Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Political Cartoons of the 60's, part 2 - LBJ

This is an abridged version of the episode of my college comic strip "Jasperman" in which the caricature of LBJ appeared. LBJ, in my opinion, is one of the most unfairly maligned U.S. Presidents. Lyndon Johnson 's presidency is remembered by history as a failure because of our disastrous involvement in the Vietnam war. Johnson inherited the quagmire of Vietnam from a series of mistakes by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations and never found a way out of it. (Neither could Nixon.) On the other hand, LBJ was a courageous longtime supporter of civil rights for blacks - highly unusual for a Southern Democrat in that period. The Democratic Party, in partnership with the Ku Klux Klan, had been openly persecuting African-Americans in the South-eastern U.S for the first 60 years of the 20th Century. Remember, the Democratic Party (which in the 1800's was the pro-slavery party, in contrast with the anti-slavery Whigs and Republicans) invented segregation. The Democratic President Woodrow Wilson segregated Washington, D.C. by executive order, segregated all the departments of the federal government and fired every single black Post Office worker in the Southern states. (Earlier, as President of Princeton University, he had barred any black students from entering the University.) Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt refused to support anti-lynching bills introduced in Congress, as well as Civil Rights legislation. Why? Because he wanted the support of the "Solid South" in Presidential elections. That's why Adlai Stevenson chose the segregationist Southern Democrat John Sparkman as his running-mate in 1952. And that's why John F. Kennedy voted against the 1957 Civil Rights Act! Ironically, only Harry Truman - from the border state of Missouri- and LBJ from the Deep South state of Texas had the courage to oppose the segregationists. Johnson supported Eisenhower's 1957 Civil Rights Act, and refused to sign the 1956 "Southern Manifesto" in support of segregation in the South. As President, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As a result, blacks (who had historically been Republicans) flocked to the Democratic Party. Where would the Democratic Party be today without this key voting bloc? Probably, out of business. How often today do we hear Jack Kennedy hailed as a Civil Rights hero, and hear LBJ reviled? History can be very unkind. And unfair. - Jerry Breen

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