the 1960s. there's literally changed the history of this country.. i'm h oping to call on you all o participate in this to talk about hy those things happened in the 1960's but to talk about where do we go from here in a society that has, despite great accomplishment, has not fulfilled the passion and the dreams of lyndon johnson and martin luther king for a more just society. but i must tell you that what we are sitting in today and the interactive exhibits around the hallways and the public vaults of the national archives are a
totally new phenomenon. i remember as a kid and when my son jack was a kid you walked into this austere building and you stood in a line and you saw the constitution and the declaration and maybe another couple of things, and you marched back out. lyndon johnson had an expression which he used often and usually shrewdly where he would say that someone was all hat and no horse. i have learned in the case of kansas farmer who became a governor and is now our archivist he has been riding a horse since the day he got here. and thanks to carlin's
leadership, thanks to marvin pinkert who he calls the genius behind the development of the new space, all of us as citizens can far better experience our history. as a journalist, as a historian, and as a citizen i value this place deeply. it's very, very important. your participation is urged because it's a good thing, and for an additional reason that my vocal chords may vail some time. i'm going to go for it and let's hope i can keep on talking. the two days -- i want to add one more thing about the
archives. john said it and it's true. people like me who want to research american history are incredibly dependent on the resources of the national archives. i and my research assistants, including josh israel, who is up there someplace and is going to give us some entertainment with johnson and king talking, could not possibly have gotten as far as we got in trying to unravel this story. without the resources of the archives and the unfailingly courteous, bright, helpful people from the archives. i want to personally thank them not only on behalf of myself but in behalf of other people who
work in this field. they are just great. the idea of this book was sort of a gamble. it was a hunch. i wondered -- there have been lots of books written about king. there have been lots of books written about johnson. there have been lots of books written about civil rights, but no one had taken johnson and king together, put them under a microscope, and watched what they did day by day through an incredible period of history. a two-year period, from the kennedy's assassination to the passage of the voting rights act when numerous of our most distinguished historians say
more legislation of huge impact on our society took place in that brief period than any other period in american history. you can stack it up along roosevelt's first 100 days. teddy roosevelt's good times. wilson's, andrew jackson. none of them excel what got accomplished in that brief period of time. i think there's a joy and pleasure in reading about it, but i think we still have things to learn. anyway i thought if -- that i took -- if i took king and johnson together and used them, their relationship, their agreements, their disagreements
i would have a slightly new prism to be able to look at why all this stuff happened in that period of time. there were many, many, many factors. when i talk with people some will say, well, it was because john f. kennedy got killed and the country felt remorse and guilt. that was an element. it was because a momentous grassroots civil rights movement was coming to a zenith of its power, and that civil rights movement thousands of black men and women and a lot of supported -- supportive white citizens was
building toward a crescendo of pressure which dr. king could not resist, and lyndon johnson couldn't. they were constantly being pushed from below by people who wanted action. johnson becomes president on november 22, 1963. he is an accidental president. he had been in the back waters of the vice-presidency. he had been drinking too much. he was fat. he was unhappy. he was can tangerous, and he was a -- can tankerous, and he was a forgotten man. martin luther king on that day faced a crisis of his own. the civil rights legislation that john f. kennedy finally
introduced in june of 1963 pushed by the demonstrations in birmingham which revealed the police dogs and the fire hoses suddenly the government had to act. the first great accomplishment of lyndon johnson that not much attention is given to is the magnificent way he assumed presidency. this was a nation in crisis. we had a cold war going on. in which there was huge fear of russian missiles heading our way. our president had been killed. we didn't know whether it was the russians who had killed him or castro or -- there was great, great uncertainty.
and johnson came to that job, reassured the nation, took the reins of government, and during that first year he was president passed the historic 1964 civil rights act, which outlawed official segregation in the south. made employment discrimination a crime. it was a very, very -- probably the most important advance since lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation. during that year if johnson was. mr. inside and some outside because he gave some inspirational speeches, king kept the pressure on. whenever he thought that the congress was going to falter,
that they couldn't beat a southern filibuster, king went to jail. and he refused to let people forget what this was all about. i'd like to concentrate on one particular period because we have a anniversary coming up today, and i think looking at johnson and king during the struggle over the voting rights act in 1965 illustrates as well as anything the brilliance of both these men, the difficulty of their task, and their multidimensional leadership. the most important aspect -- one of the most important aspects of which was the uncanny ability of
both johnson and king to seize opportunity. they knew whenle to strike. -- when to strike. on january 15, 1965, president johnson called martin luther king to congratulate him on his 36th birthday. let as -- let's listen to a little bit of what they had to say. well, we'll move along and when we are ready for that -- the
gist of the conversation and the conversation comes from lyndon johnson's tape recorded telephone calls, is really wonderful. king has just arrived in selma to begin a campaign for voting rights. blacks in the south were -- in the deep south were prevented from registering to vote and from voting by many, many different means. in this conversation we have the rear picture -- rare picture of king advising johnson how he's going to get re-elected in 1968 by getting the southern blacks registered. johnson is advising king --
johnson, who detests demonstrating in the streets, as most elected officials did -- is giving king clues about how he can make those demonstrations more effective. here we go. sound, lights, camera. someone let me know whether we have it or we don't. because i'm going to keep on talking. at any rate a close working relationship became even closer as civil rights movement and people in congress tried to put
an end, finally, for all time, they hoped, black citizens being denied the right to vote. the first crisis came at the edmund pet tiss bridge -- pettis bridge in selma, alabama. king's lieutenants started off on a march from the town of selma, across the bridge with the stated intent of marching to montgomery. none of them had toothpaste or backpack -- a few of them had backpacks. it was a challenge. the idea was to produce a confrontation. and it did. i'm sure all of us have seen the pictures of sherr riffs'
deputies, state -- sherr riffs' deputies, state troopers, trampling the demonstrators. the crisis became what to do next. the way johnson and king handled that was really awesome. king was under intense pressure to march again two days later. thousands of supporters, ministers from all over the united states had come to march with him. leaders of snick were pushing him to march and accusing him, some of them, of being a coward if he didn't march. johnson was under enormous pressure to send federal troops en masse to alabama. both of them had a lee democrata.
king's dilemma, he had never violated a federal court order, although he violated hundreds of ordinances and state laws, most of which were unconstitutional. and he didn't know what to do. johnson dearly did not want to send troops, united states army troops, into alabama. his fear was that this would precipitate a second period of reconstruction. just as the marchers were getting ready to head out in defiance of a court order with hundreds of deputies and troopers waiting for them, fruition came to a very subtle
problematic plan that johnson had been working on all night. and king had been listening to all night. johnson sent former governor leroy collins who had taken the job to run the federal conciliation service on a plane at 3:00 in the morning. he was picked up by assistant attorney general john door and was driven to king's -- the place where king was staying. king came out of the bedroom wearing a robe and the two officials gave him a plan. lyndon johnson had participated in thinking it up. they said, reverend king, we have not only been talking to you, we have been talking to
governor wallace and he doesn't want anymore bloodshed and what we would appreciate it if you would do would be to take your troops, walk on to the bridge, and when the troopers say stop, kneel, pray, sing, and then you turn around and lead them back. we have assurances from the governor, george wallace, the segregationist governor of alabama, that his people will be restrained. king said to the federal officials, i have no idea whether i can pull that off. i'm under tremendous pressure to do this march and to carry it to its ultimate ending. but he said i'll try.
and collins then raced back to where the troopers were all the while president johnson, attorney general catsenback -- katzenback are on live phones at the white house getting moment by moment reports of what's going on. collins rushes back to the troopers and as he promised king he stands in the line -- in front of the line of troopers with his arms up saying, any troopers who are going to attack these people will come through me. well, it worked. and johnson took a lot of heat. king took a lot of heat. both of them were constantly being besieged by their
constituencies on not only the right but on the left as well. because of that success, one crisis was averted. then came a second one, only a few days later. what was johnson going to do if the official the of alabama -- officials of alabama refused to uphold the law when this march was authorized by judge frank johnson, a very brave tennessean , a republican, were they going to allow these people to be picked off by snipers, to be attacked? wallace was not going to lift a finger to do a thing. then came a remarkable meeting.
johnson sort of mouse trapped wallace into coming to the white house on saturday, march 13, and for 2:45 the 6'4" president from texas he had placed wallace, who was about 5'6", in a deep, cushioned couch and johnson sat in his chair doing to wallace what senator humphrey once called the nostril examination. this was the johnson treatment at its most sophisticated and
the johnson treatment i don't think is totally understood. it wasn't just threatening, browbeating, trading political favors, although that is part of politics, and there was some of that. johnson was, like king, always trying to appeal to the better natures of our souls. that's a line from abraham lincoln in the second inaugural address. and so he started talking to wallace, why don't you integrate the schools? why don't you do this? you started out as a populist, george, you were a man of the people. now you are doing this. finally he reached the point that he wanted to get to and he said, george, don't think about
it. the 1968 election, for which wallace wanted to compete. think about 1988, we'll both be dead then, and what's it going to say on our graves? do you want to have a granite tombstone that says, george wallace, he built. or do you want to have a pine stick in the red soil that says, george wallace, he hated? johnson didn't convert wallace, but as wallace walked out to talk to the reporters, he was a very subdued governor wallace. he said to the reporter, if i stayed in there another five
minutes he would have me coming out in favor of civil rights. johnson had accomplished his purpose and he knew it. because when the crucial time came, wallace asked what -- wallace said he didn't have the resources to protect the marchers and he virtually invited president johnson to nationalize the alabama national guard. two days after that meeting came a great moment. johnson went before a joint session of congress to ask for the voting rights legislation and to ask for it in a speech
which numerous historians, frank is one of the three or four greatest speeches given by an american president. do we have some sound up there? no. you-all will remember -- anyone as old as me or half as old as me will remember what a couple of the punch lines were in that speech. johnson said, we've got a lot to do. we've got a lot of history to overcome. we have a lot of cultural differences and problems to overcome. and he went on and on, overcome, and finally he said, staring ahead at that audience, and we
shall overcome. that was an incredibly important statement because the president of the united states had just adopted the song of the civil rights movement. there were many, many other things in that speech that were important, but the most important one was what he said right after that. he said, the hero of this struggle is the american negro. and he went on to describe the marching, the beatings, the murders that they went through. the american negro is the hero. that kind of -- martin luther
king was not at the speech. he was asked to sit in the presidential box. he wasn't there because he had to attend a funeral that day, a memorial service for a reverend reeb, a unitarian minister from boston who had come down and had been killed after having participated in a march. king was sitting in the home of his host and young john lewis from the -- from snick, the chairman of the student nonviolent coordinating committee told me, said that's the only time i have ever seen martin cry. the tears were pouring down his face. lewis would tell you, andrew young, king's top lieutenant
would tell you that he was a totally rational person. as he went about the business of leading his part of this movement. he was not seeking martyrdom. he was deathly afraid every time went out into an exposed situation. he refused sometimes saying when the young snicc guys were pushing him to do something particularly dangerous, i think i ought to have the right to choose my own goal gatta -- gmplet olgatha. one name for the hill where jesus was crucified. there was one more minor crisis
before that 1965 voting rights act got passed. the senate liberals led by ted and robert kennedy were trying to attach to the bill a constitutional amendment outlawing the poll tax. this was something that needed to be done, obviously. the attorney general feared that the courts were going to say it's unconstitutional, you have to do it by an amendment. you can't do it this way. so there was going to be a critical vote in which it was possible that the democratic liberals and the republican liberals were going to attach this thing on. what bothered the administration was they barely had the votes, 67 votes, to defeat a southern
filibuster. if they couldn't break the southern filibuster, there would be no legislation. so johnson called up dr. king -- i urge all of you to get some of these tapes and listen to them. the conversations between king and johnson are absolutely priceless. and johnson said, well, dr. king -- because king wanted to support this plan. he says, well, dr. king, you have to make up your own mind about it. who you want to trust. who you want to think is representing your cause. if you believe that you want to support this amendment and you trust the kennedys, god bless you. go do it.
but on the other hand if you really want to get this bill passed, i need you to back off. and they defeated the amendment. those are tiny, tiny examples of pattern of two men who were not friends, who appeared not to be -- not to be natural allies. who had many complaints about each other. and yet they managed to work together. at this point in my opinion king and johnson in their own context were both men of the center. both of them -- johnson used to say let us come reason together. king did that every single day
of his life. there's a wonderful -- back to selma, whether to march, whether not to march, whether to violate the court order there's a great lawyer from birmingham by the name of c.l. "ike" chestnut. he was busy bailing people out of jail for two years. chestnut sat in on those always contentious meetings and he described what king did at those meetings and how he did it. king did a lot of listening. james farmer, other great leaders, very bright leaders, thought king was sort of inept
and lost in these meetings. because he wasn't arguing a point of view. chestnut said that king would listen until everybody had had their say. if it took hours he would listen. then he would sum up the different points that had been made, the different approaches, the pros and cons, and would he say, well, i think maybe we ought to do so and so. this is what ike chestnut said. after sitting in those meetings in selma, i decided martin luther king was one hell of a field general. no one else, chestnut said, could have unified that collection of ministers, gangsters, self-seekers, premadonnas -- prima donnas and devoted high-minded people we
had in selma that winter. that really kind of gets at a quality of king that we don't often hear about. we hear about the inspiring order. we hear about his courage. but he was a very skilled field general. knowing when to attack. when to pull back. when to compromise. he was masterful. and watching johnson and king on a chessboard both doing this is an amazing sight. i just want to say one more thing and that is about how their relationship ended. and open this up to you. johnson -- lyndon johnson was a very insecure man.
no matter how great his triumphs, he was insecure. lyndon johnson resented the fact that he didn't get just awesome praise every day from the civil rights leaders for what he had accomplished. he resented it. lyndon johnson didn't like the fact that king was carrying on demonstrations at very inconvenient times for the administration. he envied king. he envied the love that king got from the public. just as he envied the martyred john f. kennedy and later his martyred brother, robert kennedy.
and yet johnson managed to get past all of his hangups to get the job done together with king. and then tragedy struck bigtime. five days after the voting rights act was signed by the president with king at his side, the largest riot in american history broke out in the watts section of los angeles, california. both johnson and king were surprised. and were slow to respond initially. johnson just -- people tried to call him telling him that we needed to send airplanes out to help the california guard transport troops. he wouldn't take the telephone calls. he was just so totally demoralized.
so was king who was on vacation in puerto rico. but they snapped out of it. but the riot was a symbol of the fact that revolution was now heading in another direction. young blacks, impatient, dissatisfied with the amount of progress that was being made launched the black power movement which both johnson and king resisted as best they could. there is a wonderful conversation which we will play for you another time in which johnson is talking to whitney young head of the national urban league, and johnson says, whitney, i just don't understand this black power thing.
he said, i'm in favor of green power, red power, white power. i just want to get it done for everybody. and king with great difficulty tried to resist the fire brands because -- firebrands because not because he didn't think black people should have power but because he feared that the message would be misinterpreted and it would inflame the backlash. since those days in the late 1960's i would contend that the counterrevolution of the conservatives has held power more often than not. and that happened because not everyone was happy with what had been achieved.
on march 31, 1968, a really beaten, agonized, tired lyndon johnson brought the cameras into the white house and announced that he would not seek another term. three days later dr. king equally tired, equally beaten down, trying to pull off -- tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat by getting a ragtag band of people and takeling them -- taking them to washington to petition them for their rights. made his last speech, all of us should listen to that speech, you're familiar with it. he said, i have been to the mountaintop, i have seen the glory, and then he tells the
people, i may not get there with you, but you will succeed. the next day king was assassinated. we had huge riots. johnson's response, one of his responses, was the same as when john f. kennedy was assassinated. there was another piece of civil rights legislation that was having trouble getting out of the house rules committee. it was a miracle that in the year 1968 a much more conservative congress was considering it, and one of the first things john -- johnson did was to gather all of his staff and say we are going to pass the 1968 fair housing act. and they did. that was his tribute to martin
luther king. it's a great story. i have enjoyed working on it enormously. i have to leave you with one impression as i have done all this research, when you read what king and johnson and these other folks were doing,, there . these men and women were giants. you read their words and you wonder where have the giants gone. i invite you to make comments. and this, this audience is filled with people who are the actors in this history.
in the second, third row there is a gentleman by the name of lee white. lee white was the counsel to the president under president kennedy and president johnson and civil rights was his field. and he's been enormously generous in letting me bother him about every week about something. and sitting to his left is roger wilkins, an assistant attorney general, who, during the period of the worst conflict went into chicago and oakland and so forth to try to bring peace and progress. peter, further down is peter
edelman, who was a legislative assistance to senator robert kennedy. he was involved in it. lawrence geof. are you here? >> yep. lawrence geott, a great civil rights leader, was the chairman of the mississippi freedom democratic party. at a critical moment. and he has never stopped keeping on keeping on. let's talk about the past or let's talk about what do we do next. >> let's go to questions with the audience. yes, sir. go right ahead. >> it seems in retrospect a
eulogy for american liberalism, a golden age that can never return, like looking at the last shining of the sun before a period of decades of darkness. i don't mean to be melodramatic. you have not mentioned the word vietnam. could american history have taken a different path so we wouldn't have tom to the place -- have come to the place where we are today. >> i decided to abandon my script and wing it. how could i forget about vietnam? my piece, my thought on vietnam -- my thought on vietnam is that lyndon johnson, so to speak, was trapped from day one. when johnson became president
we were losing, change of government every couple of weeks. johnson, as you -- and we were going to play a telephone conversation between johnson and richard russell, the head of the armed services committee. johnson couldn't see any way out. and he did what he often did successfully by seeking the middle ground. senator frank church said this was one problem that could not be solved that way. namely, if he resisted the generals about bombing hanoi into the stone age and if he resisted the kids in the streets and didn't, as he said, tuck tail and go home, he would be in some say middle position. maybe politically, but he could
ner sol the problem. -- he could never solve the problem. after april 4, 1967 when martin luther king made a -- his most powerful speech against this war, he cut the tie with lyndon johnson. the two men became enemies and they tried to destroy each other politically. king said in that speech that we, the united states of america, are the worst purveyors of terrorism in the world. and that line and others didn't just offend johnson. king was blasted by all the leading newspapers and by his fellow a american civil rights leaders.
but he stuck to it. the day after that speech johnson called in george christian, his press secretary, now deceased. and he said, george, i want you to go over to j. edgar hoover and get all those files showing what a commie king is and his immoral light and take them to karl roan, black newspaper col umnist and five days later the onslaught started. they were in a war from then on. >> question. yes, sir. >> i want to con garage late you. -- congratulate you.
when i see how you have covered this and talked bt atlantic city in depth. what you do that is most important is you identify congressman mccollum of ohio involved in the 1964 act and the 1965 act who was the key man when we brought the congressional challenge said to both sides we have a choice, we can strengthen the voting rights act or unseat the congressional delegation. his genius took the pressure applied on mississippi and turned it into section five of the voting rights act. without that, a lot of people who got elected would not have gotten elected. i think what you have done is a tremendous piece of work. i'm very proud of the way you handle the mississippi democratic party. i could not have done a better job.
>> who wants to throw some opinions contrary or whatever into our conversation? >> we'll repeat the question after he says it for the audience. >> this is one of the great journalists who covered the movement. when he was a reporter on the nashville paper, later with the "new york times," the editor of "the atlanta constitution." bill kovich. >> as a very careful observer of the time and you lived through and you reported about it, how did your research -- tell me two things, what was the biggest surprise you discovered and how did you change your mind based on your research. >> the question is what was the biggest surprise and how did i change my mind.
i think the biggest surprise was that j. edgar hoover is -- and his f.b.i. campaigns to drestroy king, politically at least, was far more vicious, far more relentless and cruel that public officials in the united states would do. how did i learn that or how did i come to that conclusion? after a two- three-year battle with the f.b.i. and with my friends in the l.b.j. library, part of the national archives, i was finally able to put together a mosaic of hundreds
of f.b.i. memos that went to the president. i saw how the president reacted to them and didn't react to them. and even though great reporters have covered this story well starting in 1975 with the church hearings, i was appalled about that. i don't want to be a total alarmist when i see what the f.b.i. has been empowered to do again in investigating citizens, i have great pause. >> and how did you change your mind? did you change your mind on anything? >> i changed my mind on the --
on really, the central idea of the book. when i started out a lot of very well meaning, bright, dedicated white house aides and johnson cabinet officials told me that the president despised martin luther king and why was i doing a book about this. johnson didn't have anything to do with king. but when you looked at it much, much more closely, you come up with an enhanced view of johnson the good president and you come up with an enhanced view of king with a lot of his
qualities that haven't been celebrated. you ask tough questions. >> mr. kotz, we have a question over here. >> when robert kennedy was still attorney general, how did he interact with president johnson and dr. king? >> that is another amazing story which i'm sort of in awe of. the bottom line to that story is that they were both patriots. when johnson became president, bobby kennedy was in huge disstress. once he came out of the disstress and decided he wanted to get back in the picture, he wanted to be johnson's vice-presidential candidate, some weird telephone calls when
they were both fighting against the klan in mississippi. trying to find the murderers of swerner, cheney and goodman. an 80-year-old man was indicted this week for those murders. here they are, they're working on this. bobby says to l.b.j., i understand you are getting all kinds of reports about me. i understand you know everything that i'm up to, what i'm doing. and johnson said, oh, no, nothing could be further from the truth. but one of the jobs that johnson had the f.b.i. doing was keeping track of bobby kennedy. now, against that from november 22, 1963, through the passenger
of the civil -- through the passage of the 1964 civil rights law, it was amazing cooperation between these two men that -- who detested each other. amazing corporation. -- amazing cooperation. it was bobby kennedy who first suggested that the f.b.i. be sent into mississippi to carry on the counterintelligence activities with which it had harassed the communist party. it was bobby kennedy who called the president and said we need to protect king, when he was going on a especially dangerous trip to mississippi. that was sort of an amusing conversation, but here you have the understated new englander,
mr. president, i really think we should have some f.b.i. people with king when he makes his trip. it would be very inconvenient if he were to die and we would have another body to investigate. and he wasn't is aing it in a mean sort of way. he was saying it with his dry witt. -- dry wit. they cooperated fully to pass the 1964 civil rights law. and if i can put my hand on it, i'd like to read you a very short exchange between kennedy and johnson on july 4, 1964. the 1964 civil rights act was
signed and enacted into law by the president on july 2. on july 4, lyndon johnson had gone down to the ranch. he had been out on his boat all day getting his usual sun burn and baking off of alcohol. bobby kennedy was tracking what would happen on our july 4, the second day the law was in effect forbidding discrimination, segregation, in restaurants, hotels, this monumental law. and bobby said well, mr. president, we really had a good day today. then he started ticking off things. the fact that the chamber of
commerce in jackson, mississippi, had voted 16-1 to urge all businesses to desegregate. and, well, johnson wasn't going to let that one go without a response. he said we had a good day in johnson city. our three cafes peacefully integrated today. and when that conversation ended it just about brought tears to my eyes as these two guys, mortal political enemies agreed, it's been a good day. and it was a good day for america. >> ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for nick kotz.