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Freedom's Pragmatist

Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights

Sylvia Ellis

Publication Year: 2013

History has labeled Lyndon B. Johnson "Lincoln's successor." But how did a southern president representing a predominately conservative state, with connections to some of the nation's leading segregationists, come to play such an influential role in civil rights history? In Freedom's Pragmatist, Sylvia Ellis tracks Johnson's personal and political civil rights journey, from his childhood and early adulthood in Texas to his lengthy career in Congress and the Senate to his time as vice president and president.

Once in the White House, and pressured constantly by grassroots civil rights protests, Johnson made a major contribution to the black freedom struggle through his effective use of executive power. He provided much-needed moral leadership on racial equality; secured the passage of landmark civil rights acts that ended legal segregation and ensured voting rights for blacks; pushed for affirmative action; introduced antipoverty, education, and health programs that benefited all; and made important and symbolic appointments of African Americans to key political positions.

Freedom's Pragmatist argues that place, historical context, and personal ambition are the keys to understanding Johnson on civil rights. And Johnson is key to understanding the history of civil rights in the United States. Ellis emphasizes Johnson's complex love-hate relationship with the South, his innate compassion for the disadvantaged and dispossessed, and his political instincts and skills that allowed him to know when and how to implement racial change in a divided nation.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am indebted to a number of people for help in writing this book. I have benefited from the knowledge, wisdom, and helpfulness of the staff at the Library of Congress, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-8

Forty-three years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States. The election of the first African American was celebrated as the ultimate achievement of the civil rights movement. ...

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1. Formative Experiences: Childhood and Early Career

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pp. 9-33

On November 22, 1963, when Lyndon Baines Johnson suddenly became president of the United States, many expected him to be a typical southern Democrat with conservative racial attitudes. He was not. And a significant reason why Johnson could instead be considered a “radical reformer” from the South by the time he reached the White House ...

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2. Civil Rights in Texas: The House Years

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pp. 34-59

In his memoirs, published shortly after he left office, Johnson offered a defense of his record on civil rights during his years in the House of Representatives based on his southern background. He wrote that he had not been raised in a home that hankered after the “old South” of plantations and “darkies,” and he was proud to say that he “was part of Texas”: ...

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3. Civil Rights at the National Level: The Senate Years

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pp. 60-110

In 1966 journalists Robert Novak and Rowland Evans noted that during his time in Congress and the Senate, Lyndon Johnson “had voted no on civil rights 100 percent of the time; no on an anti-lynching bill in 1940, no on a Democratic leadership amendment in 1940 eliminating segregation in the armed services; no on anti–poll tax bills in 1942, 1943, and 1945.”1 ...

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4. The Road to Damascus: The Vice Presidency, 1960–1963

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pp. 111-138

It is a received wisdom in American politics that the position of the vice president is a weak one. John Adams, the nation’s first, called it “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived,” and John Nance Garner, who served as vice president under Franklin Roosevelt and was a fellow Texan, ...

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5. Firing the Presidential Cannons: The White House, 1963–1965

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pp. 139-210

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as the thirty-sixth president of the United States aboard Air Force One. His time had come. He now had the opportunity to fulfill all of his political hopes and ambitions after three dark years in the wilderness. ...

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6. The Limits of Liberalism: The White House, 1965–1968

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pp. 211-260

As Thomas Sugrue has recently reminded us, although most histories of the black freedom struggle have focused on the South, the problem of racial discrimination and racial injustice was a national rather than sectional one, something that Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. stressed within their lifetimes. ...

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pp. 261-270

In her revealing portrait of LBJ, Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the joke that circulated around Washington dinner parties when Johnson was in the White House: “The raconteur first carefully determined that no one present had loyal access to the White House. Johnson, the story went, dismissed his Secret Service guards, ...


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pp. 271-306


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pp. 307-320


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pp. 321-328

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048437
E-ISBN-10: 0813048435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044569

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867741213
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Freedom's Pragmatist

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Subject Headings

  • Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
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