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Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973)

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Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963.

Lyndon Johnson was a white Southerner who took up the civil rights cause shortly after being elevated to president when his predecessor was shot. Five days after John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination, Johnson urged passage of Kennedy's civil rights bill, and it became law on July 2, 1964. Content to wait before introducing more such legislation, Johnson was prompted to action by further civil rights demonstrations, particularly the televised "Bloody Sunday" incident in Selma, Alabama. Quoting the anthem of the movement, "We Shall Overcome", in a March 1965 televised address to Congress, Johnson presented a Voting Rights Act that would become law that August. But the Vietnam war eroded Johnson's support, and he decided not to seek reelection in 1968. Above all, President Johnson clearly understood there would be a political backlash to his civil rights initiatives, but he also backed civil rights and the domestic Great Society programs which form a major part of his legacy.

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