Judgment days : Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the laws that changed America /

The first comprehensive account of the relationship between President Johnson and Martin Luther King uses FBI wiretaps, Johnson's taped telephone conversations, and previously undisclosed communications between the two to paint a fascinating portrait of this important relationship. Opposites in...

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Main Author: Kotz, Nick.
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Language:English
Published:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
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Chapter 1 The CataclysmThe day began in triumph for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.Riding through the sunny streets of downtown Dallas in an open convertible, his young wife, Jacqueline, beside him, the president of the United States beamed at the cheering crowds. Two cars back in the motorcade, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who knew he had been Kennedy's choice for vice president principally to keep the South in the Democratic fold, felt vindicated by the warm reception in his home state. Both men had been apprehensive about open hostility from angry southerners in the wake of Kennedy's call for a new civil rights law.Instead, thousands of ebullient Texans applauded and waved at their handsome young president and at their own Lyndon Johnson. In the front car, Nellie Connally, wife of Texas governor John Connally, turned back toward John Kennedy. "You can't say Dallas doesn't love you," she beamed.1An instant later,Nellie Connally heard a loud noise, followed rapidly by several more explosions. She saw President Kennedy grip his throat with both hands and heard her husband moan, "Oh, no, no, no," and then, "My God, they are going to kill us all!"Kennedy was slumped over, bleeding, as was Governor Connally, whom she cradled in her arms as the convertible sped away.2Two cars behind them, Secret Service agent Rufus Youngblood yelled, "Get down!" and shoved Lyndon Johnson to the oorboard. The agent threw his own two hundredpound body across Johnson to protect the vice president. Pinned down and unable to see, Johnson heard tires screeching as he felt the car accelerate.He heard the radioed voice of agent Roy Kellerman from Kennedy's car shouting, "Let's get the heck out of here!" Then he heard still another agent's voice: "The President has been shot.We don't know who else they are after."Moments later, Secret Service men rushed Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, into Parkland Memorial Hospital, where they huddled silently together in an examining room with the shades drawn. In an adjoining room, Secret Service agent Henry Roberts spoke into his radio to headquarters in Washington. "We don't know what the full scope of this thing is," he said. "It could be a conspiracy to try to kill the president, vice president try to kill everybody."3Less than an hour after the shots were red, at 1:22 p.m. Central Standard Time, November 22, 1963, White House aide Kenneth O'Donnell came into the Johnsons" room. "He's gone," he told them. At that moment, fty-ve-year-old Lyndon Baines Johnson became the thirty-sixth president of the United States.4In his two-story frame home on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. struggled awake late that November morning, physically and mentally exhausted from too much travel and too little sleep. During the previous seven days, King had been constantly on the road, rst for a rally at Danville, Virginia, where the sparse turnout of supporters suggested that the civil rights leader would have trouble launching a planned major campaign there. The young minister was deeply worried that the civil rights movement was losing momentum and perplexed about where he should now direct the energies of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to pressure Congress into approving civil rights legislation. If not Danville, where should King go next? With conicting advice coming from his aides, King did not know what to do.After Danville, he had own to New York to meet privately at Idlewild Airport with two key advisers, attorneys Clarence Jones and Stanley David Levison, who both urged him to launch a new campaign, lest the mantle of civil rights leadership pass to younger, more radical men. He then stopped off at a resort in New York's Catskill Mountains at the national convention of United Synagogues of America to receive its annual leadership award.Next, he ew to Chicago to speak to the annual convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing Reform Jews. Such speeches, more than 150 a year, left him constantly tired. They were necessary to build support and raise the funds needed to keep the SCLC aoat, yet aides constantly reminded King that those activities were no substitute for the kinds of direct-action demonstrations that had catapulted him to prominence. It had been just such an action in Birmingham, Alabama, six months earlier that had prompted President Kennedy to introduce a civil rights bill, after two years of urging from movement leaders. His proposed bill would outlaw segregation in public accommodations, forbid discrimination in employment, and withdraw federal aid from state and local governments that discriminated against anyone because of race, national origin, or religion. But now the legislation faced poor prospects in Congress, and King feared that Kennedy's enthusiasm for the bill had waned as his 1964 reelection campaign drew nearer.A television set ickered in the background as King tried to rest in his upstairs bedroom. At the rst news bulletin, he shouted downstairs to his wife, "Corrie, I just heard that Kennedy has been shot, maybe killed!" Coretta Scott King, who had been writing notes at her desk, rushed upstairs to her husband's side. Horried, the couple stared at scenes of the Dallas motorcade and the vigil at Parkland Memorial Hospital."This is just terrible," cried King. Death threats had become a constant in the King home. "I hope he will live. . . . I think if he lives if he pulls through this, it will help him to understand better what we go through." Moments later, the television news anchor announced that the president was dead."This is what's going to happen to me," an agonized King told his wife. "This is such a sick society."5Lyndon Johnson's rst fear was that the Soviet Union might have unleashed an attack against the United States. If the Soviets had shot the president, he thought, who would they shoot next? And what was going on in Washington? And when were the missiles coming? With these thoughts racing through his mind, Johnson ordered the Secret Service to delay public announcement of Kennedy's death until he and Lady Bird had left Parkland Hospital.6As they prepared to leave, Johnson urged his wife to go see "Jackie and Nellie." In a narrow hallway outside the main operating room, Mrs. Johnson found Jacqueline Kennedy standing alone, her face frozen in horror, her pink suit spattered with her husband's blood. "God help us all!" Lady Bird said, embracing John F. Kennedy's young widow. Lady Bird next went to her old friend Nellie Connally, who was being reassured by doctors that her husband would live.7The Johnsons then were rushed out a side door of the hospital and into separate unmarked police cars. Eight minutes later they arrived at Love Field. Scrambling up the ramp into Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson faced his rst decisions as president. General GodfreyMcHugh and otherWhite House aides had been urging that the president's ofcial plane take off for Washington the moment the Johnsons came on board, but Lyndon Johnson countermanded the general's order.8He would not leave Dallas without Jacqueline Kennedy and the body of her husband then en route to Love Field nor without rst taking the oath of ofce as president. With that ceremony, he meant to show the world that the government of the United States was still functioning in an orderly manner. U.S. district judge Sarah Hughes, an old Johnson friend and supporter, was summoned from her ofce in Dallas. Hughes boarded the Boeing 707, and as Lyndon Baines Johnson placed his hand on a Bible, she administered the oath of ofce. Lady Bird Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy stood at his side. After kissing each woman on the cheek, President Johnson commanded Colonel James Swindall, the pilot of Air Force One, "Let's be airborne!"9As the plane sped toward Washington, Johnson telephoned Rose Kennedy, mother of the murdered president. "I wish to God there was something I could do," he said. "I wanted to tell you that we were grieving with you." Choked with emotion, Johnson handed the telephone to Lady Bird to try to console Mrs. Kennedy.10Over the jet's sophisticated communications system, Johnson then arranged for congressional leaders and national security advisers to meet at the White House upon his arrival in Washington.11 And he instructed six members of the Cabinet aboard an airplane bound for Japan to change course and return to the capital. A few minutes earlier, Secretary of State Dean Rusk had informed that planeload of Cabinet members, reporters, and their party that President Kennedy had been shot, but they had not been told his condition. The delegation sat in stunned silence. When the airplane began to make a slow U-turn over the Pacic and head back toward the United States, they knew that their president was dead.12Two hours and ten minutes after leaving Dallas, Johnson stood in darkness on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. His craggy face illuminated by klieg lights, the new president spoke to the nation: "This is a sad time for all people.We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me it is a deep personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's."13Touching down on the South Lawn of the White House after a tenminute helicopter ride from Andrews, Johnson strode deliberately toward the entrance of the Oval Ofce. Then, abruptly changing his mind, he walked through the White House basement to his vice presidential suite in the Executive Ofce Building. There he asked the assembled congressional leaders for their support.14 He approached each member of Kennedy's Cabinet and staff and asked them all to stay on. "I need you more than the President needed you," Johnson told them.15 He called Keith Funston, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, to thank him for shutting down the market as soon as news broke of the assassination.16 He phoned Richard Maguire, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and chief fundraiser for the expected 1964 Kennedy presidential campaign, and asked him to continue his work.17 He contacted former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower to request their advice.* He arranged to meet Eisenhower inWashington the following morning.18 FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called the new president with disquieting information about Lee Harvey Oswald, who had just been arrested and charged with Kennedy's murder, a story that hinted at Cold War conspiracy. A former U.S.Marine, Oswald had lived for several years in the Soviet Union, where he had married a Russian woman and tried to become a Soviet citizen. Oswald had worked for a group supporting Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro and recently had visited the Soviet consulate in Mexico City.19The news could hardly have been more ominous. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was raging across the world from the divided city of Berlin to Vietnam. Only thirteen months had passed since the United States and the Soviet Union had come within an eyelash of nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, ninety-two miles from the American shore. After a nerve-wracking thirteen-day standoff, the crisis had ended when the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles.Despite his own fears about Soviet involvement in the assassination, Johnson knew that the nation needed his reassurance. Concerned that Dallas district attorney Henry Wade might rush to a public judgment involving Oswald in a Communist plot, the new president asked his longtime adviser Horace Busby to assign Texas attorney general Waggoner Carr to take command of the assassination investigation.20For most of his life, Lyndon Johnson had dreamed of becoming president. Now, under nightmarish circumstances, his wish had been fullled, and he faced a nation stunned by sorrow, fear, and troubling questions:* Johnson also tried to reach the oldest living ex-president, eighty-nine-year- old Herbert Hoover, but was unable to do so and instead left a message with Hoover's son.Who had killed Jack Kennedy and why? And who was this hulking Texan with the deep southwestern twang who had suddenly taken Kennedy's place as president of the United States?Congressman Hale Boggs of Louisiana, the deputy majority leader of the House of Representatives, raced toward the Capitol from his ofce across the street in the Cannon House Ofce Building as soon as he heard the news, nearly crashing into Representative William Colmer, a Mississippi Democrat and diehard segregationist. "Your people killed that man!" Boggs shouted at a startled Colmer. "Your Ross Barnetts!"21The grief-stricken Boggs was not the only person to leap to the conclusion that Kennedy's murder was related in some way to racial strife in the South. In late September 1962, Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi had fueled a deadly riot by defying President Kennedy's order making James Meredith the rst African American admitted to the University of Mississippi. 22 Barnett's Mississippi had produced more civil rightsrelated violence than any other state. Civil rights activists had been beaten and murdered, black churches had been burned, and Ku Klux Klansmen had waged a campaign of terror with virtual immunity from state and local law enforcement.Senator Richard Russell, a Georgia Democrat and leader of the southern segregationist forces in the Senate, stood in his usual spot in the Senate Marble Room reading the news wires as they came out of a ticker tape machine. Russell's eyes welled with tears as he read of the "dastardly crime . . . which had stricken a brilliant, dedicated statesman at the very height of his powers." Russell took solace in knowing that his friend and protg Lyndon Johnson would be taking over the reins a man he had long believed had "all the talents and abilities to be a strong president."23Senator Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota Democrat and deputy majority leader of the Senate, heard the news as he was attending a luncheon at the Chilean embassy in Washington. Overcome by emotion, Humphrey wept openly, then steadied himself to announce the sad news to the assembled guests. As he left the embassy, Humphrey worried about the health of his friend Lyndon Johnson about his earlier heart attack and how he might have been shaken emotionally by the trauma of the day. But that evening Humphrey felt reassured by Johnson's measured calm when he saw Johnson in his ofce. Putting his arm around Humphrey, Johnson told him that he desperately needed the help of his friend fromMinnesota who had been the Democrats" point man on civil rights since 1948. Most Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, reacted to the assassination with a profound sense of shock and grief. The attractive young president and his glamorous wife had charmed the nation, and indeed people throughout the world, with their vitality, graciousness, and style. But race had become a dominant, divisive issue in American public life. In disturbing ways, feelings about race inuenced immediate reactions to Kennedy's murder. Some hard-core racists, bitter about the president's proposals to outlaw segregation and forbid discrimination against Negroes, actually cheered the news of his death. In a dormitory at Mississippi State College, cowbells rang in celebration.24 A young man from Alabama proclaimed on an Atlanta radio call-in show that night that "Kennedy got exactly what he deserved that any white man who did what he did for niggers should be shot!"25A large majority of America's 22 million African Americans admired John F. Kennedy and considered him a sympathetic friend.Many assumed at rst that his assassin had been motivated by racial hatred. That assumption proved unfounded, but it reected the highly charged political and social climate of the times. After four years of increasingly potent civil rights protests, the White House and Congress nally had begun to respond to black citizens" demands for legislation forbidding segregation and discrimination in public accommodations, voting, employment, and schools. As the civil rights forces led by Martin Luther King and other black leaders increased pressure for change, southern vigilantes from the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils retaliated with increased violence. Only two months earlier, four young black girls, wearing their white Sunday dresses, had died in a ery blast when Klan members dynamited their Birmingham, Alabama, church as parishioners gathered for morning worship.In a Cleveland, Ohio, hotel ballroom, Leslie Dunbar, director of the Southern Regional Council, a moderate voice for improved race relations, was preparing to address a luncheon meeting of civil rights leaders.When he heard about the president's assassination, he tore his prepared speech into pieces and dropped it into a wastebasket just before his scheduled presentation. Dunbar had intended to excoriate President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, for moving too slowly on civil rights. Instead, the meeting abruptly broke up as the attendees raced to the telephones and television set in the hotel lobby.Dunbar's complaints about the Kennedy administration were widely shared among the civil rights leaders present at that meeting of the National Association of Inter-group Relations Ofcials (NAIRO). They were critical of Kennedy for his hesitation in advocating new civil rights laws and for the government's failure to protect peaceful black demonstrators who were being brutalized in the South. Even though Kennedy was widely admired by the black masses, many civil rights leaders had come to see him as a white politician who had initially shown great promise but who seemed to respond only to constant prodding and political pressure.26The assessment was harsh but not far off the mark. Two days earlier, on November 20, Robert Kennedy had celebrated his thirty-eighth birthday at an ofce party in which he stood on his desk and satirically described how his work on civil rights as attorney general had made President Kennedy much more popular in the South. He joked that "the administration would have oundered without him he'd captured the South, labor would be committed to Democrats forever," and that he had made the Democrats the "law-and-order party." As Assistant Attorney General Ramsey Clark left the celebration, he reected that with the attorney general about to resign to run his brother's reelection campaign, the civil rights bill was dead until after the 1964 election.27Leslie Dunbar's speech was not the only one discarded that Friday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Mike Manseld, a Montana Democrat, had prepared a speech defending Congress from criticism that it was moving too slowly on civil rights legislation. In an earlier civil rights ght, he planned to tell his colleagues, haste had only helped the bill's segregationist opponents. At news of the assassination, Manseld hurried to the Senate dais to comfort Senator Edward Kennedy, the slain president's youngest brother, who was presiding. At a loss for words, Manseld adjourned the Senate.The Reverend Walter Fauntroy, Washington director of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, heard news of the assassination on his car radio as he was leaving a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. He too thought at rst that the violence directed against black civil rights demonstrators "has now reached the White House. They hate Kennedy the way they hate us!" As for Lyndon Johnson, Fauntroy dismissed the new president as "a "wheeler-dealer" from the South."28Twenty-three-year-old Julian Bond, an ofcer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the most militant national civil rights organization, was having lunch with a columnist from the Atlanta Journal when he heard the news. Bond wondered rst "whether Kennedy's assassin was a left-winger, and would people like us be blamed?" Bond then called a friend in Texas to ask, "Who is this guy Lyndon John- son?" His friend warned him that Johnson was "a tool of the oil interests with a mixed civil rights record" and that "we should be wary and suspicious." 29In Atlanta, eight-year-old Yolanda King arrived home from school in tears. Rushing into her father's arms, she cried, "Oh, Daddy, now we will never get our freedom."Martin Luther King responded softly, "Now don't you worry, baby. It's going to be all right."30King spent the afternoon at home on the telephone gathering information and advice from his aides and preparing a statement about the assassination. He found that the SCLC's leaders were spread out around the South. In St. Helena Island, South Carolina, the Reverend Andrew Young, Dorothy Cotton, and Septima Clark were conducting an SCLC workshop training new local leaders for upcoming demonstrations. Upon hearing the news, Young led the group in prayers for the country; then, for the rest of the day, the activists sang movement spirituals.31In Danville, Virginia, the Reverend C. T. Vivian, an ofcial of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was brieng a group of new civil rights workers who would fan out across the southwestern Virginia town to informits citizens whyMartin Luther King Jr. had chosen it as the next target in his campaign for racial equality. After a messenger whispered news of the assassination, Vivian told the recruits to go home. They would demonstrate another day. Vivian himself was stoic, dry-eyed about the president's murder. The movement was used to murder. Kennedy's death was one more event to be tallied in Vivian's deep belief that "everything done to destroy us, develops us."32By late afternoon,Martin Luther King had reached Clarence Jones and Stanley Levison, his two closest advisers outside the SCLC staff. Together they agreed on a statement which stressed that an atmosphere of violence and hatred in the country had contributed to President Kennedy's assassination."I am shocked and grief stricken at the tragic assassination of President Kennedy," King's statement read. "He was a great and dedicated President. His death is a great loss to America and the world. The nest tribute that the American people can pay to the late President Kennedy is to implement the progressive policies that he sought to initiate in foreign and domestic relations."33Tension is expected anytime power is transferred from one group to another, but the normal tension accompanying a presidential transition was compounded by the upheaval of November 22, 1963. Grief and resent- ment led to emotional outbursts from people close to both Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It began in the rear of Air Force One on the sad ight back to Washington as JFK's closest aides huddled with Jacqueline Kennedy around the cofn of the late president. The Kennedy men seethed, feeling that Johnson was grasping power too quickly. They thought that he should have used Air Force Two, the vice presidential plane, to return to Washington.34 Lawrence O'Brien, Kennedy's chief of congressional relations, was disturbed that Johnson had begun imploring him to stay on in his job at a time when O'Brien wanted only to mourn beside his friend's cofn.35As soon as Air Force One came to a stop at Andrews, Robert Kennedy charged onto the plane, shouting, "Where is Jackie? I want to be with Jackie."As he pushed through the plane, he brushed past Lyndon Johnson without saying a word to the new president. Johnson ignored the snub, but Congressman Jack Brooks of Texas, also on the plane, declared that Johnson should re Kennedy immediately "because he never will be loyal."36Standing on the tarmac watching Jack Kennedy's cofn being lowered from the airplane, John F. Bailey, the burly chairman of the Democratic National Committee, muttered, "Now that son-of-a-bitch Lyndon Johnson is going to be President."37As Johnson and Kennedy staff members worked side by side that night in the Executive Ofce Building, grief occasionally exploded into anger. When Johnson aide Cliff Carter asked a Kennedy secretary to bring him some sheets of White House notepaper for President Johnson, she burst into tears. "He can't even let the body get cold before he starts using his stationery," she complained.38Johnson used the stationery that night to write notes to President Kennedy's children, Caroline and John Jr. "It will be many years before you understand fully what a great man your father was," he wrote to the late president's little son. "His loss is a deep personal tragedy for all of us, but I wanted you particularly to know that I share your grief. You can always be proud of him."39That the assassination had occurred in Johnson's native state heightened the tensions surrounding his sudden ascension to the presidency. Even before Kennedy and Johnson had embarked on their fateful trip, Dallas was notorious for its nasty political climate. Less than a month earlier, a mob of right-wing zealots in Dallas had jeered and spat at Adlai E. Stevenson, Kennedy's ambassador to the United Nations and himself a former Democratic presidential candidate. In the 1960 presidential campaign, even Johnson, then Senate majority leader, and Lady Bird had been heckled and shoved as they campaigned in Dallas for the KennedyJohnson ticket.On the helicopter ride from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House, animosity toward Texas poured out. Kennedy aide Theodore Sorensen exploded at George Reedy, the Johnson aide seated beside him. "George, I hate that goddamned state of Texas of yours," Sorensen shouted above the roar of helicopter engines. "I wish it never had existed!" 40 Other Kennedy aides would acknowledge later that in their rst blinding emotions of shock, grief, and anger, the thought had even crossed their minds that Lyndon Johnson was somehow involved in the assassination.The special burden of being a Texan on November 22 occurred to Lady Bird Johnson almost immediately. Overwhelmed by her own feelings as she tried to comfort Jacqueline Kennedy on board Air Force One, Lady Bird almost pleaded for understanding. "Oh, Mrs. Kennedy," she said, "you know we never even wanted to be vice president, and now, dear God, it's come to this." She was horried that the assassination had taken place in Texas.41 "There is that sense of shame over the violence and hatred that has gripped our land," she later wrote in her diary. "Shame for America! Shame for Texas!"42When the helicopter landed at theWhite House, Lady Bird stepped into a limousine to drive to the Johnson home in northwest Washington, where friends and advisers were gathering. Riding through the darkened streets, she and her longtime friend Elizabeth Carpenter talked about the difcult days ahead. After closing the window separating them from the driver, Carpenter said, "It's a terrible thing to say, but the salvation of Texas is that the governor of Texas was hit.""Don't think I haven't thought of that," Lady Bird replied. "I only wish it could have been me."Searching for a positive thought, the new rst lady said quietly, "Lyndon is a good man to have in a crisis." Carpenter nodded. Both women also knew that, without a crisis or major undertaking to challenge his enormous talents, Lyndon Johnson could behave abysmally. He could be arrogant, crude, overbearing, spoiled, petulant, and brooding, with mood swings into deep depression and pessimism. They had seen that Lyndon Johnson far too often during the nearly three years he had served loyally but unhappily as vice president.43As he had set out with President Kennedy on the trip to Dallas, Lyndon Johnson felt burdened with the frustrations of his largely ceremonial of- ce. Having been the most powerful majority leader in the history of the U.S. Senate, Johnson had to endure the ignominy of powerlessness in the vice presidency his role reduced to cutting ribbons and making goodwill tours around the world. He was ignored at important administration meetings or not even invited. He worried about recurrent rumors that Kennedy would dump him from the ticket in the 1964 campaign.The vice president's misery was compounded by the disrespect shown him by some of the younger New Frontiersmen, especially the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who in meetings either ignored Johnson or treated him with contempt. Carried away by the hubris of their rst taste of political power and blinded by their inexperience the young Kennedy men saw none of Johnson's complexities and effectiveness as a leader, but saw him as the caricature of a crude, irrelevant frontier westerner, a throwback to a bygone era. At a White House reception two young Kennedy appointees had rudely ignored Johnson's effort to join their conversation. "Fuck Lyndon Johnson," one muttered an imprecation heard clearly by the vice president, a man of great pride and surprisingly thin skin to such slights.44The man who had just become president of the United States stood just over six feet, four inches tall. Eyes xed in a piercing squint, a long nose, and even longer ears, his was a mien that made an easy target for political cartoonists. With both an ego and insecurities as outsized as his extraordinary talent, an intense desire to be loved by everyone, and a burning need to be in control of the action, Johnson had brooded constantly about his future in the Kennedy administration. In the months before the assassination, his aides had been shocked to see the vice president grossly overweight, depressed, and drinking too much whisky dangerous indulgences for a man who eight years earlier had barely survived a massive heart attack. Bathing himself in maudlin self-pity, Johnson had poured out his unhappiness to his closest associates. He talked of retiring from politics giving up his ambition to become president and turning again to teaching.45 At times he claimed he would quit go into business and make a lot of money. Now, after the gunre in Dallas, his situation had changed dramatically.Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had gone to Texas to raise campaign funds. Kennedy feared that feuding Democratic factions in the state, locked in a mean-spirited internecine battle, could cost him Texas and the upcoming presidential election. After almost three years in of- ce, Kennedy was gaining popularity and self-condence. He had just achieved a major agreement with the Soviet Union to halt nuclear testing in the atmosphere. He was admired for his youthful energy, his pledge "to get the country moving again," and his idealistic call for Americans to volunteer for public service to "ask what you can do for your country."46 Thousands had responded, joining the Peace Corps and other new government initiatives. Elected president at age forty-three, Kennedy represented a new generation of leaders, tested in battle in World War II and optimistic that their day to govern the country had come. But Kennedy faced legislative gridlock with a Congress that had failed to succumb to his considerable charm, refusing to approve the major proposals of his New Frontier: tax relief to stimulate a lethargic economy, medical care for the elderly, and education aid for the young. Now, in November 1963, even the routine appropriations bills were stalled, threatening a shutdown of government services. Kennedy had been neither a leader nor an insider in Congress. He had few deep relationships with his former colleagues to rely on, and he lacked the temperament to push them hard on behalf of his programs.Beyond question, the most critical issue facing the country was civil rights. Black civil rights activists, along with their white allies, were marching in the South, confronting ofcials who denied them the right to vote, to eat in restaurants, to attend integrated schools, and to win jobs reserved for "whites only." Clashes between civil rights demonstrators and southern law enforcement ofcers, and violence directed at blacks by sheriffs and police chiefs as well as by the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils, had created a crisis atmosphere.For most of his three years in ofce, Kennedy had disappointed black leaders who had expected him to champion their cause. After he had promised in the 1960 campaign to end housing discrimination "with the stroke of a pen," it had taken Kennedy more than two years to sign a limited executive order forbidding government-backed nancial institutions from discriminating against blacks in housing loans.* Kennedy had defeated Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960 by the narrowest of margins. Facing a coalition of southern Democrats and conservative Republicans who could block his programs in Congress, he hesitated to introduce strong civil rights legislation that might anger the powerful southerners who chaired the major committees in the Senate and could block his other legislative initiatives. To Kennedy's dismay, the southern congressional barons had stalled his domestic programs even though he hadn't pushed civil rights until circumstances had forced him to act. In June 1963, Kennedy nally had proposed comprehensive legislation * A number of civil rights supporters across the country, frustrated with Kennedy's slow progress in delivering his pledged executive order, began sending pens to the White House, hoping to help along the promised "stroke of a pen." to help the nation's Negroes, who faced blatant discrimination in every realm of American society from the workplace to the voting booth. His hand had been forced by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.When television news showed King's demonstrators in Birmingham, including children, being attacked by police dogs and bowled over by high-pressure re hoses, the nation reacted with outrage. As demonstrations spread to dozens of cities, the southern civil rights crisis threatened to become a national crisis of law and order. Prodded by these events, Kennedy nally delivered his rst passionate speech calling for civil rights legislation. "We are confronted primarily with a moral issue," Kennedy said in a televised address from the Oval Ofce. "The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities." One hundred years after Abraham Lincoln had emancipated the slaves, Kennedy said, "their grandsons are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and boasts, will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free."47But as summer had passed into autumn, public opinion polls, which Kennedy followed avidly, showed that half the nation thought he was pushing too fast on civil rights.48 Observing that the president was mentioning civil rights less often in speeches including those given during the rst two days of his trip to Texas King suspected that Kennedy would not be unhappy if the issue were held over in Congress until after the election.49 Now Kennedy was gone, and black leaders faced a new question: How would Lyndon Johnson, a southerner with a mixed record on civil rights, respond to their pressing needs?Lyndon Baines Johnson reached The Elms, his three-story, twelve-room brick-and-stucco Norman chateau in Spring Valley, an upper-class enclave in northwest Washington, just after 9 p.m. on November 22. As her father entered the foyer, daughter Luci, age seventeen, thought "he looked like he had been run over by a truck, and yet very strong."50Johnson settled in the den. Close friends, including former aide Horace Busby and his wife, Mary Beth, had gathered at the house and now surrounded the new president as they watched the television news replay scenes of the nightmare in Dallas. A lm clip showed the young Kennedy family in happier times, with the president and his wife watching their daughter, Caroline, riding Macaroni, a pony given to her several months earlier by Vice President Johnson.51 "It's all too fresh. I can't watch it," Johnson said.52Above the television set hung a portrait of the late Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives, a Texas Democrat and mentor to Johnson from the time he had come to Congress in 1937. The president raised a glass of soda to Rayburn's picture. "Oh, Mr. Sam, I wish you were here now," he said. "How I need you."53Shortly after 11 p.m. Johnson went upstairs, put on a pair of gray pajamas, and climbed into bed.54 Dr.Willis Hurst, Johnson's cardiologist since his heart attack in 1956, urged him to take a sleeping pill and rest. Instead, Johnson summoned Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti, and Cliff Carter, three aides who had ridden back from Dallas with him aboard Air Force One.* For the next four hours, sitting in his bed, propped up on pillows, Johnson talked virtually nonstop. As Moyers listened while Johnson switched from one subject to another, he thought that the president "seemed to have several chambers of his mind operating simultaneously."55Eighteen hours earlier, Johnson had begun the day having breakfast with Jack Kennedy in Fort Worth.Now, withMoyers sitting on one side of his bed and Valenti and Carter in chairs on the other, the new president began ticking off assignments to be carried out the next morning: calls to members of the Kennedy family, arrangements for the funeral, and meetings with members of Congress, with former president Eisenhower, with national security advisers, and with the Cabinet.56As Johnson weighed and made decisions about the coming days, Cliff Carter, his chief political aide, was struck by how carefully he was walking a "chalk line." On the one hand, Johnson wanted the country to have "condence that he could do the job." On the other, he wanted to avoid giving the impression that he was rushing to take power. Johnson had to demonstrate leadership while showing sensitivity to the bereaved Kennedys and their devoted followers, whose help he would need immediately. 57In a telephone conversation earlier that night with Arthur Goldberg, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson revealed just how aware he was of having to balance many sensitivities and concerns as he took his rst steps as president. "I want you to be thinking about what I ought to do," he told Goldberg, "to try to bring all these elements together and unite the country to maintain and preserve our system in the world, because if it starts falling to pieces why, we could deteriorate pretty quickly."Johnson asked Goldberg whether he should speak to a joint session of* On hearing that President Kennedy had been shot,Moyers, a twenty-nine- year-old former Johnson Senate aide from Texas and at the time deputy director of the Peace Corps, chartered a plane from Austin to Dallas to be at President Johnson's side when Air Force One took off forWashington. He immediately joined Johnson's presidential staff, as did Valenti.Congress soon after Kennedy's funeral. Goldberg thought that he should, and Johnson asked him to help prepare the speech. Johnson wanted to address the nation "with dignity and reserve and without being down onmy knees but, at the same time, letting them know of my respect and con- dence."58As Johnson talked through the early-morning hours, Jack Valenti observed that he already seemed to know what he wanted to accomplish with his presidency. Valenti listened with surprise as Johnson spelled out ambitions that added up to a sweeping agenda for social change in the United States.59"Well, I'm going to tell you," Johnson said, "I'm going to pass the civil rights bill and not change one word of it. I'm not going to cavil, and I'm not going to compromise. I'm going to x it so everyone can vote, so everyone can get all the education they can get. I'm going to pass Harry Truman's health care bill."60Valenti, a Houston advertising man by profession, had helped Johnson organize political events in Texas, but he had never heard him talk so expansively about how he would run the country. It seemed to Valenti that Lyndon Johnson, president of the United States for little more than twelve hours, already had resolved "to radically change the social environment of the nation" so that the "poor, the aged, the blacks, those denied an education . . .would have a new opportunity . . . absolutely essential to an equitable America."61No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s had attempted such a broad assault on social and economic inequality. Now Lyndon Johnson, in his rst hours as president, apparently aspired to match FDR, his hero and mentor when Johnson rst came toWashington thirty years earlier. In the past Johnson had demonstrated gargantuan ambition, a populist philosophy about government helping those with the least, and a shrewd ability to wield political power. Thrust into the presidency, Johnson faced formidable immediate challenges: to reassure a shocked nation and to move a paralyzed and deadlocked federal government to action at a time of crisis.Copyright 2005 by Nick Kotz. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company Excerpted from Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. , and the Laws That Changed America by Nick Kotz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.