For decades, President Lyndon Baines Johnson has been hailed as a civil rights hero because he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. To his credit, LBJ also helped several other Civil Rights era bills become law.
However, what if as he was signing these bills into law, LBJ was also spewing vile racist rhetoric against those in his inner circle? What if he also held minorities, in general, in contempt? What if, in his own words, he callously derided African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and several other minority groups throughout his life?
The unvarnished truth is that LBJ was unquestionably a white supremacist. As for his legislative record in terms of supporting civil rights legislation late in his political career, you can judge his reasons and motivations. The point of this piece is to simply expose the truth about LBJ’s racism.
As documented by LBJ biographer Robert Caro in Master of the Senate, LBJ used the n-word constantly in casual conservation and while conducting official government business, even in Senate staff meetings and cloakrooms. Before ascending to the presidency after the assassination of President Kennedy, LBJ—then a Democratic senator from Texas—referred to the 1957 Civil Rights Act as “the ni**** bill” on countless occasions.
During the 1940s, LBJ consistently voted against civil rights legislation. In 1945 and 1946, LBJ—then a U.S. Representative—voted against anti-lynching bills, anti-poll tax bills, and fair employment (anti-discrimination) bills. LBJ also opposed public school desegregation, as well as integration in general.
In other words, during his stint as a U.S. Congressman for a dozen years, LBJ opposed civil rights legislation and upheld the Jim Crow status quo.
Throughout the 1940s, LBJ lobbed insults at a variety of minority groups. In a 1942 diary entry written while he was crossing the Pacific during WWII, LBJ wrote, “Natives very much like Negroes. Work only enough to eat.” Later, he wrote about a violent incident involving black servicemen. He described the episode as, “Negro problem—no hard liquor as order Lieutenant … Negroes and constables knife threat.”
When it came to his interactions with Mexicans, LBJ told his ranch hand, “I don’t think Mexicans do much work unless there’s a white man with them, so from now on I want a white man with every group.”
LBJ also told journalist Tom Wicker in 1964, “I know these Latin Americans. I grew up with Mexicans. They’ll come right into your backyard and take it over if you let them. And the next day they’ll be right up on your porch, barefoot and weighing one hundred and thirty pounds and they’ll take that, too. But if you say to ’em right at the start, ‘Hold on, just wait a minute,’ they’ll know they’re dealing with somebody who’ll stand up. And after that you can get along fine.”
And what did LBJ think about Asians? Well, in a 1947 speech, he said the United States must not surrender to “the barbaric hordes of godless men in Eurasia.” Around this time, he also routinely referred to Asians as “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves,” “sneaky yellow dwarves,” and “godless yellow dwarves.”
As if his public insults and race baiting were not enough to expose LBJ’s real beliefs, his interactions with minorities in his inner circle leaves little doubt that the man was an ardent white supremacist.
For instance, LBJ’s relationship with his black chauffeur provides insight. His chauffeur, a man by the name of Robert Parker, recalled that LBJ once asked him if he would prefer his real name as opposed to “boy,” “ni*****,” or “chief.” Parker responded that he would prefer to be called by his given name. LBJ responded, “As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So no matter what you are called, ni****, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.”
When LBJ appointed the first black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, he remarked, “when I appoint a ni**** to the bench, I want everybody to know he’s a ni****.”
LBJ also reauthorized the wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr., who he called a “hypocritical preacher.”
Aside from his nasty comments about minorities and his opposition to early civil rights legislation, LBJ also took fun in terrorizing black gas station attendants. On many occasions, LBJ would put a snake in his trunk, stop at a gas station, and demand the black gas station attendant open his trunk. Of course, the unaware attendant was terrified to find a live snake in the trunk. Meanwhile, LBJ thought it was all a great joke. On one occasion, this “prank” backfired when a gas station attendant threatened LBJ with a tire iron.
For all his flaws, LBJ was a shrewd politician. He worked hard to craft his image as a pioneer of racial equality, but only when he felt it would be politically beneficial. But this narrative is far from accurate, as the quotes above illustrate clearly.
Although there is much more I could say about LBJ, I’ll leave you with one last quote, perhaps LBJ’s most despicable and telling comment: After passing a spate of civil rights bills, LBJ told two governors, “I’ll have those ni***** voting Democratic for the next 200 years” while on Air Force One.
If that is not the epitome of racism and white supremacy, what is?
PHOTO: Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon B. Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11 from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 am EDT on July 16, 1969. Photo provided by NASA/Apollo 11. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)