Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sokol on LBJ and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Jason Sokol, Harvard University, has an article on Slate.com, "The Power Broker's Other Voice," analyzing volumes 7 and 8 of The Presidential Recordings, a transcription of LBJ's phone conversations from June 1 to July 4 of 1964. Sokol writes, "The power broker was in top form at the beginning of this five-week span, guiding the Civil Rights Act through a divided United States Senate. By the end, the master politician was plotting his re-election campaign. But in between, we hear Johnson's voice hitting unfamiliar registers—this collection also includes a DVD with audio footage—as it crackles across the decades." Sokol suggests that Johnson's conversations during this period should lead us "to reconsider the received wisdom" about LBJ's prescient sense of how the Civil Rights Act would shape his legacy, and to "appreciate how a proliferation of events threw him off balance."

Sokol also provides a few short clips from the recordings. One is a brief but heartbreaking call to Anne Schwerner, mother of civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, relaying the short-lived hope that Schwerner and his colleagues James Chaney and Andrew Goodman might be found alive. In another chilling exchange, Senator James O. Eastland implies that the young men's disappearance was nothing more than a hoax designed to make a peaceful Mississippi appear violent.

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