By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
The Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas to honor the remarkable contributions made by former President Lyndon Baines Johnson is vitally important to our country. The event, attended by President Barack Obama, and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush highlighted the achievements of one of America’s greatest leaders. The past presidents, along with my congressional colleague and friend, Congressman John Lewis, delivered personal tributes to President Johnson, who was raised in central Texas.
President Johnson, who served as vice-president in the administration of President John Kennedy, returned to Texas after deciding not to seek a second term as president. Great strides in civil rights, education and health care were made during his administration. The phrase, a “Great Society” was coined during his administration.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act which became law when President Johnson signed the legislation on July 2nd 1964. It is more than fitting that President Johnson’s life and accomplishments are celebrated in Texas, as they will be during the course of this year in Washington, and in other parts of our country. I am hopeful that his vision of a “Great Society” will live forever.
While in office, President Johnson demanded that states that had “polls taxes,” a barrier to many African-Americans participating in the voting process, eliminate the practice. Hundreds of thousands of new voters registered because of what President Johnson demanded. Like some of my congressional colleagues, I believe that President Barack Obama would not have been elected had President Johnson not acted as he did. President Johnson is a true American hero who deserves our admiration for all that he did to make this country a better place for all of its citizens.
The achievements of the Johnson Administration were not limited to civil rights. Creating Medicare was one of his major accomplishments. Prior to its enactment, nearly 70 percent of America’s senior citizen population did not have health insurance.
All of that changed when President Johnson signed Medicare into law on July 30th, 1965, bringing mental comfort and security to millions of Americans 65-years of age and older. Prior to that time, the majority of our seniors could not afford healthcare coverage. Many died prematurely.
When he decided not to run for a second term as president, he returned to Texas. I was a member of the Texas Legislature, and on the day that he visited the capitol building in Austin, my son, Kirk, and I were present. President Johnson died of a heart attack one week later.
His funeral was held on the same day that my son celebrated his birthday. During his funeral service it rained as if the sky, itself, was crying. My son and I went to the burial site, and spent time with Mrs. Johnson and her daughters after returning from the cemetery.
While many in America viewed President Johnson only through the lens of the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of African-Americans in the southern United States admired him greatly. One presidential historian wrote that President Johnson was the only American president whose achievements in the field of civil rights approached those of President Abraham Lincoln.