President Lyndon Johnson’s Commencement Address at Howard University

On June 4,1965, Presdient Lyndon Johnson gave the commencement address—“To Fulfill These Rights”— at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, a private institution chartered by the federal government in1867 to provide a university primarily for African Americans. [1] This speech was affirmatively mentioned in a recent book review about affirmative action by Professor Orlando Patterson. who last November talked about freedom and human rights at the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights. [2]

The President’s Address

In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope.“ (Emphasis added.)

“In our time change has come to this Nation, too. The American Negro, acting with impressive restraint, has peacefully protested and marched, entered the courtrooms and the seats of government, demanding a justice that has long been denied. The voice of the Negro was the call to action. But it is a tribute to America that, once aroused, the courts and the Congress, the President and most of the people, have been the allies of progress.”

“Thus we have seen the high court of the country declare that discrimination based on race was repugnant to the Constitution, and therefore void. We have seen in 1957, and 1960, and again in 1964, the first civil rights legislation in this Nation in almost an entire century.”

“As majority leader of the United States Senate, I helped to guide two of these bills through the Senate. And, as your President, I was proud to sign the third. And now very soon we will have the fourth—a new law guaranteeing every American the right to vote.”

“No act of my entire administration will give me greater satisfaction than the day when my signature makes this bill, too, the law of this land.”

“The voting rights bill will be the latest, and among the most important, in a long series of victories. But this victory—as Winston Churchill said of another triumph for freedom—‘is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’” (Emphases added.)

That beginning is freedom; and the barriers to that freedom are tumbling down. Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society—to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.

“But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.” (Emphasis added.)

You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” (Emphasis added.)

Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” (Emphasis added.)

This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.

For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities—physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in—by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.” (Emphasis added.)

“Of course Negro Americans as well as white Americans have shared in our rising national abundance. But the harsh fact of the matter is that in the battle for true equality too many—far too many—are losing ground every day.”

The Causes of Inequality

“We are not completely sure why this is. We know the causes are complex and subtle. But we do know the two broad basic reasons. And we do know that we have to act.”

First, Negroes are trapped—as many whites are trapped—in inherited, gateless poverty. They lack training and skills. They are shut in, in slums, without decent medical care. Private and public poverty combine to cripple their capacities.” (Emphasis added.)

“We are trying to attack these evils through our poverty program, through our education program, through our medical care and our other health programs, and a dozen more of the Great Society programs that are aimed at the root causes of this poverty.”We will increase, and we will accelerate, and we will broaden this attack in years to come until this most enduring of foes finally yields to our unyielding will.”

But there is a second cause—much more difficult to explain, more deeply grounded, more desperate in its force. It is the devastating heritage of long years of slavery; and a century of oppression, hatred, and injustice.” (Emphasis added.)

Special Nature of Negro Poverty

For Negro poverty is not white poverty. Many of its causes and many of its cures are the same. But there are differences-deep, corrosive, obstinate differences—radiating painful roots into the community, and into the family, and the nature of the individual.” (Emphasis added.)

These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice. They are anguishing to observe. For the Negro they are a constant reminder of oppression. For the white they are a constant reminder of guilt. But they must be faced and they must be dealt with and they must be overcome, if we are ever to reach the time when the only difference between Negroes and whites is the color of their skin.” (Emphasis aded.)

“The Negro, like these others, will have to rely mostly upon his own efforts. But he just can not do it alone. For they did not have the heritage of centuries to overcome, and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness, nor were they excluded—these others—because of race or color—a feeling whose dark intensity is matched by no other prejudice in our society.”

“Nor can these differences be understood as isolated infirmities. They are a seamless web. They cause each other. They result from each other. They reinforce each other.”

“Much of the Negro community is buried under a blanket of history and circumstance. It is not a lasting solution to lift just one corner of that blanket. We must stand on all sides and we must raise the entire cover if we are to liberate our fellow citizens.”

“One of the differences is the increased concentration of Negroes in our cities. More than 73 percent of all Negroes live in urban areas compared with less than 70 percent of the whites. Most of these Negroes live in slums. Most of these Negroes live together—a separated people.”

Men are shaped by their world. When it is a world of decay, ringed by an invisible wall, when escape is arduous and uncertain, and the saving pressures of a more hopeful society are unknown, it can cripple the youth and it can desolate the men.” (Emphasis added.)

There is also the burden that a dark skin can add to the search for a productive place in our society. Unemployment strikes most swiftly and broadly at the Negro, and this burden erodes hope. Blighted hope breeds despair. Despair brings indifferences to the learning which offers a way out. And despair, coupled with indifferences, is often the source of destructive rebellion against the fabric of society.” (Emphasis added.)

There is also the lacerating hurt of early collision with white hatred or prejudice, distaste or condescension. Other groups have felt similar intolerance. But success and achievement could wipe it away. They do not change the color of a man’s skin. I have seen this uncomprehending pain in the eyes of the little, young Mexican-American schoolchildren that I taught many years ago. But it can be overcome. But, for many, the wounds are always open.” (Emphasis added.)

“Perhaps most important—its influence radiating to every part of life—is the breakdown of the Negro family structure. For this, most of all, white America must accept responsibility. It flows from centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man. It flows from the long years of degradation and discrimination, which have attacked his dignity and assaulted his ability to produce for his family.” (Emphasis added.)

This, too, is not pleasant to look upon. But it must be faced by those whose serious intent is to improve the life of all Americans.

Only a minority—less than half—of all Negro children reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of their parents. At this moment, tonight, little less than two-thirds are at home with both of their parents. Probably a majority of all Negro children receive federally-aided public assistance sometime during their childhood.

“The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled.”

“So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together—all the rest: schools, and playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern, will never be enough to cut completely the circle of despair and deprivation.”

“But there are other answers that are still to be found. Nor do we fully understand even all of the problems. Therefore, I want to announce tonight that this fall I intend to call a White House conference of scholars, and experts, and outstanding Negro leaders—men of both races—and officials of Government at every level.”This White House conference’s theme and title will be “To Fulfill These Rights.”

“Its object will be to help the American Negro fulfill the rights which, after the long time of injustice, he is finally about to secure.”

“To move beyond opportunity to achievement.”

“To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin.”

“To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong—great wrong—to the children of God.”

“And I pledge you tonight that this will be a chief goal of my administration, and of my program next year, and in the years to come. And I hope, and I pray, and I believe, it will be a part of the program of all America.”

Conclusion

Thank you, Professor Patterson, for reminding us of these inspiring words of President Johnson and of our continuing, collective and individual, responsibility to address the injustices of our long history of persecution of, and discrimination against, our African-American brothers and sisters.

It also is instructive to see this presidential speech and that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 that was featured in Professor Cass Sunstein’s presentation to the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights last November as important sources of human rights. [3]

====================================

[1} President Lyndon Johnson, Commencement Address at Howard University: “To Secure These Rights” (June 4, 1965).

[2] Professor Orlando Patterson’s Discussion of Affirmative Action, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 23, 2020).

[3] U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Meeting, November 1, 2019, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 21, 2019); Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Meeting, November 1, 2019, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 22, 2020). 

Katherine Graham’s Connections with Harry Hopkins and Edward B. Burling

As the owner and publisher of the Washington Post in the current move, “The Post,” Katherine Graham, as played by Meryl Streep, is an important participant in the real-life drama of the Post’s publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers. The film also has glimpses of her involvement in the Washington social scene, including  friendships with John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy OnassisRobert F. KennedyLyndon B. JohnsonRobert McNamaraHenry KissingerRonald Reagan, and Nancy Reagan among many others. Below are photographs of Graham herself and of Meryl Street as Graham.

Graham’s memoir, Personal History from 1997, mentions her connections in 1941 with Harry Hopkins (HH) and Edward Burling, both Grinnell College alums.[1] Their photographs are below.

Harry Hopkins
Edward B. Burling

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Preparation for War, 1941

In or about late May 1941 Katherine’s husband, Phillip (“Phil”) Graham, was finishing clerkships for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stanley F. Reed (1939-40) and Felix Frankfurter (1940-41) and finding his next position in the midst of the increasing threat of the U.S.’ becoming involved in what became World War Ii. In that search Phil met with Robert Lovett, then Assistant Secretary of War for Air, who suggested Phil see about working for HH, who was President Roosevelt’s principal assistant.

That June Phil met with HH, who was in failing health, at his bedroom/office in the White House. HH immediately asked, “Why the hell aren’t you in the Army?” Phil responded that the Head of Naval Intelligence had advised him to wait a few months before deciding how to become directly involved in the war effort. Eventually HH suggested that Phil talk with Oscar Cox about working for him at the Lend-Lease Administration while spending three days a week with HH.

Phil already had tentative arrangements to work for Cox and did so shortly thereafter. Cox said that working directly for HH probably would not have worked out. According to Cox, “HH was a peculiar cuss, worked very irregularly, and probably would never get a real assistant.”

While at Lend-Lease, apparently in August 1941, Phil (age 26) and Joe Rauh, Jr.,(age 29), the latter of whom later became a prominent civil rights lawyer, sent a memo to President Roosevelt advising immediate and significant increases in U.S. production of bombers for the war. HH immediately responded: “You shouldn’t bother the President with things like this and besides it isn’t true.” Phil and Joe were worried that their Washington careers were over so they went to see Bob Nathan, director of research at the Office of Production Management and learned that U.S. production of bombers was even worse than they had thought.

That same summer, on a Sunday afternoon, Phil and Katherine went for lunch at the Virginia log cabin owned by Burling. Also present was Robert Patterson, the Undersecretary of War, and according to Katherine’s memoir, “the arguments on preparedness were being waged at the top of everyone’s lungs. Of course, I worried that Patterson was unused to this mode of discourse and would think that everyone arguing was insane, and when we got home I told Phil that their manners in front of this august figure had been appalling.” (Emphasis added.) Whose manners was she referencing? The Burlings? Everyone at the gathering except for Mr. Patterson?

Personal Involvement with Mr. Burling

In the Fall of 1959 while attending the Washington Semester at American University  I called Mr. Burling to thank him for his generous donation to Grinnell College for its new library that is named in honor of his mother.  At his invitation, I joined him at his law firm for an enjoyable conversation over coffee and then after being picked up by his personal chauffeur, at his Cabin on a Sunday afternoon. Little did I know at the time that such a Sunday afternoon had become a famous Washington institution. I do not recall our conversations other than my talking about my studies at Grinnell and AU, but I do remember how Burling, then 89 years old and clad in a wool plaid shirt, vigorously chopped wood on a beautiful fall afternoon. (Now I wish I had been journaling to document these meetings.)

 Edward Burling’s Death[2]

On October 3, 1996, Edward B. Burling died at age 96 in Washington Hospital Center. According to an editorial in his honor in the Post that Graham may have helped write,  Burling’s “greatest diversion was a primitive log cabin that he built some 40 years ago on the shore of the Potomac near McLean. During the ‘30s and ‘40’s the cabin served as a meeting place for scores of scholars and diplomats and leaders. ‘They would gather to chop wood, eat well, and settle the problems of the world,’” said one of his law partners.

His obituary in the Post also mentioned that his introduction to politics came when he sat on a rafter at the 1896 Chicago convention of the Democratic Party and heard William Jennings Bryan deliver his famous “Cross of Gold” speech. Later Burling supported Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy in 1912 for the Progressive Party (a/k/a the Bull Moose Party), and subsequently Burling often described himself as the sole survivor of that Party. A few months after the end of World War I, Burling co-founded what became the prominent Covington & Burling (“C&B”) law firm (n/k/a Covington). He strongly opposed FDR’s New Deal and often joked that the law firm’s success was due to those measures. He was a lifelong Republican yet was a strong supporter of Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election against Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee.

The very unusual Post editorial about Burling that was simply entitled “Edward B. Burling” said he was the city’s “grand old man of the law [who from] the days when he was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1894, with one of the best records ever made there, he had been an outstanding legal scholar. And with the law as the base of his operations, he also  exerted a substantial influence in the fields of business, government and community relations.”

The editorial also stated that at the C&B law firm the “scholarly and retiring Mr. Burling, who made a specialty of cultivating and training brilliant young lawyers, was chiefly responsible  for keeping the firm’s performance  at a high level of professional excellence.”

The Burling cabin captured further comment in the editorial.  “For many years his cabin on the Potomac . . . was a center of cerebral ferment on  Sunday afternoons. Following a morning tramp through the woods and a hearty meal he loved to join in lively debate with judges, lawyers, government officials and others in the quiet surroundings of ‘The Cabin.’ These sessions will long be remembered by a vast number of his associates and friends in high places.”  The conclusion of the  editorial stated, “His great achievement was not merely longevity, but a sustained flow of energy and ideas and a passionate interest in the problems of humanity. His monument is already built in the minds of his associates and in the annals of this world observation post.”

Conclusion

Inspired by my brief encounter with Mr. Burling, his generosity to our alma mater Grinnell College and my interest in history, I later conducted research about him and wrote his biographical sketch in The Yale Biographical  Dictionary of American Law (p. 85) and a short article about him for The Grinnell Magazine and a longer essay that is on file with the College’s Archives.[3] These matters will be explored in  subsequent posts.

============================================

[1] Katherine Graham, Personal History at 133-35 (Knopf, 1997).

[2] Obituary, Edward F. [sic] Burling, dies at 96; Founder of District Law Firm, Wash. Post, p. B4 (Oct. 4, 1966); Editorial, Edward B. Burling, Wash. Post (Oct. 5, 1966).

[3]  Edward Burnham Burling, Grinnell’s Quiet Benefactor, Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2009, at 21; Edward Burnham Burling, The College’s Quiet Benefactor (April 2008)( 18-page essay and bibliography; on file in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives). The last of these has citations to the sources.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

On February 27, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act of 2006.[1] This provision extended for 25 years a requirement in section 5 of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 for certain states to obtain pre-clearance from a special federal court or the U.S. Attorney General for any changes in their election laws.[2]

Before we review that oral argument, we will examine in separate posts four predicates for that argument.[3] This post will discuss the first of these predicates–the relevant substance of the original Voting Rights Act of 1965.[4]

This 1965 statute (as well as the 2006 statute) was enacted pursuant to Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that provides, “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” That amendment, which was ratified after the Civil War in 1870, states in Section 1: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

LBJ signing VRA65

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is seen as a major accomplishment of the Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson. (The photo to the left shows President Johnson signing the statute; immediately behind him is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) It was adopted as a result of congressional recognition that case-by-case litigation over racial voting discrimination was slow, expensive and ineffective and that a stature was needed “to cure the problem of voting discrimination” and “rid the country of racial discrimination in voting,”  (South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 313, 315 (1966).)

The 1965 Act combined a permanent, case-by-case enforcement mechanism with a set of more stringent, temporary remedies designed to target those areas of the country where racial discrimination in voting was concentrated.

Section 2, the Act’s main permanent provision, forbids any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” (42 U.S.C. § 1973(a).) Applicable nationwide, section 2 enables individuals to bring suit against any state or jurisdiction to challenge voting practices that have a discriminatory purpose or result. (See Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 35 (1986).)

Section 5 of the statute and the focus of the current case before the Supreme Court only applies to certain “covered jurisdictions” and “prescribes remedies . . . which go into effect without any need for prior adjudication.” (Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 327-28.) Section 5 suspends “all changes in state election procedure until they [are] submitted to and approved by a three-judge Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., or the [U.S.] Attorney General.” (Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder, 129 S. Ct. 2504, 2509 (2009),

A “covered jurisdiction” seeking to change its voting laws or procedures must either submit the change to the Attorney General or seek preclearance directly from the three-judge court. If such a jurisdiction opts for the former and if the Attorney General lodges no objection within 60 days, the proposed law can take effect.(42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a).) But if the Attorney General lodges an objection, the submitting jurisdiction may either request reconsideration, (28 C.F.R. § 51.45(a)), or seek a de novo  determination from the three-judge district court. (42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a).)

Either way, preclearance may be granted only if the jurisdiction demonstrates that the proposed change to its voting law neither “has the purpose nor . . . the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” (Id.) This provision “preempted the most powerful tools of black disenfranchisement ,” resulting in “undeniable” improvements in the protection of minority voting rights. (Northwest Austin, 129 S. Ct. at 2509. 2511.)

The “covered jurisdictions” subject to section 5 were identified in section 4(b), as originally enacted, as any state or political subdivision of a state that “maintained a voting test or device as of November 1, 1964, and had less than 50% voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election.” (Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110, § 4(b), 79 Stat. 437, 438.) Congress chose these criteria carefully because it knew precisely which states it sought to cover, those six southern states with the worst historical records of racial discrimination in voting: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia.

In so doing, Congress recognized that these criteria for determining “covered jurisdictions” might have to be adjusted over time.

  • First, as it existed in 1965, section 4(a) allowed jurisdictions to earn exemption from coverage by obtaining from a three-judge district court a declaratory judgment that in the previous five years (i.e., before they became subject to the Act) they had used no test or device “for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” (1965 Act § 4(a).) This so-called “bailout” provision, as subsequently amended, addresses potential over-inclusiveness of section 5, allowing jurisdictions with clean records to terminate their section 5 pre-clearance obligations.
  • Second, section 3(c) authorizes federal courts to require pre-clearance by any non-covered state or political subdivision found to have violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments. (42 U.S.C. § 1973a(c).) Specifically, courts presiding over voting discrimination suits may “retain jurisdiction for such period as [they] may deem appropriate” and order that during that time no voting change take effect unless either approved by the court or unopposed by the Attorney General. (Id.) This judicial “bail-in” provision addresses the formula’s potential under-inclusiveness.

In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, the Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of section 5, holding that its provisions “are a valid means for carrying out the commands of the Fifteenth Amendment.”  As originally enacted in 1965, section 5 was to remain in effect for five years. Congress subsequently renewed these temporary provisions, including sections 4(b) and 5, in 1970 (for five years), in 1975 (for seven years), and in 1982 (for twenty-five years).[5] The Supreme Court also sustained the constitutionality of each extension through 2007. (Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156 (1980); Lopez v. Monterey County, 525 U.S. 266 (1999).)

——————————

[1] The 2006 statute’s correct title is the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006.

[2] The states now subject to section 5 are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

[3] The other predicates to be examined in separate posts are the Voting Rights Act of 2006; the 2009 Supreme Court decision regarding the 2006 statute (Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder); and the 2012 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, 2 to 1, upholding the constitutionality of the 2006 statute in the case now pending in the Supreme Court. (Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.)

[5] The 1982 extension also made the provision for “bailout” from section 5 restrictions substantially more permissive.