Friday, December 2, 2011

The legacy of November 22, 1963

Steven King has recently written a new novel entitled “11-22-63”. It is time travel story, about a man who has the opportunity to travel back in time and prevent the JFK assassination.
As someone who lived through that tragic time and observed the results and consequences of it, I wonder if people realize how much this single event changed the direction of this country. What I tend to remember most about the Kennedy years, (and in particular that final year for JFK), was how difficult it was for the young President to advance his agenda.
Most notable was his attempt to enact a Civil Rights Bill. Although Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, it was the Southern Democrats (known as “Dixiecrats’) who were the obstacle for any such legislation. The House Rules Committee was chaired by Howard Smith (D-VA) an absolute opponent of any Civil Rights Bill, as were his fellow Dixiecrats in the Senate. The problem was compounded by the fact that the President would also need them to pass his other programs therefore he needed to avoid antagonizing them. The strategy employed by President Kennedy was to make the bill more palatable for the Southerners and to recruit Congressional Republicans as allies.
On June 6, 1963, after conferring with the President, Senate Republicans announced the following:
“It is the consensus of the Senate Republican conference that: "The Federal Government, including the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, has a solemn duty to preserve the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizens of the United States in conformity with the Constitution, which makes every native-born and naturalized person a citizen of the United States, as well as the State in which he resides.

Equality of rights and opportunities has not been fully achieved in the long period since the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were adopted, and this inequality and lack of opportunity and the racial tensions which they engender are out of character with the spirit of a nation pledged to justice and freedom.

The Republican Members of the U.S. Senate, in this 88th Congress, reaffirm and reassert the basic principles of the party with respect to civil rights, and further affirm that the President, with the support of Congress, consistent with its duties as defined in the Constitution, must protect the rights of all U.S. citizens regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin."
[1]




On June 19, the President submitted his bill to congress (H.R. 7152).On June 26 the hearings began and the Dixiecrats responded to the bill.
Rep.
Albert W. Watson (D-SC) said "The racial problem is preeminently a Southern problem; in the South it can only be solved by Southern people, both white and Negro. Legislation by an only slightly familiar Federal Government can only inflame an already very difficult situation."[2]

The bills provisions were negotiated and on November 20 Judiciary Committee Chairman Cellar requested a floor vote. However the floor vote was stymied by House Rules Committee Chairman Smith.

It had been a losing battle and to make matters worse it had been a turbulent summer in the South.
The Reverend Martin Luther King had led Civil Rights Demonstrators in Birmingham Alabama, which resulted in the President dispatching 3000 troops to keep the peace.
On June 11 Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in a schoolhouse door in order to prevent two blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama. He finally stepped aside when confronted by the National Guard.
The following day Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was shot and killed outside his home.
On August 28 the Rev King led approx 200,000 people on a march on Washington, where he gave his famous “I have a dream speech”.
On September 11 Governor Wallace finally allowed integration in public schools after the President Federalized the Alabama National Guard.
On September 15 four young African American girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham.

Now with his Civil Rights Bill up against a stone wall, the Presidents chances for re-election were diminishing. He needed to carry the south to win the 1964 election.
This was the primary reason for the trip to Dallas.

On November 22 President Kennedy was assassinated. This single tragic event dramatically changed the political and social trajectory of the United States.
Let us for a moment consider the real possibility that had Lee Harvey Oswald missed his chance that day, the President would have lost Southern Support and with it the election of 1964.
Instead the campaign of Barry Goldwater essentially died with the President. With the Publics somber sentiments there would be enormous support for JFKs Vice President. LBJ sensed all of this and refused to even debate Goldwater and he easily won the 64 election with 61% of the popular vote and 486 electoral votes.
[3]

That leads us to the effect the assassination left on Lyndon Baines Johnson. Most likely the more moderate LBJ was selected for VP only to balance the ticket in various ways, which included an appeal to Southern voters.
What became immediately obvious was that the transformed President Johnson intended to crusade for the fallen Presidents agenda. Five days after the assassination President Johnson called for passage of the Civil Rights Bill.
"No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." – Lyndon Johnson[4]

His intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Congress also paved the way for LBJ to pursue the landmark Social legislation that seemed inconceivable before the events of November 22, 1963. As president LBJ would successfully enact the following legislation:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare, Medicaid, The immigration Act of 1965 (which allowed more individuals from the third world countries to enter the US), The voting rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
[5]
He will also forever be remembered for escalating the war in Vietnam.
The transformation of Lyndon Johnson may have been the permanent legacy of the events of 11/22/63.




[1] www.congresslink.org/civilrights/1963.htm
[2] www.congresslink.org/civilrights/1963.htm
[3] Americanhistory.about.com/od/lyndonjohnson/p/plbjohnson.htm
[4] www.congresslink.org/civilrights/1963.htm
[5] www.then again.info/webchron/usa/immigrationact.htm
 
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy
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