“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” –President Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ was not only insightful regarding leadership, but courageous when it came to voting rights and civil rights, appointing the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice 55 years ago.
While it’s been 53 years since Lyndon Johnson left office, many of his words and legacy are relevant to policy debates today. As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider the nomination of the nation’s first Black woman to be considered for the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s amazing that it’s taken so long since the first Black man was nominated. In 1967 Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights lawyer and great-grandson of a slave. At the time LBJ called it, "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place."
At a critical time in our nation’s history Johnson stepped forward to champion racial equality and services to the poor, successfully proposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid as part of his “War on Poverty” and “Great Society” agenda. Here are a few more thoughts from President Johnson on leadership and civil rights:
“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.”
“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”
“A President's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.”
Another accomplishment by Johnson, and one that has been the subject of erosion and debate lately, was the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Johnson was a strong believer in the importance of voting and its connection to civil rights and the well-being of our democracy. Here are a few of his words in that regard:
“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”
“A man without a vote is man without protection.”
And back to leadership: surely many mayors and city managers alike can probably relate to this quote: “The Presidency is like being a jackass caught in a hailstorm. You've got to just stand there and take it.”