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When Freedom Would Triumph

The Civil Rights Struggle in Congress, 1954–1968

Robert Mann

Publication Year: 2007

When Freedom Would Triumph recalls the most significant and inspiring legislative battle of the twentieth century—the two decades of struggle in the halls of Congress that resulted in civil rights for the descendants of American slaves. Robert Mann's comprehensive analysis shows how political leaders in Washington—Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, John F. Kennedy, and others—transformed the ardent passion for freedom—the protests, marches, and creative nonviolence of the civil rights movement—into concrete progress for justice. A story of heroism and cowardice, statesmanship and political calculation, vision and blindness, When Freedom Would Triumph, an abridged and updated version of Mann's The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights, is a captivating, thought-provoking reminder of the need for more effective government. Mann argues that the passage of civil rights laws is one of the finest examples of what good is possible when political leaders transcend partisan political differences and focus not only on the immediate judgment of the voters, but also on the ultimate judgment of history. As Mann explains, despite the opposition of a powerful, determined band of southern politicians led by Georgia senator Richard Russell, the political environment of the 1950s and 1960s enabled a remarkable amount of compromise and progress in Congress. When Freedom Would Triumph recalls a time when statesmanship was possible and progress was achieved in ways that united the country and appealed to our highest principles, not our basest instincts. Although the era was far from perfect, and its leaders were deeply flawed in many ways, Mann shows that the mid-twentieth century was an age of bipartisan cooperation and willingness to set aside party differences in the pursuit of significant social reform. Such a political stance, Mann argues, is worthy of study and emulation today.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Originally published by Harcourt Brace in 1996 under the title The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights, this volume is an abridged and revised version of the original text that incorporates scholarship and archival material not available in 1996. ...

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pp. 1-4

On November 27, 1963, Lyndon Johnson—only president for five days—stood before the U.S. House of Representatives and embraced the legacy of the nation’s fallen president, John F. Kennedy. “Let us continue” the work Kennedy began, he forcefully declared to a still-grieving nation. ...

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1. We Have Just Started Our Work

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pp. 5-14

Two knees jutting from the shallow water along the riverbank attracted Robert Hodges’s attention. The seventeen-year-old boy fishing in the Tallahatchie River just north of rural Money, Mississippi, wasn’t sure what he had found. But it looked like a human body. ...

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2. To Hell with the Supreme Court

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pp. 15-21

President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 State of the Union message gave little comfort to southern members of Congress opposed to the advance of civil rights. “It is disturbing,” Eisenhower told the House and Senate, “that in some localities allegations persist that Negro citizens are being deprived of their right to vote ...

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3. Three Senators

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pp. 22-30

At the center of the congressional debate over civil rights stood three U.S. senators: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Richard Russell. Each a Democrat, they viewed the divisive issue through the prism of individual perspectives and unique personal experiences. ...

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4. Galloping with the Crowd

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pp. 31-39

The election of 1956 was Lyndon Johnson’s wake-up call. The inability of the Democratic-controlled Congress to address civil rights helped send record numbers of urban and middle-class black voters flocking to Republican Dwight Eisenhower in that year’s presidential election. ...

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5. This Is Armageddon

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pp. 40-48

In March 1956, members of white citizens’ councils throughout Louisiana embarked on an ambitious program to purge blacks from the state’s voter rolls. The project was urgent, as the councils warned registrars, sheriffs, and other officials in a pamphlet: “The communists and the NAACP plan to register and vote every colored person of age in the South.” ...

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6. The Best We Could Get

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pp. 49-60

“I think there is a way that you can finally put the other provisions through, and then the other southerners would have no real reason to go on with their filibuster.” Those words from New Mexico’s Clinton Anderson were music to Johnson’s ears. He knew that the Senate must drastically weaken Part III to prevent a southern filibuster. ...

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7. A Meaningless Gesture

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pp. 61-74

The ink on the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was barely dry when racially motivated violence threatened to erupt in Little Rock, Arkansas, in late September. Only weeks earlier, Russell had worried aloud that President Eisenhower might dispatch federal troops southward to desegregate public schools. ...

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8. A Victory for the Old South

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pp. 75-85

Johnson’s promise to take up a civil rights bill by February 15, 1960, was no idle threat. As the day approached, he reminded Russell of his plans. “Yes,” Russell said coolly, “I understand that you let them jockey you into that position. I understand.” Later Johnson mentioned his promise again. “Yes, I know that,” Russell replied. ...

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9. Go Get My Long Rifle

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pp. 86-98

As much as he wanted it, Johnson stood little chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. His southern roots and his reputation as a conservative made his candidacy almost impossible. It mattered not that he was responsible for passing two civil rights bills, the first such legislative feats in the twentieth century. ...

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10. How Did We Let This Happen?

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pp. 99-119

From the moment he became vice president, Lyndon Johnson was a miserable man. “Lyndon looked as if he’d lost his last friend on earth,” recalled journalist Margaret Mayer. “Every time I came into John Kennedy’s presence,” Johnson later said, “I felt like a goddamn raven hovering over his shoulder . . . I detested every minute of it.”1 ...

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11. You’ll Never Get a Civil Rights Bill

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pp. 120-134

The early 1960s were bleak times for Richard Russell. The civil rights cause was on the march—literally—and Russell had little stomach for the momentous social changes he knew were inevitable. “We have come to evil days,” he told a friend. “He was,” observed longtime aide Proctor Jones, “out of step with what was likely to happen.”1 ...

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12. “Wait” Has Always Meant “Never”

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pp. 135-152

After two years in office, President Kennedy still had no comprehensive civil rights program and no prospects for one. Even if he overcame his hesitancy to send Congress a legislative proposal, his dismal record on Capitol Hill made passage an unlikely prospect at best. The president, said one Senate aide, “couldn’t buy a bill out of Congress.” ...

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13. A Bill, Not an Issue

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pp. 153-165

Johnson had strong feelings about civil rights and the legislative strategy Kennedy ought to pursue. Making certain that Kennedy heeded his advice—or even heard it—was another matter. White House staff members often ignored him, and they severely limited his access to the president. ...

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14. I Want That Bill Passed

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pp. 166-184

The news of President Kennedy’s murder hit Washington during the lunch hour. When Russell heard the first reports, he went directly to the ornate Marble Room, just off the Senate chamber. Several minutes later, CBS correspondent Roger Mudd found him there, hunched over the Associated Press and United Press wire machines. ...

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15. An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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pp. 185-208

Shortly after noon on Monday, March 30, 1964, Humphrey stood at his mahogany desk in the Senate chamber and began the long-awaited formal debate on the civil rights bill. Although reporters, staff members, and tourists packed the galleries, only a half-dozen senators were present as Humphrey launched a comprehensive discussion of the bill. ...

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16. Do You Want to Be Vice President?

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pp. 209-217

After only one day in office, Lyndon Johnson had begun contemplating whom to choose as his running mate for the 1964 election. In a phone conversation with Johnson on November 23, 1963, Florida senator George Smathers stressed the importance of nominating a liberal. Smathers mentioned only one name. ...

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17. We Are Demanding the Ballot

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pp. 218-231

For years, southern members of Congress fought to defeat civil rights measures by arguing that such pernicious legislation would inevitably lead to violence and dangerous social upheaval in the former Confederate states. The balance between whites and blacks, they argued, was simply too delicate to alter suddenly with sweeping federal legislation. ...

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18. We Shall Overcome

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pp. 232-249

With the new voting rights bill ready for introduction, Johnson’s major concern was how best to present it to Congress. On Sunday evening, March 14, he met in the White House Cabinet Room with Humphrey and the House and Senate leadership to discuss whether he should present his bill to a joint session of Congress. ...

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19. Disillusionment and Defeat

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pp. 250-266

The easy part was over. Congress had finally enacted powerful legislation to guarantee the civil and voting rights of all black Americans. Enforcing those new rights would be difficult, but not as daunting as the task of creating and nurturing an economic and social environment in which black citizens could achieve the American Dream of economic independence and prosperity. ...


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pp. 267-288


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pp. 289-306


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pp. 307-318

Photo Insert

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E-ISBN-13: 9780807135440
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807132500

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2007