports from j. ed guard hoover who despised him. so johnson is weary. but you get the evidence that he is an ally. but allies are not necessarily people that go swimming naked in the white house pool, which a lot of people did. allies are people that off get along the least.
so they the both have things that they are going for and they both have things that they want. getting to that point is the trick in politics. it's the art of the possible. and you have two men that are exquisite politicians. >> we will hear that conversation and then get joe's thoughts. >> less than 40% of the negroes are registered to vote. >> that's exactly it. i think it's very important that we not say we are doing this and not doing this because it is negroes and whites. but we take the position every person born in this country when they reach a certain age that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight.
we just extend it whether it is a negro, mexican, whoever it is. and number two, i think we want special privilege for everybody, equal privilege for everybody. and i think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you yourself taking very simple examples of discrimination where a man has got to memorize a longfellow or whether he has got to quote the first 10 amendments or he's got to tell you what amendment 15, 16, and 17 is. and i ask them if they know it and show what happens. and some people don't have to do that. when the negro comes in, he's got to do it. and we can repeat, repeat, repeat.
he had an idea that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it off enough, even if it wasn't true, people will accept it. well, this is true. and if you can find the worst condition that you run into in alabama, mississippi, or louisiana, south carolina, i think one of the worst i ever heard of was the school at tuskeege. get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the meetings, get it every place you can. and pretty soon the fellow that didn't do anything but drive a tractor will say, that's not right. that's not fair. and then that will help us on what we're going to shove through in the end.
in foreign policy. i said yesterday with the passage of the 1964 civil rights act. but i think this will be bigger. because it will do things the '64 act couldn't do. >> your thoughts on the phone conversation? >> well, i think this shows that -- several things. one, they were partners in the effort to pass this. two, they both were very good politicians. we think of martin luther king as a preacher. as ken indicated, he's a very good politician. i think also i would note he was always careful with anybody. but i remember dr. king said whenever he went to see johnson, all he wanted to talk about is how he could get a law passed, how he could do this. when he went to see president kennedy, the first thing he would be asked is do you have a communist adviser, you have to do this, you have to do that. because hoover was pumping the stuff into the white house. now, the other very important point that comes out of this is lbj realized that he needed that. that he needed something to ignite the people so that that could put pressure on the congress. you know what he was going to send to congress.
and this is really -- was a good part of what became selma. because this takes place january 15th. at that point -- certainly in december, as andrew young said, neither johnson neuer king knew anything about selma. it was julian vaughan, another civil rights leader, who was down there trying to agitate and get the vote and get people registered to vote and have some is kind of a demonstration. king comes back to lbj, i believe it was february 9th. in february he meets with him and tells him he's got the place. the place is selma. johnson hopes there will be no violence there. there was horrendous violence there, as we know eventually, including a white minister getting killed. and john lewis getting really quite beat up. and at that point president johnson calls the governor of alabama, george wallace, to the white house, setting the stage so to speak. and wall a lass says to him, i can't protect the voters and lbj says don't tell me that, george.
i can't do anything about the voting booth. don't tell me that, george. they were able to make sure the votes were there to beat me in alabama. and he said he can't protect the marchers. and johnson indicates to him that if he can't protect the marchers, he will have to protect them. he, lbj, will have to protect the marchers. and one of johnson's great lines, which is, you know, don't talk to me like that, george. that's b.s. and it's a lot easier to slip on bull chip than it is is on gravel. johnson has wallace go out to the white house and "meet the press". the press corp is out there. knowing that wallace will, as he did, recite all the segregationist stuff. this is the guy who said
segregation forever. which is all part of setting the stage for a court case that's down in alabama. ultimately becomes a case that gave the marchers the right to vote. a federal judge. i'm sorry, the right to demonstrate and have the march from selma to montgomery. is and also provided the hook that lbj needed to federalize the alabama national guard, put it under his control so he could be ordered to protect the marchers as they went from selma to montgomery, alabama. whereas incidentally in the
speech in montgomery, martin luther king thanks lbj for what he did. they both knew -- i think the thing johnson really knew was he needed king to get this legislation passed and king knew he needed johnson really using all his skills, which kent said earlier were enormous, to get the legislation passed. they did something together that neither of them could have done alone. >> mr. germany, what would you act to that? >> one thing he brings up that is essential to understand is that lyndon johnson is in the white house. there are a lot of people in selma, alabama and elsewhere, that are trying to get things pushed. and it's that pressure from the bottom up. and king is -- for johnson, king is the pressure valve. he is the thing that johnson goes through where that mass pressure comes up. so it's that pressure that is really driving this voting rights thing. then johnson is pushing it from
washington and he's being pushed along i think gladly. not necessarily about how the things occur. he's very concerned about violence because he doesn't want to send in the army. but he is willing to send in the army if necessary. >> let's go forward to august of 1965. where now he has to work with the legislature in the house and the senate to get this bill passed. mr. germany, a quick snapshot of lbj's relationship with congress. >> a lot of conservative democrats that do not want voting rights and do not want civil rights act. to get this passed he needs a lot of republicans to support it. so whatever bill comes through, got to have the support of republicans in the house and republicans in the senate. and listen to dirkson later on. but it is is johnson's ability to know who does what in congress that helps get this thing working. not necessarily him putting his thumb on somebody and pushing them or putting his boot on somebody and pushing them. but to have somebody else do the pushing and him sort of sit back and be presidential. >> mr. cal fan know speaks with mike mansfield, senate minority
leader dirkson. talk about their role and their relationship with lbj. >> well, dirkson was critical. he was the house republican minority leader. -- i mean the senate republican minority leader. he was getting them essential to breaking a filibuster so the voting rights act could get out of the senate. mansfield was a highly different kind of leader than johnson was. and johnson, incidentally, was very conscious of that. he would say sometimes it's got a mansfield that say what a great senate leader johnson was and however i drove the senate and controlled it. and mansfield was much more laid back, much more philosophical so to speak than johnson was. that's got to be heard. we've got to be sensitive about that. we need them both. what he ultimately was aiming for was to get a bill that both
of them would sign up on and really push through. >> so let's listen to the conversation between the majority leader and the minority leader with the president. >> excuse me. i had a bunch of people in office and i had to move to another phone so i can talk. >> how are you getting along? >> i'm here in the office. >> give him my regard. >> we're working on the voting rights bill. >> wonderful, wonderful. >> did a great job. we went through with this. >> wonderful, wonderful. very happy. >> okay. >> hi, my friend. glad to hear you. >> you fraternizing together. >> yes, sir. >> how are you feeling? you have been wanting me to. all i would have done is tear up 10 more against you. >> you got that voting rights bill off. >> you ought to be proud of
that, my friend. >> i am proud of it. >> you had a lot to do with that. >> well, let me ask you. he wants my judgment on this judges bill. is that a necessary bill? >> well, frankly i don't know it is until next year. >> he said y'all have been having hearings in the judiciary. >> yeah. we have a subcommittee. >> you made a hell of a speech there. the tickers made me wish i was there listening to you.
>> well, why weren't you here? >> i can't go down there. they won't let me come out. if i could get out and come visit you, i would do it every night. if you stay there 10, 15 minutes i might do it >> are you kidding? >> no. >> did that drink happen? >> that drink did happen. lbj went right up there and he had a drink. i think some interesting things about drinks.