Civil Rights

Thurgood Marshall & LBJ: From the Johnson Tapes

Thurgood Marshall and LBJ in the Oval OfficeWith such an impressive and distinguished record, Thurgood Marshall became an ideal candidate to help with LBJ's efforts to break down racial barriers to promotion to top government positions. Johnson appointed Marshall as Solicitor General in 1965 and made it clear then that after Marshall built up more experience in that office that he hoped to be able to appoint him to the Supreme Court before the end of his presidency. But before he did so, he wanted to be sure that there could be no criticism whatsoever that Marshall did not have the necessary experience. As he told Roy Wilkins, the Executive Director of the NAACP, "I want to build him up where he's impenetrable when he becomes a Supreme Court justice."

Mississippi Burning & the LBJ Tapes

Mississippi Burning, 1964, by Kent Germany and David Carter

President Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. on the Watts Riots

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr.                  
Introduction:

In this conversation excerpt, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Johnson discuss the implications of the recent Watts Riots. Although the United States had experienced a series of urban revolts during 1964 and 1965, the intensity and violence of Watts had been a shock to much of the nation and to LBJ in particular. The conversation reveals much of the balance between tension and cautious respect that characterized the King-Johnson relationship, as well as both men's growing sense of desperation in addressing the problems facing the United States. While King expressed his frustration with the unresponsive white leadership in Los Angeles, President Johnson appealed for King's support in pursuing his domestic policy agenda in an increasingly hostile Congress.

"The Greatest Man In The World"

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey                  
Introduction:

On May 1, 1964, the Baltimore Sun had reported that President Johnson "dressed down" Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (the Democratic floor leader on the Senate civil rights bill) for suggesting that President Johnson might be willing to accept amendments to the version of the bill passed by the House. The Sun indicated that upon hearing of Humphrey's comments, Johnson called the senator and gave him "unshirted hell." Following the call from the President, Humphrey issued a clarification in which he stated that the President "is for the House bill." Later in the day, however, Humphrey turned to the Senate press gallery, smiled, and pulled on the tops of his ears. Reporters who saw the gesture interpreted it as an imitation of a beagle being lifted by the President, a reference to a controversial incident in which Johnson had picked up his dogs by their ears at a recent White House event as well as an indication that Johnson had disciplined the civil rights floor leader for his earlier comments.
In this conversation, Johnson and Humphrey discuss the source of the "unshirted hell" story. Two passages are particularly noteworthy. First, Johnson observed that in contrast to Humphrey, he had little credibility with civil rights activists as a result of his southern background. Second, Johnson attempted to convince Humphrey that he was primarily concerned with developing the senator's status and reputation, rather than demeaning him. The comments reflected not only the crucial North-South divide in the battle over the civil rights legislation, but also the President’s effort to control a senator who was already a leading candidate for the vice presidential nomination.

LBJ Seeks Robert E. Lee for Civil Rights Commission

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, William Mitchell                   
Introduction:

Johnson wanted to fill an opening on the federal Civil Rights Commission with a moderate Southerner. Here, Johnson lobbied William Mitchell, an Arkansas attorney and friend of powerful Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills, comparing Mitchell's choice to one faced in a previous century by Robert E. Lee.

The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King

LBJ and MLK | Courtesy of LBJ Library

President Johnson's tapes provide a remarkable inside look at city, state, and federal government officials struggling to establish control over the civil unrest in large, urban cities such as Detroit, Washington DC, and Chicago in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dr. Martin Luther King, LBJ, and JFK

LBJ and MLK | Courtesy of LBJ Library

For Black History Month we have released some new transcripts of conversations between Dr. Martin Luther King and President Johnson from 1965.

LBJ and Whitney Young on Civil Rights Appointments

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Whitney Young                  
Introduction:

Following the trend of several calls in early January, Johnson addressed the theme of African American progress with Whitney Young, the head of the National Urban League and one of the major civil rights leaders upon whom Johnson relied. In this instance, Johnson was deliberating about making a recess appointment of two Black Americans to the federal bench, Virginia civil rights attorney Spottswood Robinson to the U.S. District Court for Washington, D. C., and Philadelphia lawyer Leon Higginbotham to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. One of the concerns that Johnson explained to Young was that President Kennedy would get credit in the Black community for these appointments-instead of Johnson-because "somebody recommended him that was with Kennedy." Young assured him that such a thing "won't happen." Later in the day, Johnson made the appointments.

LBJ, Governor Wallace, and Buford Ellington in Selma, Alabama

J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, and Nicholas Katzenbach

In March 1965, several men and women in Alabama tested President Lyndon Johnson’s legendary political skills. Martin Luther King, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, John Lewis, and hundreds of other activists exposed the brutality of white supremacy in Selma, while Governor George Wallace was orchestrating his own responses in Montgomery. As the president struggled to satisfy the demonstrators’ demands for voting rights, the notoriously brutal Al Lingo of the state police and Sheriff Jim Clark of Dallas County (where Selma was the county seat) and the arch-segregationist Governor Wallace made the balancing act even more difficult. In particular, over a two week period, Wallace retreated on his word, made inflammatory statements, and blamed the President for problems.

LBJ and MLK

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr.                  
Introduction:

Just a few days after taking power, President Johnson struggled with the difficulties of inheriting a presidency without warning. In this conversation with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a leading civil rights organization, Johnson continued reaching out to all the major civil rights leaders.

March on Washington

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: John Kennedy, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Floyd McKissock                  
Introduction:

Following the "March on Washington" and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech earlier in the day, President Kennedy met with civil rights leaders at the White House. The topics under discussion were the event itself. the details of civil rights legislation then moving through Congress, and strategies for empowering black Americans. The NAACP's Roy Wilkens begins this segment, offering reasons for the march's success.

Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld discuss comments by Vice President Spiro Agnew

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Richard Nixon, Donald Rumsfeld                  
Introduction:

The unscripted remarks by Vice President Spiro Agnew were a recurring problem for President Richard Nixon. Nixon was particularly unimpressed with Agnew's habit of mixing socially with the press corps, complaining: "I know the press like him. They love to say, 'He's a nice fellow, by God, he'll drink with us.' And I know I'm considered to be very stiff with these bastards. And I will continue to be. I don't believe in getting too close to them. Never let them get too close.

When Nixon sat down for this discussion with Donald Rumsfeld, then a counselor to the president, he complained of recently published comments in which Agnew had unfavorably compared African-American leader to authoritarian African leaders--Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Joseph Mobutu of Congo.

This clip became the subject of public debate at the time of Rumsfeld's confirmation hearing in January 2001 for the position of Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.

* Please note that this clip contains offensive language.

LBJ and John McCone on the Los Angeles Riots

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, John McCone                  
Introduction:

McCone, former Director of Central Intelligence, had been asked to chair a commission investigating the civil disorders in Los Angeles in August 1965.

LBJ and Martin Luther King, Jr., on the Republican Party

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King                  
Introduction:

King had called Johnson to discuss the voting rights bill. In the discussion, the President emphasized the importance of gaining Republican support, and then offered his assessment of the Grand Old Party's prospects for the future.

President Johnson and Mrs. Nathan Schwerner

Transcript+Audio Clip
Date: 
Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Mrs. Nathan Schwerner                  
Introduction:

Earlier in the day, a car driven by the three missing civil rights workers--Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner--was found burned. Shortly before this phone call, President Johnson had received word that previous reports about the workers being inside of it were wrong. Here, he called Michael's Schwerner's mother to let her know. Three hours before the call, at 5:39 P.M., the President had met with Schwerner's father and Andrew Goodman's parents.

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