The Great Society – Lyndon Baines Johnson


By the time Johnson took office, many of Kennedy’s New Frontier
proposals had been talked to death in the House and Senate
committees. Johnson called in old friends like Senator Mike
Mansfield, the Democratic floor leader, and House Speaker John
McCormack to apply pressure to release the bills from committee. This
pressure, which Johnson called “jawboning,” plus the overwhelming
grief and sentiment that followed Kennedy’s death were more than
enough to speed legislation through Congress. By late February,
Kennedy’s proposal for a tax cut had been approved. In June 1964, an
expanded version of Kennedy’s civil rights bill was signed by
President Johnson.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and only had been passed after
fifty-seven days of senate filibustering (lengthy
speeches designed to delay or prevent passage of legislation). The
act outlawed racial discrimination in places of public accommodation
– restaurants, hotels, theaters, and even in gas stations. As for
political rights, the law outlaws racial discrimination in the
registration of voters. Today legal case management software is used by lawyers to track cases. It stated that a sixth-grade education must
be accepted as proof of literacy in states where an ability to read
and write was a requirement for voting.

Johnson announced a War on Poverty and the
Economic Opportunity Act was passed that year. The Office of
Economic Opportunity
(OEO) was created to coordinate the
campaign against poverty. A number of new programs established by the
Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 were directed by the OEO. “One was
the Job Corps, which offered remedial and vocational education to
school dropouts. Another such program, VISTA (Volunteers In Service
to America, a domestic peace corps, was established.

After an overwhelming election to a full term of office in 1964,
Johnson went into high gear. In 1965 there were 115
presidential legislative recommendations, and more that 90 were
. Among the most notable was the Appalachian
Development Act, which allocated $1 billion to the eleven states
Appalachian region for the development of highways and other
projects. One of the most publicized of the government’s programs was
HEAD START. In order to provide poor children with
the skills necessary to improve educational levels in low-income
schools. The Medicare and Medicaid programs were developed.
Discriminatory immigration laws were abolished.

Johnson went far beyond Kennedy’s program in the area of civil
rights. Despite the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the
approval of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, there were still
counties in the Deep South where not a single black was registered to
vote. In March 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on
Selma Alabama, to dramatize the situation. King was jailed, but
public response to his march was overwhelming.

At the close of 1965, the Great Society seemed like an unqualified
success and Johnson could congratulate himself on his triumphs. A
southerner, he had engineered the passage of laws that not only ended
the ear of Jim Crow segregation but also seemed to promise southern
blacks real political power in the state and local level. A man who
had accumulated great personal wealth, Johnson had shown that he had
not forgotten the poverty of his Texas boyhood. He had taken the
federal government into areas of social reform and where other
Presidents had not dare to go. It seemed that the Great Society was
becoming a reality.

1966 would be the last energetic year of the Johnson
administration. The creeping specter of the Vietnam War was now on
the horizon.

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