KC Johnson

LBJ & Carl Sanders, 25 Aug. 1964

At the convention, compromise was brokered over the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, to ensure the full seating of the Mississippi regulars. Then, to Johnson’s astonishment, even Southern moderates opposed the deal. The President expressed his displeasure to Georgia governor Carl Sanders, in one of his most emotional calls of the campaign season.

President Johnson: What’s happening is we’re doing four or five things. Number one: we’re coming in there and seating the state of Mississippi. Every damn one of them. Now, they oughtn’t to be, Carl. They oughtn’t to …

Carl Sanders: I don’t—

President Johnson: You and I just can’t survive our political modern life with these goddamned fellows down there [white Mississippi leaders] that are eating them for breakfast every morning. They’ve got to quit that. And they’ve got to let them [African-Americans] vote. And they’ve got to let them shave. And they’ve got to let them eat, and things like that. And they don’t do it.

However much we love [Democratic Senators] Jim Eastland and John Stennis, they get a governor like Ross Barnett, and he’s messing around there with [George] Wallace, and they won’t let one [black] man go in a precinct convention. We’ve got to put a stop to that, because that’s just like the old days, by God, when they wouldn’t let them go in and cast a vote of any kind.

You’ve put a stop to it in your state. But we’re going to ignore that. We’re going to say, “Hell, yes, you did it. You’re wrong. You violated the ’57 [civil rights] law, and you violated the ’60 [civil rights] law, and you violated the ’64 [civil rights] law, but we’re going to seat you—every damn one of you. [dripping with sarcasm] You lily white babies, we’re going to salute you.”

When Sanders informed Johnson that the Mississippi and Alabama delegations (the latter headed by former Birmingham police chief Bull Connor) didn’t want to sign separate pledges of party loyalty, the President again turned sarcastic.

President Johnson: . . . Now, I’m a poor old man here that’s got a government falling on me.

In Vietnam today, I just walked out of the [National] Security Council. I’ve got [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara coming in here at 6:00 tonight. I’m bringing [Ambassador to Vietnam] General [Maxwell] Taylor back. I’ve got Cyprus in a hell of a war.

I can’t go up there and tell those damn fellows, and argue with [Harlem congressman] Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King and the fellow from Alabama—Bull Connor. They ought to try to make it as easy on me as they can, because they’ve all been in these things in their own state conventions. They’ve got problems, and they’re going to have them.

Now, this doesn’t hurt anybody. I’m for everybody taking the oath. Nobody claims they won’t do it except Mississippi and Alabama.

Sanders: That’s right, and now they say they’ll do it. They just don’t want to be singled out in writing.

President Johnson: Well, just tell them that every national committeeman has taken it, from every state, speaking for his state.

Sanders: Well, I agree with you. I—

President Johnson: Every one of them have already done it. But I don’t object. I’d come up there myself, walk out naked and take it, if it would ease Bull Connor’s pressure any.

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