Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-2008)

"Johnson was as complicated and multi-faceted as Abraham Lincoln, a man writ large, with titanic flaws and titanic virtues, bigger than life except that he actually lived. He was also a deeply compassionate man who loved mankind in all its diversity, whether the poor white sharecropper or the descendant of slaves still kept in legal fetters; the Vietnamese fighting for freedom and civilization or the Cuban fleeing from Communist barbarism because that option had been closed to him." -- "Lyndon Johnson: Our Statue of Liberty," RCAB, July 27, 2007

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born 100 years ago today. Although it coincided with the anniversary, the National Democratic Convention chose to ignore it, preferring instead to honor the Kennedys' calamitous legacy to their country and party. Barack Obama, in his acceptance speech, made no allusion to it, though he would surely not have been standing there as his party's nominee if LBJ had not made Martin Luther King's dream a reality.

John F. Kennedy had shown no inclination to sponsor a civil rights bill because he was a believer in evolution rather than activism when it came to enforcing the constitutional rights of black Americans in sharp contrast to both his predecessor and successor. He had even been opposed to the March on Washington and contrived to be out of town when it took place. There was no word that he had for America's disenfranchised except: "Wait." He never realized that the time for waiting was over. Johnson did.

On the day that Johnson introduced the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 before a joint session of Congress, King cried when Johnson proclaimed in three familiar words that the agenda of the civil rights movement was now also that of his administration: "We shall overcome." King understood what it meant to have an ally in the White House whose commitment to securing the citizenship rights of all Americans was absolute and would not be denied. It meant victory.

The U.S. Postal Service issued postage stamps this year to mark the centenary of the births of Bette Davis and Frank Sinatra but did not honor LBJ's. If you want to know what is wrong with American values at the dawn of the 21st century, there you have it in a nutshell. Entertainers are now America's national heroes and, among such a people and at such a time, it is only natural that a Barack Obama should be the brightest star.

As for ourselves, Cuban exiles owe a special debt to LBJ: we owe him our lives --

Lyndon Baines Johnson: Our "Statue of Liberty"

3 comments:

Vana said...

Good homage Manuel, indeed President Johnson deserves all our gratitude, were it not for him many of us would not be here today, he deserves our respect.

Angel Garzón said...

I have for the longest time found it to be ironic and unfair, that the "old black folks" of the Civil Rights era usually have one or more portraits in their homes portraying Dr. M.L.K. Jr., President J.F.K. and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, but no President Johnson likeness or effigy is to be found in their homes.

That L.B.J. has never been given the level of credit that he earned and deserved has baffled and troubled me, not being part or parcel of the believers in racial divisions and prejudices, it pains me deeply that the good deeds of not only L.B.J., but also so many other non-black people have been relegated to the scrap heap of history by the same people that have benefited so much as a result of the courageous stands and works of these people, it is a shame that I hope will eventually be exposed and that the redemptive actions necessary to bestow upon them the recognition that they deserve comes to pass, history demands it.

LBJ was a highly complex man, a few years ago I was privileged to be able to speak in private to a White House reporter whose name I shall not mention in order to respect his wishes, I met this reporter at my middle son's Preparatory School on one of the many celebratory gatherings that were sponsored by one of the School's alum whose philanthropic endeavors were plentifully gracious to his Alma Mater and his hometown of Newark, NJ. He was the founder of the now defunct MBNA which was acquired by Bank of America a few years ago.

Said reporter had had a close relationship with Presidents since the F.D.R. days and what surprised me the most about his candid and brief (our private time was limited) summary of L.B.J.'s personality was that the former President was not only the kind of caring man who felt as though he had lost a son every time an American service man was killed in South East Asia, but was also the best liar he had ever met at the White House, according to his testimony, L.B.J. made it a constant habit of making things up whenever he felt like it, as long as he believed that the ultimate purpose that he seeked was to be achieved.

So there you have it, I have no reason to disbelieve the testimonial of this well known and respected journalist, he has been a registered independent his entire adult life and was not known for being a partisan in any way, something that is woefully needed nowadays, oh and before I forget, he also told me that L.B.J. used to relax at the end of the day by skinny dipping in the White House pool, the one that until not long ago used to house the journalists' quarters amidst the wooden support beams and scaffolding that supported the old Press Room.

Srcohiba said...

but for Vietnam, he'd be one of our greatest Presidents of all time.