Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America
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Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Kotz charts the fragile relationship between unlikely allies that produced the most significant civil rights legislation in American history, then fractured over the killing fields of Vietnam.

The author begins his tracing of the tortuous, occasionally widely divergent routes taken through history’s wilderness by Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. with the gunfire in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Johnson became president, and King, who had delivered his “I Have a Dream” only months earlier, was not sanguine about this Texan with a spotty racial record. But LBJ, Kotz shows, had already urged JFK to couch civil rights issues in moral rather than purely political terms and was about to undergo a transformation that surprised social progressives even as it enraged the intransigent South. He decided he would push through Congress the most ambitious social agenda since the New Deal. Before he left office in 1969, Johnson—buttressed by King’s brilliant work in the streets, churches, jailhouses and, eventually, the consciences of America—had directed the passage of several civil rights acts, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, open housing legislation, and education and health care initiatives that gave hope to millions. Kotz (Wild Blue Yonder: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber, 1988, etc.) does a brilliant job telling the stories of these two very different, very charismatic characters and analyzing the forces that drew them together, then drove them apart. Among the latter: the vile and illegal efforts of J. Edgar Hoover (whom the author compares with Iago) to subvert the movement, which Hoover was convinced was communist-inspired. The FBI bugged King’s telephones and hotel rooms and attempted to use his private words and actions to discredit him. Too soon, the roads of King and LBJ diverged in the red wood of war.

A piquant reminder that great social progress occurs when the powerful collaborate rather than joust. (8 pp. b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2005
ISBN: 0-618-08825-3
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2004


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