tv [untitled] May 30, 2012 10:30pm-11:00pm EDT
had hoped that he was going to be the president that had the understanding to understand this problem. the political skill to solve it. and the moral passion and urgency to see it through. and he said, i'm really convinced that he's got the first two. and we'll have to see about the last one. and hamilton -- alexander hamilton said the constitution wasn't adopted because of the argument of the federalists, it was adopted because of the harsh logic of events. and you could say that the kennedys started way down toward ground zero in terms of understanding, or commitment to priority to civil rights. by the time john was killed, and even far more, by the time robert kennedy was killed, they were way up there. and they were committed in ways that no president had really been on the firing line committed before.
but there was a thing in that administration that really -- in the beginning, they were dumb. i mean, just really almost ignorant. now, wait, wait. >> i think so, too. >> they thought -- they started talking to me, but they thought i was roy's kid. they didn't know roy didn't have any kids, and that i was roy's nephew. so they'd send messages to roy. and i have to say, johnson tried it, too. and they came to me, and they said, why are they doing this stuff in birmingham? and kids are out of school, and getting beat on heads -- cops
beating them. and so a major kennedy domestic issue and civil rights guy came to me very quietly at a party. i barely knew him. and he said, is there any way to talk to roy wilkins -- he said, your father, to get them to stop this in birmingham? he said to me, he said, it's a terrible thing. it's a terrible thing to put those kids in the street. and they should be in school. i said, you know something? these kids are learning self-involvement. they are learning that they can control their own world. they are changing the world.
and it's more than any lesson they will ever treat those kids in those crummy segregated schools that they prepare for them. i'm telling you, that was the way they were. [ applause ] >> so let me ask a question -- hold on one second. let me ask this question then. because i've got to get lyndon johnson's name in this conversation. okay. before we end, and we're at the end, and that is, is it fair or accurate then that lyndon johnson receives, i would say most of the credit for civil rights -- i don't want to say hero, but president associated, affiliated with civil rights, if president kennedy, however dumb he was at the beginning, came around at the end and teed up this legislation? is that accurate and fair? >> no. i want to say that kennedy -- if it was anything, he wasn't dumb. but on this issue, chris matthews' book, i recommend
you'll see that he stresses how irish he was. it was not southern legislators primarily that slowed them, or made them very cautious. it was their assessment of what the white backlash in the north and west -- >> we're going to see that. i want you to answer my question about lyndon johnson. >> lyndon johnson, when he signed the first civil rights johnson was wonderful. he deserves the most total respect for the achievement of piloting it through. kennedy was scared and south boston's reaction to segregation was not quite as violent as birmingham but it was shocking and they liked lincoln about emancipation proclamation. i think it's not fair to the
responsiveness of the kennedys. johnson was wonderful, but he coasted on the tragedy of kennedys with all of his skill, he deserves the most respectful achievement for piloting it through but it was all those events that happened before including the kennedy's commitment. >> roger if you would answer it and then i want kenneth to answer that. we are at the end, so i'll ask you to be brief and pithy. >> recap your question. >> is it fair and accurate, or accurate or both, that lyndon johnson pretty much gets the credit for being the civil rights president on legislation, or that was teed up by the kennedys, some would say? >> when lyndon johnson became president, it happened that my uncle was with me in washington.
and he said, this is going to be good. i said, are you kidding me? what do you mean it's going to be good? old southern guy, he talks all that southern talk. i said, that guy is not going to be -- roy said, you're wrong. you're just wrong. this man cares. i've worked with him through the civil rights bill that we got, the first one since the civil war, and his heart was in it, his spirit was in it. he cares, roger. he cares. you're wrong. my uncle rarely said you're wrong. because i says, beloved brother's only kid. he was really sweet to me, but he said, you're wrong. this man cares. he's got a heart. and he can be pretty mean to get what he wants. >> so it is fair that he should be called the civil rights president? >> i think it's very fair. i think he really cared. >> kenneth mack? >> i would say it's fair, but i
would say for slightly different reasons. johnson was a political pragmatist like kennedy. and i don't think that if johnson had gotten the nomination in 1960, that he would have moved with any more dispatch with kennedy. johnson took office at a different time. i would give johnson credit, though, for his legislative acumen. i mean, he had experience in the senate that kennedy did not. and of course, as most people know, it took a lot of work to get the '64 act through. you had to get it out of the house without it getting amended to death in ways that would cause it to not pass. and you had to get it through the senate, where no filibuster had ever been broken with the
closure of motion. you had to accomplish that. and johnson worked tirelessly behind the scenes to accomplish that. he met with richard russell immediately upon taking office and said, russell, i'm going to run over you. kennedy never said that. so i would give johnson credit, not for an additional commitment, because i don't know that his commitment was any greater than the kennedys, but i think for having the legislative acumen to get the thing passed. and it was really, really hard to get the thing passed. five months of debate to get it through. and nothing else was going to be considered while this thing was being considered. and johnson did it. >> i think -- >> roger, if i may. we're at the end. and i want charlayne hunter-gault's voice to be the last on this. i want you to answer the question from the audience. this person writes, i read your book many years ago and was moved by your story.
how did what happened to you shape your decision in years to come and shape your career? >> it's all in this book. [ laughter ] but on lyndon johnson, i will say -- no, it shaped me -- i couldn't be an activist as a journalist, but i could be a passionate reporter for the things that i was seeing, and at the time that i entered, black people were portrayed in ways that were unrecognizable to themselves. and throughout my career, i have tried to portray all people in ways that are recognizable to themselves. now, on lyndon johnson, very quickly, in my book, it's written for young readers. those of you in this audience, it's for you to understand everything that we've been talking about. because there isn't anything that we've talked about today that isn't in here. but it's in your -- in terms that you can understand. and there is lyndon johnson's speech, which is a wonderful piece of oratory when he passed the civil rights act.
and i would encourage you to go back and read it, because you'll get some sense of the heart that he put into it. because this wasn't a speech that was put together by a committee. he wrote it. and so i think to go to your point, he believed in this. but he was also, like all of these politicians, you've got to realize, politics is about reale politic. you can read that word, you can google it. you >> thank you all to my panel. >> we shall overcome. >> yes. >> kenneth mack, roger wilkins, harris wofford, and charlayne hunter-gault. thmplt week in prime time we're featuring programs from american history tv seen every weekend on c-span3. thursday night learn more about one of america's earliest settlements through the archaeology at jamestown. 8:00 p.m. eastern we'll tour the site with william kelsow, at
8:30, go inside the conservation lab where more than 1.5 million artifacts are studied to help reveal life inside the fort, american history in prime time, all week on c-span3. well i believe in every book i write, go there. that's the first law that i have, go to green bay to find out what it's like in the winter, when vince lombardi is coaching there, go live in hope, arkansas, and hot springs, find out what it was like for bill clinton. i'd never been to vietnam before. how could i write about it without going to the battlefield? i had to go. >> in his book "they marched into the sunlight" david mariness wrote about the war. watch online at the c-span video library. over the past four years he's been traveling and researching his newest book "barack obama
the story." he recounts his latest world journey and will take your calls live on book tv. the john f. kennedy presidential library conference on the presidency and sifl rights concluded with a look at the achievements of the past 60 years as well as contemporary civil rights issues. this hour-long discussion begins with recorded messages from former presidents jimmy carter and bill clinton. >> so before we begin the last panel, we have remarks from two presidents, president jimmy carter and president bill clinton. >> i'm pleased to know that so many of you have gathered in boston on presidents' day under the auspices of the presidential library system to examine a history of the presidency and
our nation's struggle to expand civil rights for all citizens. i regret i could not join you in person, as i have fond memories of officially dedicating the kennedy library when it opened in 1979 and returning to speak there last year. i understand that ray suarez, who moderated the forum with me last spring, is participating in this conference as well as two civil rights heroes, our fellow native georgian, charlayne hunter-gault and ernie green who served in my administration. i salute them and all the distinguished panelists and thank them for participating in this historic event. as i stated at the kennedy library and dedication ceremony, quote, as a southerner and georgian, i saw firsthand how the moral leadership of the kennedy administration helped to undo the wrongs that grew out of our nation's history, unquote. and i suggest the struggle to promote equal rights and opportunities for all is ongoing, and it must be shaped by the following principles. we're all americans. we're all children of the same god. racial violence and racial hatred can have no place among us.
and that the moral imperative of those who led the march for civil rights during our lifetimes still remains with us today. having grown up on a farm with only black playmates and neighbors, i recognized the blight of racial discrimination and made human rights the foundation of our foreign policy when i was president. since then in our work at the carter center, the broadest definition of human rights has been the umbrella under which all our projects have been conducted, including peace, freedom, democracy, and the provision of shelter, food, education, health care, self-respect and hope for a better future. unfortunately, since 9/11 we're seeing an abridgement of social and political freedoms in our country and multiple violations of universal declaration of human rights in our efforts to combat terrorism. once again, i applaud david
ferreira, the archivist of the united states, and those involved in putting together today's conference. i'm honored to have been asked to share these few words with you and encourage young people in the audience today to pick up the mantle of ernie green and charlayne hunter-gault and harris wofford roger wilkins and to serve as our nation's next generation of leaders in this ongoing struggle to build a more just and equitable nation and a more peaceful world. thank you. >> good afternoon. i'm sorry i can't be there with you today, but i'm glad to be able to welcome you to this terribly important conversation. though much has changed in our country since the passing of the civil rights act in 1964, our work on civil rights is far from finished. i saw this unfinished work firsthand first as a southern governor and then as president. through my administration's national initiative on race, i worked to bring our country closer together across
the racial divides to prepare for a 21st century in which we're all bound together. i'll never forget the horrific string of arson that destroyed historically black churches in the south and the work we did to put an end to them, to heal and move forward together. today there are new challenges to civil rights and social progress both within and beyond our borders. it's more important than ever that we have conversations like this, that we work to build a country of shared values, shared opportunities and shared responsibilities because we continue to believe that as important as our differences are, our common humanity matters more. so thanks again for being here. i hope you have a very productive conference. [ applause ] >> before we open this last panel, i want to thank four colleagues for all of their work and support of the conference.
first my colleague tom mcnaughton, the executive director of the kennedy library, nancy mccoy, director education, carol ferguson who provides all the technical support and amy mcdonald, our forum producer extraordinaire. i also wanted to -- [ applause ] -- recognize a young civil rights attorney, who ventured down into the south during the kennedy administration as part of the justice department working for john doerr. judge gordon martin is here with us. [ applause ] lastly, moderator's prerogative, we took charlayne's book away from her. [ laughter ] so based on the last comment from president clinton, he said there are new challenges in our
world today for civil rights and social progress, and that's really what this last panel is about. i wanted to begin with ray suarez. president carter just invoked god by saying we're all children of the same god. and when president kennedy introduced his legislation, he said we faced a moral crisis as a country and a people that was as old as the scriptures and as cleaver clear as the constitution. clearly martin luther king led the movement really steeped in religion. you've written a book of the holy vote, the politics of faith in america and write about the advent of the cultural wars and how religion has become a polarizing feature of the current national politics and less successful to helping us create the blessed community. is it no longer wise to invoke moral values and religion to promote civil rights? >> you have to understand if you invoke religion, it doesn't get you the same portion of the
audience that it once did. at a time in our past when almost everyone in the country was in some way either lightly affiliated or strongly affiliated with one of the abrahamic religions and almost everybody in the country was culturally educated in it, you pulled in almost everyone listening to you when you invoked a common religious heritage for this country. but the united states is so much more religiously diverse than it was earlier in our history. the largest single faith group or the largest -- the fastest growing faith group in the united states and one of the largest is no religious affiliation at all. it's roughly 16% to 18% of the population and growing faster than any religious group. we are no longer, as part of a common culture, educated and steeped in the language of
religion in the way that we once were, where if a president used a line from a psalm, we would all know what it was. if the president used a line from one of the first five books of the old testament, we in the if a president used a line from one of the first five books of the old testament, we in the audience and we all might know who it was. so when you invoke it in that way, you may divide as much as you unite, which makes it a very, very tricky gesture. also, we have kind of a running sore in this country when it comes to making one people out of this 311 million of us, and that is what we're going to do and how we're going to regard islam, the new kid on the block, the faith of millions of our fellow americans and yet regarded with unending suspicion, isolation, and, as we saw in the cases of mosque bombings and various kinds of vandalism the lack of building permits and pickets outside
various muslim places of worship around the country, we're not quite sure where to go next, and like with so many struggles in our history, where civil rights really involved opening -- making our arms wider, we don't know if we're yet ready to open them wide enough to include the millions of muslims who are now our fellow americans. so religion, how to regard religion, and the place that religion has in making us one people is all still contested to reign in 2012 and only gets more complicated with every year. >> charlayne, similarly you talked about the role of the media in the civil rights struggle in the '60s and how getting the media and getting those pictures. but also today the media seems to be a more complicated picture. is the media on the side of
promoting the cause of civil rights today? can it still be used as effectively as it was in the '60s? >> i think the media are as confused as ray talked about the american people over religion. you know, we were talking just before we started about the multiplicity of media forums today. you know, you've got the internet. you've got your cell phone. you've got things that i probably don't even know about. some of these young people could probably help me out here a little bit, but there's so many different ways of communicating that it's hard to get any centrality of ideas put across, other than maybe on "the newshour," right? my former home, i have to say that. the other thing that's very troubling to me, i live in south africa half of the year and here the other half. i have noticed in the past few
years a diminishing pool of african-american people in prominent positions on television. i don't know why it's happening, but there are very few who had the kind of positions they had post-1968 when the kerner commission, president johnson's commission, cited the media as part of the culpable -- cited cu culpability of the media in the riots because there were no black people or people who looked like the people who were rioting who could tell them, who have have told them about the simmering rage that was going on in those communities, and there's simmering rage going on in this country today based on some of the same inequities that we thought we had ended with the civil rights act and that kind of legislation. it's a ticking time bomb.
i mean, you've got the whole question that michelle alexander deals with in her book "the new jim crow." all of these black men in prison and often for -- i started to say a word that i can't say in this forum, for what kind of reasons, reasons that aren't legitimate. let's put it that way. you did s.o.s. earlier and you recovered very quickly. i couldn't think of a word that would quite accurately describe how i feel about that. but there is so much that is going on that is just beneath the surface, and nobody is really drilling down into it and reporting on it. so what worries me about this proliferation of media is that the proliferation of media exists, but it's not drilling down into some of the very real social problems that we have in a society, and i know this is going to be controversial, but i'm going to say it anyway. we are not in a post-racial
society. i'm sorry if there are those who think that we are, but if you look at the data on just about every indication of progress in this country, you'll find black people pretty much at the bottom. i heard the other day that black unemployment is going down a bit, but it's still twice as high as white. so there's -- where are the people who are looking into these things and doing very good analysis of what's going on? so i'm very disappointed in the media today with some notable exceptions. >> so, again, there's so many things to talk about on this panel. roger, one thing we didn't talk that much about your service in the johnson administration, but certainly one of the hallmarks of that administration was the passage of the voting rights act. that act also was really somewhat sacrosanct in our political culture for years, but now there seems to be even that as a divisive issue and an issue
of current political debate. are we seeing a backlash towards voting rights? >> i think that this fragmentation of the media gives a path and a mechanism or muscles to all kinds of nuts, people who -- who are angry. people who want to put the wrong people, whoever they may be, back in their place. and they get places that speak, which are ostensibly decent. i mean, i've heard stuff on some
of these news dispensers that aren't news dispensers at all. they're people that have nasty fruit to throw into good communities. and it doesn't get better. it gets worse. i mean, it proliferates. i mean, there's some people that just went off the air recently, but i don't think we've figured out how to have free speech and freedom of the press and also decency, civility and truth. >> right. >> it makes it very hard. [ applause ] >> allida, this is a difficult
question, but talk about women's rights, you know, for allida black. you know, the failure to pass the equal rights amendment. we're trying to kind of do civil rights then and now. what's the struggle for women's rights and contemporary? >> this is my school partner. >> well, any place that i can sit with roger. i'm not so concerned about passing the equal rights amendment as i am about promoting and risking life and limb to say that women's rights are human rights, human rights are women's rights, and civil rights are human rights and human rights are civil rights. and i think that that is the major issue of our time. i think the -- sort of the unintended consequence, if you will, to echo charlayne's point, i mean, look at affirmative action. who did affirmative action help?
it helped white women more than it helped people of color, and so i think that women have a huge row to hoe, and i think that in many ways, despite the progress that we've made, there's still major stereotypes. i mean, i'm thrilled that obama is my president, but i gave my heart and soul to hillary clinton, okay, and i have known her since 1970, and i went to 15 states, 14 states. i knocked on 15,000 doors, and i can tell you the animosity that was still there for a woman running for president, and i got that much more than i got racial epithets about obama. and so there's an undercurrent here that we still need to address which is why i am so enormously proud of both of them for figuring out a way to devote their incomparable energies to