Give Us the Ballot
President Lyndon B. Johnson is today remembered largely for his failure in Vietnam. But before the war sunk his presidency, LBJ compiled a record of accomplishment on the domestic front unmatched since FDR. Medicare, civil and voting rights, clean air and water, Head Start, immigration reform, public broadcasting — fifty years later, these programs are so deeply woven into the fabric of American life that it is difficult to imagine the country without them.
So how did Lyndon Johnson, who made so ruinous a mess in Vietnam, pull off so extraordinary a feat at home? That’s the question “LBJ and the Great Society” will be exploring through the recorded recollections of those who were there when this history was being made, and who had a hand in its making. Hosted by Melody Barnes, chief domestic policy advisor to Barack Obama and now co-head of the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia.
By his own account, and by many others as well, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was Lyndon Johnson’s greatest achievement – the jewel in the crown of the Great Society, and widely considered the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in American history.
This episode, “Give Us the Ballot,” will focus on the extraordinarily eventful eight-month period — January to August 1965 — when the battle for Voting Rights was joined and ultimately fought to a successful conclusion. The outcome was hard won, and in doubt up until the last frantic weeks of negotiation and maneuvering. Why and how Johnson prevailed, where so many before him had failed, is the central story in this episode, which looks at the complex and precarious alliance forged between the President on the inside, and Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement on the outside.
Source notes: This episode includes interview excerpts from Washington University Libraries, drawn from the Henry Hampton Collection. This digitized resource includes complete video interviews with Civil Rights Movement leaders, known and unknown, captured for the influential and award-winning documentary film, Eyes on the Prize.
LBJ and the Great Society was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and distributed by PRX.