Skip to main content

Lessons from my father, LBJ

By Luci Baines Johnson
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Lyndon B. Johnson poses for a family portrait with his wife Lady Bird and daughters on August 25, 1948. He holds Luci Baines on his lap and his wife holds Lynda Bird, who was 4 years old. Lyndon B. Johnson poses for a family portrait with his wife Lady Bird and daughters on August 25, 1948. He holds Luci Baines on his lap and his wife holds Lynda Bird, who was 4 years old.
HIDE CAPTION
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
Luci Baines Johnson and LBJ
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Civil Rights Summit April 8-10 at LBJ Library honors 50th anniversary of civil rights laws
  • Luci Baines Johnson's father, LBJ, signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act on her 17th birthday
  • She stood behind him as he signed the Voting Rights Act; he taught her justice of the law
  • Her dad wanted U.S. to be "blind to color," where education, opportunity is unaware of color

Editor's note: Luci Baines Johnson is chairman of the board and manager of LBJ Asset Management Partners, a family office. She is on the board of directors of the LBJ Foundation and has served on multiple civic boards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome someday: This is the refrain that guided the hearts and hands and voices of the '60s generation. At the LBJ Library, April 8-10, the Civil Rights Summit will begin -- the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the great 1960s civil rights laws.

It was legislation that changed America forever and for the better.

There were four great laws, each building upon the other. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill, also known as the Public Accommodations Act, ensured that people of color could use the same water fountains, toilets, public transport and seats in restaurants and hotels as white people.

Luci Baines Johnson
Luci Baines Johnson

The 1965 Voting Rights Act ensured people of color the right to vote. The 1968 Fair Housing Act made it possible for people of color and all religions to be able to buy a house where they could afford to. The 1968 Immigration Act eliminated racial and ethnic quotas.

These laws opened the doors of liberty and justice for all as never before. No matter how imperfect they were, they made ours a more just society. For me it was all so very personal.

My father, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act on my 17th birthday. The only handwritten note I have from my father was his birthday letter written at 12:10 p.m. that day. Daddy didn't have time to go to the pharmacy to buy a Hallmark card. At 6 p.m., he was signing a bill into law that would liberate my generation from the shackles of legalized apartheid. It was the best birthday present anyone could ever receive.

Many doubt 1964 Civil Rights Act could pass today

When I questioned why he gave the first pen used to sign the bill to the Republican leader Sen. Everett Dirksen instead of one of the great civil rights leaders, he shook his head in disappointment that I hadn't gotten the obvious lesson.

He told me, "Luci Baines, I didn't have to convince one of the great civil rights leaders to be for that legislation. They were already for it. But because of Everett Dirksen's decision to support this law and bring his supporters with him, the great civil rights leaders and I have a law, not just a bill. That's why Senator Dirksen got the pen. He deserved it."

When I questioned why we had gone to the Capitol Rotunda for the signing, Daddy shook his head in disappointment again. "Luci Baines, we have to go to the Rotunda of the Capitol.

Caro on civil rights act
March on Washington remembered

"There will be many brave men and women not returning to these hallowed halls because of their courageous stand for voting rights. And there are many brave men and women who will be able to serve here only because of the courage of this Congress. That's why we must go to the Rotunda to let the world know how grateful we are to this Congress."

I was on "Daddy duty" on August 6, 1965, and stood behind him in the Rotunda as he signed the Voting Rights Act into law. That day he taught me not only about the justice of the act; he taught me the importance of his favorite biblical passage, "Come, let us reason together."

These lessons of social justice have changed our country forever, for the better, although their work is far from done. The lessons of coming and reasoning together remain a cry we need to answer now more than ever.

It was all so very personal.

I grew up in Washington in an area fondly known as "Hanukkah Heights." We lived in "Hanukkah Heights" because there were no restrictive covenants as there were in other areas that discriminated against buyers based on their color or religion. My first employer and forever friend was one of the first Jews able to buy a home in what had been a restricted neighborhood. The Fair Housing Act was not just a bill for justice to me. It was all so very personal.

There are 25 members in my immediate family. We are of mixed race, mixed ethnicities, many nationalities. We are Catholics, Protestants, Jews and others. We are a family of immigrants with all the diversity that Lyndon Johnson celebrated.

At the head of the stairs in the LBJ Library is one of my favorite quotes of my father. "Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact."

Much was accomplished when our nation "came and reasoned together." But there are still laws that make it harder for the poor to have access to the voting booth. And there are laws that still exist that bar equality based on whom you love. There remains much to be done.

Generations of Johnsons are so grateful that four presidents are coming to the LBJ Library to celebrate this Civil Rights 50th anniversary with a new generation committed to social justice.

It is our hope that by coming and reasoning together once more, we can renew our commitment to making ours a country "blind to color, where education is unaware of race and opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins."

Only then will our proclamation for emancipation become a fact. Only then will we overcome the bondage of social injustice that hurts us all. But with a new renewal to the needs of social justice, I do believe, deep in my heart that we shall overcome someday!

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT