With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Lyndon B. Johnson warned us about this

Fifty-two years ago, President Lyndon Johnson warned the nation not to be seduced by proponents of a white backlash. Less than 48 hours before the 1966 midterms, just like today, LBJ saw in the electorate a noxious mix of white anger, hatred and resentment. 

Back then, the white backlash had taken form in response to the riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles one year earlier as well as to an open housing bill that his administration was trying to push through Congress aimed at eliminating racism in the sale or rental of property. 

Speaking to reporters at a televised news conference in Fredericksburg, Texas, on November 6, Johnson read from a prepared statement in which he explained, "I can think of nothing more dangerous, more divisive, or more self-destructive than the effort to prey on what is called 'white backlash.' I thought it was a mistake to pump this issue up in the 1964 campaign, and I do not think it served the purpose of those who did. I think it is dangerous because it threatens to vest power in the hands of second-rate men whose only qualification is their ability to pander to other men's fears. I think it divides this nation at a very critical time -- and therefore it weakens us as a united country."

Though LBJ had been a product of the South and had opposed civil rights legislation earlier in his career, he had come to fully embrace the cause of civil rights with a religious zeal, pushing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 while serving as Senate majority leader and then as President moving the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the Congress.

The President, who was frustrated that the accomplishments from his Great Society were at risk in 1966, didn't hold back when speaking to the reporters. "I think that the so-called 'white backlash' is destructive, not only of the interests of Negro Americans, but of all those who stand to gain from humane and farsighted government. And those that stand to gain from humane and farsighted government is everybody. Nevertheless, there are those who try to stimulate suspicion into hatred, and to make fear and frustration their springboard into public office. Many of them do it openly. Some let their henchmen do it for them. Their responsibility is the same." ...

Read entire article at CNN