Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes


Peer inside the White House as Presidents Kennedy and Johnson grapple with racial injustice in America.
This remarkable book is composed of actual transcripts—most never before published—from the secret recordings that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson made of White House meetings and telephone conversations between the violent crisis in 1962, when James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi, and the groundbreaking passage of the Civil Rights Act ...

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Peer inside the White House as Presidents Kennedy and Johnson grapple with racial injustice in America.
This remarkable book is composed of actual transcripts—most never before published—from the secret recordings that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson made of White House meetings and telephone conversations between the violent crisis in 1962, when James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi, and the groundbreaking passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Setting these transcripts within an historical narrative, Jonathan Rosenberg and Zachary Karabell present the story of America's struggle for racial equality during two tumultuous years.Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice brings the reader into the room as Kennedy argues with Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and the white business leaders of Birmingham, Alabama, and as Johnson makes late-night phone calls to Martin Luther King Jr., NAACP head Roy Wilkins, and Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham. As fly-on-the-wall history, this book gives us an unprecedented grasp of the way the White House affected civil rights history and consequently transformed America. Part of the Presidential Recordings Project, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, General Editors: Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The editors, Jonathan Rosenberg, author of the forthcoming 'How Far the Promised Land?,' and Zachary Karabell, author of A Visionary Nation, among other books, provide an excellent narrative to keep the background in focus. Their brief essays on events of the time could serve as ready-made term papers for students clever enough to mine the index. — Roy Reed
Publishers Weekly
Although Richard Nixon is surely the most notorious president to install a secret taping system in the Oval Office, he was hardly the first: such tapings began with Franklin Roosevelt. The University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs has begun transcribing these recordings, allowing scholars like Rosenberg (author of the forthcoming "How Far the Promised Land?") and Karabell (The Last Campaign) to use the tapes to illuminate pivotal moments in American history. Here they examine a two-year period in the civil rights movement, from the 1962 violence surrounding James Meredith's attempt to enroll at the University of Mississippi through LBJ's success at pushing through the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The authors have neatly organized the transcripts into discrete historical moments (bombing in Birmingham, the March on Washington and so on), and they provide commentary and historical context throughout, which is necessary since many of the conversations are difficult to follow, either because too many people are talking at once or because the transcriber could not decipher certain words or phrases. While there are conversations with Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, black leaders such as Roy Wilkins and many others, there are no revelations, and the tapes are limited in that they offer only the "top-down" perspective on any issue, a point the authors are careful to make in their last chapter. The presidential recordings project is a worthy enterprise, but these texts will likely be of interest primarily to scholars and students of American government and civil rights already familiar with the main events. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The story of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s has been well told, but never with the insider intimacy afforded by this fascinating and important book. As participants in the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs "Presidential Recordings Project," this volume's historian editors have collected previously unreleased materials taped in the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses relating to the events surrounding first the stormy 1962 integration battle to allow James Meredith to enroll in the University of Mississippi and then LBJ's efforts to win passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The editors do a fine job of setting up each struggle with historical narrative, giving the reader context for the tape-recorded meetings and phone conversations that follow. The reader gets a "fly-on-the-wall" view of the efforts by Kennedy and Johnson to advance the cause of civil rights against stiff and passionate opposition. Concluding that these tapes reveal "a convergence between what was right and what was possible," the editors give credit to Kennedy and Johnson for what they did but remind us that they came late-but were vitally important-to the cause of civil rights. This is a valuable and fascinating look at the civil rights struggle from inside the White House, and inside the minds and political vantage points of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Suitable for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/02.]-Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of primary, hitherto unknown documents in the history of the civil-rights movement. Drawing on archival materials available only 40 years after the fact, and centering on a trove of audiotapes now housed at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, historians Rosenberg and Karabell (Parting the Desert, p. 443, etc.) offer a fly-on-the-wall view of the often tense, often combative stance of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in pressing for equality across the land. One question to ask of those documents early on, the editors suggest, is this: "Why did Kennedy and Johnson come to believe that civil rights reform was the single most important domestic issue facing the nation and decide it was worth fighting for?" Both presidents, after all, had much to lose in potentially alienating the South. Yet, as is clear from the transcripts of meetings and telephone conversations presented here, both Kennedy and Johnson took to the cause, often playing hardball to get their point across, as when Kennedy clashed with Mississippi governor Ross Barnett over James Meredith’s effort to enroll in the state university in 1962. (Kennedy: "I’d like to get assurances from you that the state police will take positive action to maintain law and order." Barnett: "Oh, they’ll do that." Kennedy: "Then we’ll know what we have to do.") Kennedy may not have always known the players--at one point he wonders who Dick Gregory is, asking, "Is he highly regarded by the Negroes"?--but his heart was clearly in the right place, as was Johnson, who emerges from these pages, as from Robert Caro’s recent Master of the Senate, as a consummate politician not afraid of breaking a few boneswhile engaging in a little friendly arm-twisting. The result, of course, was the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act of 1964. A notable effort, essential for the study of the civil-rights movement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393349719
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rosenberg is the author of "How Far the Promised Land?": World Affairs and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement from World War I to Vietnam.

Zachary Karabell is the author of several books, including The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election.

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Table of Contents

The Presidential Recordings Project
Introduction 3
Ch. 1 The Twentieth-Century Struggle 9
Ch. 2 Ole Miss 27
Ch. 3 Protest in Birmingham 85
Ch. 4 The Bill and the March 114
Ch. 5 Bombs in Birmingham 141
Ch. 6 The Bill Moves Forward 174
Ch. 7 Johnson Takes Over 194
Ch. 8 Through the House 224
Ch. 9 Into the Senate 253
Ch. 10 The Final Fight 282
Conclusion 331
Bibliographic Essay 339
Key Players 345
Summary of Civil Rights Act of 1964 349
Acknowledgments 355
Index 357
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