Day 55: Read a Speech on Race and Voting Given 52 Years Ago

52 Years Ago, We had a President Willing to Fight Bigotry.

DAY 55 ACTION: Mail the postcard that you wrote Trump!! Then, read a voting speech that Lyndon Johnson gave on March 15, 1965.


President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a meeting at the White House, March 18, 1966. Credit: LBJ Library/Yoichi R. Okamoto.

Voting is the foundation stone for political action. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday, we wrote postcards for The Ides of Trump project. Mail your card today and post a pic: #TheIdesofTrump! Caesar wasn’t the only leader to lose power on March 15th – 100 years ago today, Czar Nicholas abdicated from the throne in Russia. (Those leaders were killed, but the US doesn’t work that way . . . we just want Trump to get to play more golf.)

March 15 marks another anniversary. 52 years ago today, President Johnson put his full support behind a Voting Rights Act. This was in large part due to the grassroots strategy forged by Dr. King and centered in Selma, where 2% of African-Americans were registered to vote. As King expected, police attacked the marchers, killing one protester and severely wounding many others. On March 9th, vigilantes killed a second protester. Four days later, President Johnson delivered this speech [excerpts follow]:

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.

I urge every member of both parties—Americans of all religions and of all colors—from every section of this country—to join me in that cause. 

At times history and fate meet at … a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.

There is no Negro problem. There is no southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem.

And we are met here tonight as Americans—not as Democrats or Republicans—we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. … “All men are created equal” … Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. ….

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.

Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes….

… The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. … Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote….

To those who … want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections—the answer is simple. Open your polling places to all your people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land. There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or National rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.….

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome….

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all… These are the enemies—poverty, ignorance, disease—they are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance—we shall overcome.

Today’s Action: Read Johnson’s speech and think about it in light of current events. And send your #TheIdesofTrump postcard – perhaps reminding this President (for now) that we also stand against bigotry.

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