Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” on Voting Rights and the American Promise

The 1960s explores various era themes, including the civil rights movement, anti-war rallies, and the creation of new forms of popular culture. It also considers the decade’s transformative nature and its long-lasting effects on American society. The 1960s are known for their substantial changes, and many anticipated breakthroughs did not fully occur, suggesting that while advancements were accomplished in some areas, other constraints and setbacks dampened the era’s optimism.

President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech describing the Great Society, a broad package of domestic changes, in 1964. Johnson urged the graduates and the American people to improve and elevate the quality of national life and American civilization to end poverty and racial injustice. The Great Society intended to improve all Americans’ living standards by assisting underprivileged Americans who had been denied equal access to political and economic possibilities. The revolutionary aspect of the domestic policy that sought to address poverty, injustice, and civil rights is highlighted by Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. It offers perspectives on the time’s social, political, and cultural aspects by examining the numerous Great Society programs and policies.

The following year, On March 15, 1965, Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to push for the Voting Rights Act. Johnson’s address was a crucial and historic turning point in the civil rights struggle. Johnson utilized the language of the fight to relate the law to American history and promote it. The speech demonstrates Johnson’s mastery of speechmaking and commitment to racial justice and equality.

Johnson frames voting rights as a moral imperative and the foundation of democracy at the outset of his address. He fervently contends that depriving African Americans of the opportunity to vote violates their constitutional rights and the fundamental precepts upon which the United States was established. Johnson expertly uses rhetorical tactics throughout the speech to arouse empathy and a sense of urgency. He describes the challenges and sacrifices made by African Americans in their fight for equal rights using vivid images and expressive language. By claiming, “The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.” He pointed out the importance of the American people’s sense of justice and called for ending racial discrimination in voting.

In order to emphasize how these actions undermine the American ideal of freedom and equality, Johnson draws attention to the violence and intimidation experienced by African Americans who are trying to exercise their right to vote. In his conclusion, he makes the case that the government has to defend every citizen’s rights and ensure that every person is given access to the promise of America by saying,  “Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.” With these words, Johnson emphasizes that more needs to be done and urges Congress to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation. His following words, “We shall overcome.” He creates a sense of recovering the cry of the civil rights movement. He aligns himself with the struggle for equality and inspires hope for a future where voting rights are universal. In terms of its impact, Johnson’s speech played a significant role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. It mobilized public support, pressured lawmakers to act, and ultimately led to the dismantling of discriminatory voting practices that had disenfranchised African Americans for generations.

Written by Beyza Tekin

The articles are licensed by the Berkeley Institute. You can use the articles by showing the source and giving the link.