Lyndon B. Johnson - Key Events
Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in as the thirty-sixth President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Johnson addresses a joint session of Congress calling on legislators to fulfill Kennedy's legacy and pass civil rights and tax legislation.
Johnson creates a special commission chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren to investigate the Kennedy assassination.
The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, abolishing poll taxes.
The Beatles arrive in New York for their first U.S. tour.
Jack Ruby is convicted of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and sentenced to death.
In a speech at the University of Michigan, Johnson announces his intention to create a Great Society by extending American prosperity to all its citizens.
Johnson signs The Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race or color, sex, religion or national origin. This act also prohibits discrimination in voter registration as well as segregation in schools, employment and public accommodations.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) receives the Republican nomination for President.
Governor George Wallace of Alabama drops out of the presidential race despite strong showings in several Democratic primaries.
Three civil rights workers are found dead in Mississippi; the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were discovered in an earthen dam two months after having been abducted and shot at close range. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner had all been participating in the Mississippi Freedom Summer efforts to register black voters in the state. Several members of the local KKK were involved in the murder, though only one perpetrator was ever convicted, 41 years later, before the case was closed.
Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the President power to pursue military action in Vietnam.
Johnson receives the Democratic nomination for President. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) is nominated as the vice-presidential candidate.
Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act, creating the Office of Economic Opportunity and beginning the War on Poverty.
The Warren Commission releases its report, rejecting the notion that Kennedy was assassinated as part of a conspiracy.
Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nikita Khrushchev is forced to resign as leader of the Soviet Union and is replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
Lyndon B. Johnson is elected President of the United States.
Johnson is inaugurated President of the United States.
Nine American soldiers are killed in an attack on U.S. barracks in Pleiku, Vietnam. Johnson begins the bombing of North Vietnam.
Black power activist Malcolm X is assassinated in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, an organization to which Malcolm X had belonged. Tensions between X and NOI leadership led to his suspension from the group and subsequent assassination.
On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to introduce voting rights legislation. In a moving oration, Johnson called on white Americans to make the cause of African Americans their cause too. Together, he explained, echoing the anthem of the civil rights movement, “we shall overcome.”
After winning reelection in 1964, President Johnson realized the need for significant voting rights legislation, but, as he explained to Martin Luther King, Jr., he felt that such a bill would hold up the passage of other programs in his domestic program. Still King and other civil rights leaders sought ways to bring the issue of voting rights to the attention of the American people.
Selma, Alabama, provided the perfect opportunity for civil rights organization such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to stage a nonviolent campaign on the issue of voting rights. The city of Selma had 15,000 African Americans of voting age but only 355 were registered to vote. Furthermore, the city's board of registers used blatantly racist tactics to keep African Americans off the voting rolls. SNCC and SCLC leaders decided to lead a march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, to protest the gross disenfranchisement of African Americans.
On March 7, 1965, more than 500 marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge, when state troopers confronted them and demanded that they turn around. The marchers halted facing the troopers, and the troopers advanced on the marchers, attacking them with nightsticks and tear gas. SNCC leader John Lewis was clubbed in the head and suffered a skull fracture. Images of the attacks on the peaceful marchers were broadcast throughout the country, and the incident became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Two days later, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a group of protestors on another march from Selma. When police confronted them, however, they knelt in prayer and turned around.
In his address to Congress on March 15, President Johnson used stirring oratory to create support for voting rights legislation. He spoke of events in Selma as a historic moment and continually pressed the right to vote as a fundamental American right, proclaiming, “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” He stressed that denying the right to vote to African Americans cheapened the ideals of America for everyone.
The Voting Rights Act passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The act outlawed practices, such as literacy tests, that had been used to keep African Americans from registering to vote. The Justice Department gained the power to intervene where discriminatory practices had kept less than 50 percent of eligible voters from registering to vote. If this intervention failed to fix the situation, federal registers could take over the local voting systems.
President Johnson, the master legislator, pushed for the passage of a strong bill to end the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South. Together with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act effectively ended the systematic segregation of the South.
Led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., thousands of peaceful protesters marched over several days from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in reaction to the police murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson as well as to highlight civil rights efforts in the state. This was actually the third attempt to complete the March; the first ended in the notorious “Bloody Sunday” attack of protesters by Alabama state troopers, and the second, “Turnaround Tuesday,” ended when MLK led the crowd back in compliance with a court order. The third March followed after a federal judge ruled the marchers’ First Amendment right to protest could not be infringed, allowing the marchers to proceed without being hindered by law enforcement. Widely televised with particular media attention on “Bloody Sunday,” the series of marches was successful in bringing national attention to civil rights issues in the state and led to Johnson’s proposal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Johnson sends U.S. marines to the Dominican Republic to protect U.S. citizens after a military coup and resulting Dominican Civil War.
The U.S. Supreme Court finds a Connecticut law banning the use of contraceptives unconstitutional.
Martin Luther King Jr. leads a demonstration in Chicago in an effort to extend the Civil Rights Movement to the North.
Johnson increases the number of troops sent to Vietnam, indicating his determination to engage in a ground war.
Johnson signs legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid.
A paper by Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled, The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, is released. The conclusions of this “Moynihan Report” create heated controversy due to the stereotypical and racially biased root of its argument and the consequences of its “blaming the victim.”
Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law.
The Watts Riots break out in the Watt neighborhood of Los Angeles. Incited by an altercation between law enforcement and a drunk driver, the situation escalated until nearly 4,000 California Army National Guard members, 16,000 law enforcement officials, and 30,000 residents became involved over six days, resulting in 34 deaths, 3,438 arrests and $40 million in property damage.
Fearing that American involvement in Vietnam will draw France into a world war, French president Charles de Gaulle announces that France will withdraw from NATO.
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upholds the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The White House Conference on Civil Rights urges Congress to pass further civil rights legislation.
James Meredith, known for integrating the University of Mississippi as its first black student, is shot on his solo march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi. While Meredith was hospitalized, other civil activists organized to complete his march, which Meredith rejoined along with 15,000 other marchers. As a result, 4,000 black Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote; it was also during this demonstration that activist Stokely Carmichael first uttered the phrase “black power,” a mantra in later waves of black activism.
In Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the constitutional provision against self-incrimination applies to police interrogations; this led to the “Miranda rights” procedure in which these rights are read upon arrest.
Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.
A launch pad fire during tests for the Apollo program kills three astronauts.
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, providing rules of succession upon the death or incapacitation of the President, and enabling the President to appoint a new vice-president in the case of a vacancy.
The Six Day War breaks out between Israel and several Arab nations.
On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. When President Johnson nominated Marshall, he remarked, “I believe he earned that appointment; he deserves the appointment. He is best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it is the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.”
Thurgood Marshall attended Howard University Law School and then went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), eventually becoming chief counsel for the civil rights organization. He became famous for his civil rights litigation with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He was one of the lawyers who argued before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, which was decided in 1954 and ruled that segregated education for blacks and whites was inherently unequal.
In 1961, President John Kennedy appointed Marshall to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1965, at the request of President Johnson, Marshall resigned his judgeship to become the first black Solicitor General of the United States. In this position, Marshall argued before the Supreme Court. The President viewed this position as a way of bolstering Marshall's legal reputation before he appointed him to the Supreme Court.
If Marshall was compared to the radical groups emerging from the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, he appeared quite conservative. As a lawyer, he valued upholding the law, and while he appreciated the attention that the protests of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others had attracted, he believed that permanent changes had to occur in the courts and the legislatures. Marshall was also a firm integrationist, believing that equality was best achieved by integrating society. Still, among white southerners the man who had argued the Brown case was too radical and had no place on the Supreme Court. President Johnson realized that this sentiment would make Marshall's confirmation difficult.
After significant delays, Marshall finally received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and faced a barrage of hostile questions from southern senators. Some tried to paint him as a radical or a Communist, while Strom Thurmond of South Carolina tested Marshall with obscure legal and historical queries. Despite this opposition, the Judiciary Committee voted Marshall's nomination to the full floor of the Senate. In the floor vote, Johnson used his influence to convince twenty southern senators not to vote on the matter. Their absence assured Marshall's confirmation.
On October 2, 1967, Marshall became the ninety-sixth justice of the Supreme Court. He was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. Marshall remained on the court for twenty-four years, providing an increasingly unaccompanied liberal voice on the law. Marshall's appointment to the court was a symbolic and significant action in moving the nation toward racial equality.
Riots break out in Newark, New Jersey, after racial tensions in the city were escalated by the police beating of a cab driver. The riots lasted 5 days leaving 26 dead and hundreds injured.
Racial tensions in the city of Detroit came to a head after a police raid of an unlicensed bar led to confrontations between police and patrons and escalated to 5 days of riots; the Michigan Army National Guard and two airborne divisions were sent in, 7,200 arrests were made, 43 people died and 1,189 were injured.
Anti-war demonstrators march to the Pentagon in an attempt to shut it down.
North Korean forces capture the USS Pueblo, a US Navy communications intelligence gathering ship. North Korea refuses to release the crew of the ship until December.
On January 30, 1968, on the Vietnamese Lunar New Year of Tet, the North Vietnamese Army and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam coordinated a massive offensive against South Vietnam. More than 80,000 troops and guerrillas attacked 44 provincial capitals, 64 district capitals, and 5 of South Vietnam's major cities. While the South Vietnamese and United States troops reversed most of the offensive's gains in the following two weeks, some intense fighting continued for months after the attack. In the end, the Tet Offensive failed to deliver a military victory for the North Vietnamese, but it did create a crisis for the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
For ten days before the attack, the U.S. military had focused its attention on relieving the siege of a marine outpost at Khe Sanh close to the demilitarized zone. American officers feared that this siege would turn into another Diem Bien Phu, the final siege before the French abandoned Vietnam in 1954. To protect Khe Sanh, U.S. military commanders moved troops away from populated areas on the coast. This move left cities and capitals vulnerable to the attacks of the offensive. After the Tet Offensive began, the North Vietnamese halted their siege of Khe Sanh, but managed to take other targets in the region like the ancient imperial capital of Hue. It took American and South Vietnamese troops almost a month to recapture Hue. Still, the United States managed to turn the Tet Offensive into a military victory. While loses were high on both sides, the actions of the American military saved the South Vietnamese regime from collapse.
Back in the United States, however, the American public had a very negative reaction. President Johnson, his administration, and U.S. generals had been telling the American people for months that the situation in Vietnam was under control. After the offensive, they quickly lost their credibility. Prominent journalists, such as Walter Cronkite, began to doubt that the United States could win the war and voiced these fears in newspapers and on television. On February 3, days after the attack, millions of Americans watched on their televisions as a Saigon police officer summarily shot a Viet Cong guerilla in the head on a Saigon city street. More than ever before, many Americans began to have doubts about the war. One public opinion survey conducted after Tet found that 78 percent of the American public thought that the United States was not making progress in the war.
The reaction of the American public to the Tet Offensive had serious consequences for the Johnson administration. Militarily, it forced the administration to reconsider its strategy in Vietnam, leading to a partial halt in the bombing of the North. Politically, the Tet Offensive shattered the President's political future. On March 31, two months after the start of the offensive, President Johnson announced that he would not run for reelection.
Alabama Governor George Wallace enters the presidential race as an independent.
Johnson wins the New Hampshire Democratic primary, but anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy comes in a close second with 42 percent of the vote.
Robert Kennedy enters the race for the Democratic nomination for President.
U.S. forces in Vietnam commit massacre in the hamlet of My Lai; hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children are killed. News of the event would not reach the public until November 1969.
On March 31, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, during a prime-time televised address, announced that he would not seek reelection. “There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight.” Johnson explained. “And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and prospect of peace for all people. . . . I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes. . . . Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” The Vietnam War had shattered Johnson's political future.
The domestic reaction to the Tet offensive launched by the North Vietnamese in January 1968 created great strain on his presidency. In March, when former Truman advisor Clark Clifford became Johnson's new Secretary of Defense, the President requested a reevaluation of the war. The generals were calling for an additional 206,000 American troops to join the half a million soldiers already in Vietnam. Clifford thought such a move would be both politically and economically disastrous. The cost of any further escalation would threaten America's economic standing in the world and could detract from then nation's ability to maintain its strategic commitments in Europe. Clifford advised Johnson against large scale escalation, requesting that he send only about 20,000 additional soldiers.
Meanwhile, displeasure with Johnson's war policy became part of the 1968 presidential race. On March 12, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, running on a platform opposed to continuing the war, won 41 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. While Johnson won the primary, McCarthy's strong showing against a sitting President demonstrated the displeasure with the Johnson administration. On March 16, Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson's long-time political rival, announced that he too would challenge the President for the Democratic nomination. While Johnson was still the most likely Democratic nominee, this intraparty competition threatened to shatter the party.
In late March, Secretary Clifford assembled some of the top foreign-policy experts to discuss the future of the war in Vietnam. Known as the “wise men,” the group included Dean Acheson, Maxwell Taylor, George Ball, McGeorge Bundy, Matthew Ridgeway, and Henry Cabot Lodge. Some of the wise men supported the idea of increased escalation in the war. Most, however, concluded that Vietnam was, in Bundy's words, “a bottomless pit.” Additional U.S. troops would not quickly lead to an end of the war, only an increase in American casualties. Following their advice, Johnson chose to call for a partial halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and agreed to consider peace talks with the North Vietnamese.
In his announcement on March 31, President Johnson also told the American people about the partial bombing halt in North Vietnam. He stated that there would be no bombing of North Vietnam except in the area near the demilitarized zone and asked Ho Chi Minh to respond positively to this gesture. Johnson finished his announcement on Vietnam; then he paused dramatically before launching into his decision not to run for reelection.
Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Students at Columbia University take over several buildings on campus in protest of the University’s support of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the school’s proposed construction of a segregated gymnasium. The protests occurred several times from April to May and ended with violent removal of students from buildings by the NYPD, nearly 200 arrests and dozens of suspensions.
Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) begins the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C. to demand economic and human rights for poor Americans.
The United States and North Vietnam begin peace talks in Paris.
Senator Robert Kennedy is assassinated after winning the Democratic primary in California.
The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia to end the movement toward greater freedom and independence.
Hubert H. Humphrey is nominated in Chicago as the Democratic candidate for President. Demonstrators and police clash in violent confrontations.
Richard M. Nixon is elected President of the United States, and Spiro Agnew is elected vice-president.
Leonid Brezhnev announces that the Soviet Union has the right to intervene anywhere in its sphere of influence. This “Brezhnev Doctrine” becomes central to Soviet foreign policy.