Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Happy B-day to LBJ & His Visit to Park Slope

(This was written during the Democratic Convention in August 2008. I found it appalling that on the day he would have turned 100, August 28, 2008, the convention made no mention of Lyndon Baines Johnson-whose tireless work broke a 100 year stonewall which resulted in Civil Rights legislation that transformed America for the better.)

The Amazing LBJ

Abraham Lincoln struck off the chains of black Americans, but it was Lyndon Johnson who led them into voting booths, closed democracy's sacred curtain behind them, placed their hands upon the lever that gave them a hold on their own destiny, made them, at last and forever, a true part of American life.- Robert Caro

Ted Williams used to say that pitchers, by breed, were dumb. He must have meant the modern-day Democratic Party. How else do you explain that during this hisoric Democratic Convention, with the first black nominee, their is no mention of the one man who did more than anyone else in the last 140 years to make this historic event happen? To add insult to injury, the 100th anniversay of this man's birth is today, and there is still no offical recognition of this man during the Convention?

Of course, I am referring to Lyndon Baines Johnson, who would have turned 100 today, August 27, 2008.

Consider this a shoutout for LBJ.

We live in an age where Americans think that all the good things that we have would have come to us no matter what. That it was inevitable. That the decisons, talents, and hard work of those that came before us were mere by products. The America you see now would have turned out this way no matter what.

That's not true. It's not inevitable that we would have won the Revolutionary War. It's not inevitable that the Union would have won the Civil War. And its certainly not inevitable that blacks would have received their rightful seat at the American table which came about with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 & the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lets take the Civil Rights Act of 1964 & the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why do I say that it was not inevitable that these laws would have come about? Because for 200 years, they could not pass. For 200 years, the legislation was blocked. For 200 years nothing could get done.

Until LBJ.

I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me. I know where to look for it, and how to use it.- LBJ

Johnson knew how to use power unlike any president before or since. He knew every lever, every parlimentary procedure of the Senate. As Senate Majority Leader, he transformed the Senate. He knew how to get men to do exactly what he wanted to do.

Henry Scoop Jackson was a Senator from Washington. He said with JFK, if he wanted your vote as a Senator, and you told him you could not vote that way because you might lose your Senate seat, he would understand.

But Jackson said LBJ was different. He refused to understand. He would not relent until he got your vote. "He would charm you, or knock your block off, or bribe you, or threaten you, anything to get your vote. And he would get it. That was the difference" said Jackson.

You know how they called the Old Yankee Stadium Centerfield "The Place where home runs came to die" because it was 450 feet from home plate?

The U.S. Senate was the place where for 200 years, Civil Rights legislation had come to die. The Southern Senators would filibuster all civil rights bills, killing them all.

Until LBJ.

Johnson had to use all of his talents, all of his powers of persuasion, all of his knowledge of the powers of the Senate and the House to get the Civil Rights Bills passed. It was not inevitable. It was remarkable.

Yet, the Democratic Party refuses to honor him at the Convention. Teddy the Swimmer gets a video tribute. Jimmy Carter (the name alone is synonymous with failure) gets a hero's welcome. Remember Carter's solution to the Iran Hostage crisis? I think he sent in 7 Marines in a WW II helicopter and gave them camping equipment instead of weapons. What a dick.

But you would sooner hear the words "Let's cut taxes" at the Convention than praise for Johnson.

Why is that? Vietnam. The modern Democratic party is so anti-military since Vietnam, they can't even bring themselves together to honor a modern day Lincoln. They are like a person who gets mugged on the Flatbush side of Prospect Park, and from that moment on, they stay between Grand Army Plaza and 15th Street. You miss out ona lot if you do that.

But ultimately, the shame for not honoring Johnson should fall on Obama. He is the nominee, it is his Convention, its all set up by his campaign.

The sad fact is that Obama knows that if not for LBJ, he would not be the nominee. And he does nothing to point that out. Hey, if the Democrats wanted someone with no balls, they should have nominated Hillary.

LBJ, Park Slope and a Forgotten Civil Rights Hero

I get frustrated when I view media poytrayals of the Civil Rights Movement. To the baby boomers, it all began with them, with the 1960's Marches, led by MLK.

But the real truth is that America has had a Civil Rights Movement for blacks that began from the begining of our nation. With Abolitionist movements in every state. Thomas Paine's influential writings. Alexander Hamilton and John Jay led the movement that rid New York State of Slavery by 1800. Franklin in Philly. John Brown. Lincoln was murdered by a Southerner who decided to kill Lincoln once he heard Lincoln give a speech on giving blacks that right to vote. Our beloved Civil War Dead. Countless Senators, who introduced legislation that was shot down. Not to mention the modern legal movement, led by Thurgood Marshall. And countless others who have been written out of history.

I'm going to tell you the story of one of these men, and why you should know about him.

When LBJ finished his historic nationwide speech in front of the Congress introducing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he was mobbed by Senators and Congressman, all wanting to shake hands with the President. Johnson knew that there was only one of them that he actually needed to talk to. That was Emanuel Celler, a Democrat and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Johnson needed Celler to be his point man to sheperd the Votings Right Act through the Judiciary Committe and onto the full House for a vote. Again, the passage was not inevitable. Many Democrats from the South of course would not vote for the Voting Rights Act, and Celler had to pick up Republican votes.

Celler worked tirelessly as House Judiciary Committee Chairman on both the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 & The Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was indispensible to them becoming law. Look at every photo of the Bill Signing Ceremonies: You see LBJ in every photo, you see MLK in every photo, and you see Manny Celler in every photo.

Why do I bring up Celler? One, because he is one of those people who have been written out of history by the baby boomer version of the Civil Rights Movement. And two, he was one of ours. He represnted Park Slope in Congress for 50 years,
(1922-1972) the 4th longest serving Congressman in history. He did so much; but have you ever heard anyone in the neighborhood mention him? We know Eric Adams, and not Celler?

A long time ago, in 1977 my family moved to First Street and Prospect Park West. I remember many times walking with my Dad past the Jewish Temple on Garfield & 8th, Beth Elohim. My old man would tell me about the time the President of the United States of America, Lyndon Baines Johnson came to Park Slope to attend the funeral service at the Temple. The President was a friend of our Congressman, Emmanuel Celler, and was paying his respects because Celler's wife had died.

I always loved that story for some reason. That the President came to our neighborhood, walked on our streets. Did he get ribs from Wing Wah? Do blow in Ryan's?

Anyway, as much as I loved the story, I could never verify it. Not that I tried very hard, but I always wanted something concrete.

I woke up on Tuesday knowing that this was the day I wanted to verify the story. I wanted it because LBJ was turning 100, and I thought it would be cool.

First thing Tuesday morning I called the Temple, got the Director's voicemail, and left a message stating whether he could confirm the LBJ appearnce or not. He never called me back.

Then I started doing my own reserach and presto! I found a 1966 article confirming the LBJ at the Temple.

Even if the Democrats don't celebrate LBJ, I do. How's that for a fuckin curveball?

Finally I think Thurgood Marshall said it best when he spoke to LBJ after the Voting Rights Act passed:

"Thank you Mr. President. You didn't wait for the times. You made them."

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