KC Johnson

RTAP Clips

President Johnson and Sargent Shriver, 1 February 1964

Sargent Shriver: Good morning, Mr. President. How are you?

President Johnson: I’m going to announce your appointment at that press conference.

Shriver: What press conference?

President Johnson: This afternoon.

Shriver: Oh God, I think it would be advisable, if you don’t mind, if I could have . . . This weekend I wanted to sit down with a couple of people and see what we could get in the way of some sort of a plan. Because what happens, at least my thought is, is that what happens is that you announce somebody or [unclear] somebody else, and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing or what the program’s going to be specifically and who’s going to carry it, then you’re in a hell of a hole—

President Johnson: We, we—

Shriver: —because they all start calling you up and say, “Well, now, what are you going to do?”

President Johnson: Well—

Shriver: “How are you going to carry this out?” And all that—

President Johnson: Well—

Shriver: —you don’t know what you’re talking about.

President Johnson: Just don’t talk to them. Just go away and go to Camp David and figure it out. We need something to say to the press. We’ve got to say to them, and I’ve got to tell them what I talked to you about yesterday.

And you can just take off, work out your Peace Corps any way you want to. You can be head of the committee and have some acting operator. If you want Bill [Moyers] to help you, I’ll let him do that. I’ll do anything. But I want to announce this and get it behind me, so I’ll keep—quit getting all these other pressures, and I think you’re going—You’ve got to do it: You just can’t let me down. So the quicker we get it behind us, the better.

Shriver: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: You can talk to ‘em as special assistant to the president a hell of a lot easier than you can talk to ‘em just as Peace [Corps] administrator. If they want to talk to you, you can tell ‘em [you] speak for me.

Shriver: Yes. Well, Mr. President, [unclear]—

President Johnson: But don’t make me wait until next week because I want to satisfy this press with something. I’ve told ‘em we’re going to have a press meeting, and—

Shriver: Well, let me say this. Could I make one point—

President Johnson: They’re going to have all these damn questions, and I don’t want to be indecisive about them.


President Johnson: I think that I’m going to keep you identified [with] the Peace Corps. I’m not—

Shriver: How about Monday?

President Johnson: Because I’ve got a press conference at 3:00. And it’s announced.

Shriver: Yeah.

President Johnson: And this is going to be the thing I tell ‘em.

And I’m just going to say this: that we have a government that’s going to be strong and a government that’s going to be secure and a government’s going to be solvent and a government’s going to be compassionate. Now, I’ve looked over this thing very carefully, and there are going to be several departments involved, but I think that one man is going to have to be special assistant for the President, that leads the way and directs it, and I’m going to appoint Sargent Shriver as a special assistant to the President and to be the executive head of the poverty program. And I’ve asked him to work on the details of the message and on perfecting the organization . . .


President Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell, 1 March 1965

President Johnson: Hello?

Congressman Adam Clayton Powell: How’s my friend?

President Johnson: [stonily] Fine, Adam.

What the hell’s been happening to your [Education and Labor] Committee? I thought you told me two months ago that you were going to pass a [education] bill for me.

Powell: That’s right. Well, what happened: all hell’s broken loose, because—

President Johnson: Well, now, what the hell are you blackmailing me on a—

Powell: That’s not—

President Johnson: —four hundred . . . Well, hell, you didn’t—[because] you want a $400,000 appropriation for you, we couldn’t pass a billion, two hundred million [dollar funding bill] for the schoolkids.

Now, you know I’m for you, and you know that I’m going to help you any way I can. I’ve got nothing to do with what you’re doing in the House investigation [of Powell’s personal finances]. But you damn near defeated the best education bill I’ve got. And I hope you’re going to be proud of it.

Powell: No. Now, you know your Appalachia bill, that there is—

President Johnson: Well, now, Appalachia ain’t got a damn thing to do with you. If you handle your committee and let us handle the other one!

Powell: Yeah, but there’s a clause in there, Mr. President—

President Johnson: There’s a clause that’s been in there for a long time.

And if you’re going to let [Ohio congressman William] Ayres [the committee’s ranking Republican] and [Oregon congresswoman] Edith Green [a conservative Democrat] lead you off the reservation, well, then I ran for nothing last year—

Powell: No—

President Johnson: [continuing] With 15 million votes. If you’re going to tie up this Congress, and screw it up—which you’ve done for three weeks, by running off [to Bimini, in the Bahamas] till you got a 400,000 [dollar] appropriation—why, we never can get anywhere.

And you defeat this [bill], and you hold it up, and you delay it, and you get us in this kind of shape, why, we can’t pass anything.

And that’s all right. But I think you’ll beat a hell of a bunch of your liberal Democrats [in the 1966 midterm elections]. I’m going to be here—it’s not going to bother me. But I just sure thought I had better leadership on that committee than what I’ve got without even talking.

Powell: Well—

President Johnson: And I’m awfully disappointed. Just very disappointed.

Powell: Now, Mr. President, don’t you think I have an entitlement to—

President Johnson: [forcefully] No, I don’t think you’re entitled to a damn thing that you did.

I think you told me, and looked me straight in the eye—

Powell: Mm-hmm.

President Johnson: [continuing] And said, “I’ll report this bill, and I’ll get it on the floor.” And you didn’t do it.

Powell: [By] March 1st.

President Johnson: And you did not do it.

Powell: It was [by] March 1st, because—

President Johnson: Well, Adam—

Powell: It was March—

President Johnson: [voice rising] No. Oh, hell no, you didn’t say till March 1st. You told me you were going to do it. And then you ran off for three weeks and they couldn’t even locate you . . . And your people [African-Americans] are being damn well taken care of in it [the bill].


President Johnson: Hey, listen: if you can’t trust me on Appalachia, you damn sure can’t trust an amendment, or the Secretary of Commerce, or anybody else.

Powell: Mm-hmm. Yeah—

President Johnson: If there’s anything that’s going to happen in Appalachia that’s anti-Negro, I won’t let it happen. Period.


President Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., 13 June 1965

Martin Luther King, Jr.: It’s so important to get Negroes registered to vote in large numbers in the South, and it would be this coalition of the Negro vote and the moderate white vote that will really make the new South.

President Johnson: That’s exactly right.

I think it’s very important that we not say that we’re doing this—and we’re not doing this—just because it’s Negroes and whites. But we take the position that every person born in this country when they reach a certain age that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro, whether it’s a Mexican, or who it is.

King, Jr.: That’s right.

President Johnson: [with King assenting] And No. 2, I think that we don’t want special privilege for anybody, we want equality for all—and we can stand on that principle. But I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you, yourself, taking very simple examples of discrimination [in voter registration]; where a man’s got to memorize a Longfellow [poem], or whether he’s got to quote the first 10 Amendments, or he’s got to tell you what Amendment 15, 16 and 17 is.

And then ask them if they know and show what happens and there are some people don’t have to do that, but when a Negro comes in he’s got to do it.

And if we can just repeat and repeat and repeat. I don’t want to follow Hitler, but he had an idea that if you just take a simple thing and repeat it often enough, even if it wasn’t true, why, people would accept it. Well, now this is true! And if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina . . . being denied the right to cast a vote and if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, and get it on television, and get it on — in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. Pretty soon the fellow that didn’t do anything but drive a tractor will say, “Well, that’s not right; that’s not fair.” And then that will help us on what we going to shove through in the end.

King, Jr.: Yes, you’re exactly right about that.

President Johnson: And if we do that, we will break through as — it’ll be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting this ‘64 act. I think the greatest achievement of my administration—I think the greatest achievement in foreign policy, I said to a group yesterday, was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But I think this will be bigger, because it’ll do things even that even that ‘64 act couldn’t do.

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