Steven Lawson Civil Rights Analysis

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Steven Lawson views Lyndon Johnson as the ‘foremost practitioner of civil rights ever to occupy the White House’ and believes that he was in fact driven to improve the lives and status of Black Americans. However, he argues that his civil rights effort was weakened by both his obsessions with maintaining a ‘middle ground’ and the external factors which contributed to the breakdown of consensus. Lawson claims that Johnson felt that it was his ‘moral obligation [to help] every person of every skin colour’ and that it was the tragic death of Kennedy which enabled him to carry out this. He contradicts the argument laid out by Robert Caro that Johnson’s civil rights interest was influenced by political motives and that he pressured into acting…show more content…
For example, he told Kennedy that in order to gain the black American’s support, he needed to show them that ‘the federal government stood behind their struggles’. Alongside this, the use of the telephone conversation between Johnson and Theodore Sorenson gives us the impression that Johnson felt that the Civil Rights bill of 1963 could have been improved and have been made ‘more constructive’. This indicates that Johnson’s intentions were sincere as it implies that he wanted to pass an effective and strong civil rights act. In addition to this, the fact Johnson was advising Kennedy on the issue could indicate that he had a much deeper understanding of the struggles faced by the Black Americans during this time than one would initially think. This suggests that Johnson’s civil rights effort were good as it implies that he was aware of the situations the Blacks were dealing with and wanted to do everything he could possibly do to improve this. Furthermore, Lawson draws attention to this idea once again by indicating that Johnson had acted on his own advice during his presidency. For instance, his use of the black rhetoric ‘We shall overcome’ in his speech titled ‘The American Promise’ was a key moment in the civil rights movement as the President…show more content…
For example, [insert historians] argues that he had told the black civil rights leaders put the demonstrations on hold until the end of the Presidential elections. This may have been done in his own interest as it has been said that Johnson was worried that black agitation would scare the white Americans and cause them to vote for the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. However, this argument can be disregard as it was an example of Johnson attempting to improve the status of black Americans. This is because Goldwater was a known racist meaning his presidency would result in the declining of/would mark the end of liberal ideas. This supports Johnson’s statement that any demonstration or protest that occurred would in fact be ‘self-defeating’ for the black Americans as it could have led to the destruction of everything they had achieved so far. This would improve Johnson’s civil rights efforts because it indicates that he had used his political awareness to maximise the legislative outcome for black Americans. This also supports the idea that Johnson had a far deeper understanding of civil rights issues as he could predict potential problems which may have not been obvious to
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