As Bruce Bartlett explains in “Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past” (available from the OpinionJournal bookstore):
In his January 10, 1957, State of the Union Address, Eisenhower renewed his request for civil rights legislation, which had passed the House but died in the Senate in the previous Congress due to Southern Democratic delaying tactics. . . .
After dragging his feet on the civil rights bill throughout much of 1957, Johnson finally came to the conclusion that the tide had turned in favor of civil rights and he needed to be on the right side of the issue if he hoped to become president. . . .
At the same time, the Senate’s master tactician and principal opponent of the civil rights bill, Democrat Richard B. Russell of Georgia, saw the same handwriting on the wall but came to a different conclusion. He realized that the support was no longer there for an old-fashioned Democrat filibuster. . . . So Russell adopted a different strategy this time of trying to amend the civil rights bill so as to minimize its impact. Behind the scenes, Johnson went along with Russell’s strategy of not killing the civil rights bill, but trying to neuter it as much as possible. . . .
Eisenhower was disappointed at not being able to produce a better piece of legislation. “I wanted a much stronger civil rights bill in ’57 than I could get,” he later lamented. “But the Democrats . . . wouldn’t let me have it.”
Liberals criticized Eisenhower for getting such a modest bill at the end of the day. But Johnson argued that it was historically important because it was the first civil rights bill to pass Congress since 1875. “Once you break virginity,” he said, “it’ll be easier next time.”
To put it mildly, LBJ was not a consistent advocate of racial equality. Bartlett (both in his book and in this article) quotes LBJ’s explanation of why he backed the Civil Rights Act of 1957:
“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”
Original Story by James Taranto