Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 - 1973)
Johnson was a highly skilled Senate majority
leader in the 1950s and was frustrated by his powerlessness as Kennedys
The son of a flamboyant Texas state senator,
Lyndon often joined him amid the colorful, corrupt atmosphere of Austin. Johnsons
first venture into politics came at San Marcos Teachers College, where
he formed a student political group, the White Stars, to take control of campus
activities and jobs from a rival group, the Black Stars.
Johnson briefly taught high school in Houston
and organized successful student debate teams that traveled all over the state.
He became a congressional assistant in Washington and learned to imitate the
congressmans voice on the phone well enough to carry on extensive conversations
Roosevelt treated Johnson as a special young
protégé and invited him to go sailing as a particular favor.
Johnson lost his first senate race in 1941 but won his next try in 1948 by
87 votesa result that earned him the nickname Landslide Lyndon.
Quote: I knew
from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left
the woman I lovedthe Great Societyin order to get involved with
that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything
at home. All my programs, all my dreams. But if I left that war and let the
communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my
nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would find it impossible to accomplish
anything for anyone anywhere on the entire globe. (Conversation, 1970)
REFERENCE: Robert Dallek, Lone
Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908 - 1960 (1991).
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1928 - 1968)
King was much criticized in his lifetime, but
in 1986 his birthday began to be celebrated as a national holidaythe
first such honor given to a black American.
He came from a long line of Baptist preachers.
His father, Martin Luther King, Sr., was pastor at Ebenezer Baptist church
in Atlanta, and Martin, Jr., was for a time copastor with him.
King and his wife, Coretta Scott, both came
from the middle-class Atlanta black community. He experienced sharper discrimination
when he went north to study theology. King earned his doctorate from Boston
University with a dissertation on the doctrine of God and also studied the
nonviolent teachings of Gandhi. Later he and his wife visited India to learn
more about Gandhian techniques.
During Kings civil rights campaign in
Chicago in 1966, he lived in a ghetto slum on the West Side. His outspoken
attacks on the Vietnam War caused considerable criticism that he was not sticking
to civil rights issues. At the time of his assassination, he was conducting
a campaign for black garbage workers in Memphis.
we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet,
from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when
all of Gods children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants
and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old
Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we
are free at last! (I Have a Dream speech, 1963)
REFERENCE: David L. Garrow, Bearing
the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (1986).
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963)
Kennedy achieved a narrow victory in 1960 and
for most of his time in office had to battle for political support, but after
his assassination he entered the pantheon of national heroes.
Through much of his youth, Kennedy struggled
to compete with his more athletic and glamorous older brother, Joseph Kennedy,
Jr. After Joes combat death in World War II, John took his place as
the focus of his fathers ambitions for the presidency.
Kennedys Harvard senior thesis was published
as a book, Why England Slept, with the aid of his
father. During his youth, Kennedy was often seriously ill with back troubles
compounded by Addisons disease, which was thought to be life-threatening.
In 1954 he underwent major back surgery and missed the Senate vote censuring
Kennedy was cool, skeptical, sardonic, and well
read. He had a reputation as a playboy but was also a sober, well-disciplined,
determined politician who used his abilities to the fullest.
Quote: Let the
word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the
torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century,
tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient
heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human
rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are
committed today at home and throughout the world. (Inaugural address,
REFERENCES: Herbert Parmet, Jack:
The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980); JFK: The
Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1983); Thomas Reeves, A
Question of Character: A Life of John Kennedy (1991).
Robert Francis Kennedy (1925 - 1968)
Kennedy was the younger brother of President
John Kennedy who became a leader of the antiVietnam War movement before
his assassination during the presidential campaign of 1968.
The third of the Kennedy brothers, Robert had
great difficulty keeping up with his older, favored brothers Joseph, Jr.,
and John. For much of his political career he operated in the background as
John Kennedys political manager and adviser.
Kennedy was long distrusted by liberals because
of his association with Senator Joseph McCarthy, and by labor because of his
involvement with Senate committees investigating union racketeering. During
his years as attorney general (1961 - 1964), he carried on a fierce prosecution
of Teamster boss James Hoffa and eventually saw him convicted.
Kennedy became deeply depressed after his brothers
assassination, but revived once he resigned as attorney general and won election
as U.S. senator from New York in 1964. He disliked Johnson intensely, but
at first hesitated to break with him because he thought Johnson would regard
Kennedys antiwar position as a purely personal vendetta.
Quote: Few will
have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change
a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written
the history of this generation. (To Seek a Newer
REFERENCE: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and His Times (1978).