The February publication of “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years,” by Joseph Califano Jr., proved lively.
The book, published in 1991 but reissued for the 50th anniversary of many of Johnson’s initiatives, included an appendix.
That showed the many programs or directives initiated by Johnson to fight poverty and advance civil rights. The four-page list included food stamps, fair housing, Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Califano, Johnson’s top domestic adviser in the late 1960s, labeled the list among Johnson’s many Great Society achievements and declared in a new introduction that we continue to live in “Lyndon Johnson’s America.”
One reviewer for The Wall Street Journal wasn’t buying it. He wrote that perhaps Johnson wasn’t so much interested in civil rights or fighting poverty as he was in accommodating himself “to whatever cause would facilitate his advance to power.”
By the 1960s, he added, those included civil rights and big government liberalism.
“Of course Johnson was interested in power,” Califano said recently. “Without power, he would not have been able to pass that legislation.”
Johnson was a true believer in the greater good an activist federal government could achieve, said Califano, adding that Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation arguably cost him power.
“His advisers didn’t want him to send the civil rights bill up (to Congress) in 1964, an election year,” he said.
“Johnson said, ‘What the hell is the presidency for?’ He sent it up to Congress and got it passed.
“When he signed it he told one of his aides that, ‘We are turning the South over to the Republicans for the rest of my lifetime and yours.’”
The legislation likely contributed to the defeat of 47 Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives during the midterm elections of 1966, Califano added.
“Democrats paid a fearful price,” he said.
Califano also remains resentful about the treatment his former boss received in the film “Selma,” calling it a “travesty” the way the film depicts Johnson treating Martin Luther King Jr. in a condescending manner.
“The relationship between Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King was a partnership,” Califano said.
Califano cites a Jan. 15, 1965, telephone conversation (easily Googled) in which Johnson urged King to find the most outrageous act of voting rights discrimination — “the worst condition” — and then hammer home the injustice until everyone in America could understand it.
The low percentage of African-American residents registered to vote in Selma, Ala., was already on King’s radar. The subsequent marches in Alabama and the reaction to them that year routinely are cited as contributing to the approval of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“The movie treated the marchers right but got Johnson wrong,” Califano said.
Califano speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Capturing an “Abandoned America”
Philadelphia photographer Matthew Christopher’s book, “Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences,” showcases images that are difficult to look at, but in a compelling, fascinating way.
The photographs capture large urban landmarks — churches, factories, fraternal halls — that have been abandoned and stand in various states of vivid ruin.
While Christopher includes basic information about the sites, their stories remain elusive and mysterious.
Where are the people who built these places and where did they go? And just what were the circumstances that led to these buildings being abandoned or, in the case of a garment factory, locked up — even with finished apparel wrapped and ready to ship?
Christopher’s subtitle, “An Age of Consequences,” attempts to summarize a complicated story of shifting demographics coupled with a volatile economy.
The abandoned places, he said, represent points on the map where “the check has come due and we are realizing that nobody is paying it. Urban blight is everywhere.” Christopher often posts new work on abandonedamerica.us. He speaks at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, also at the Plaza Library.
For more on the Christopher or Califano appearances, go to kclibrary.org.