This week we celebrate, to a limited degree, the birth of Martin Luther King, who common legend credits with leading the struggle for civil rights, some forty years ago. While his leadership of the non violent church based movement was a key element in the struggle, but he was not alone in the battle against “Jim Crow” laws and the less overt but equally oppressive northern ghettos and slums reserved for “colored” Americans in the middle years of the last century.
Make no mistake. This multi-faceted assault on racism threatened the nation, as performed by the white society of the time, as evidenced by the impact on business of the Montgomery bus boycott and other actions, from sit-ins to downtown marches . The over reaction of the police, in general, fed the resentment and produced extremist groups. The Muslims began to talk of separate lands and self rule in southern states. The Black Panthers tried to take control of their west Oakland neighborhood and created a national political force that persists today. A crisis was brewing.
Enter Lyndon Johnson, Capitol Hill senior Senate power broker, and sudden president in the wake of the first Kennedy assassination. Lyndon, whatever his own beliefs, saw the gathering storm and put it all on the line to pass laws recognizing equal rights for minorities and voting rights for the previously disenfranchised. To head off what promised to be a violent and destructive show down he put the federal government behind the cause, and calmed the waters for most of the next two decades.
In so doing Johnson destroyed the Democratic Party’s base of support in southern states, a weakness that persists to this day and has given the Republicans the presidency five times since.
The roles of King and Johnson should neither be confused or considered competitive. Without Lyndon’s decision to bring federal law to the rescue avoided big trouble for America and as such was a heroic action by the chief executive. Martin was one of a number of leader whose actions raised the ante to a point where the president had to act. Neither could have done what was needed without he other, and the preservation of order is still the highest duty of government, even when it means making painful changes.
Remember Martin, and all the others who made the history they lived mean something.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. "The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.