Interview with Harry McPherson

In September 1966, you submitted a memo to President Johnson in reference to the 1965 Civil Rights Bill, and you wrote that White resentment was great and that the Negro community was becoming fragmented. Can you tell me about the memo and what you were writing the President about?


What happened in 1965 and 1966, um, so far as the White House and its understanding, is that, a movement toward justice that had resulted in a series of ever-stronger Civil Rights Acts had produced the desired result insofar as legal rights and political rights were concerned, Blacks would now vote; they would use public facilities that Whites used, they would, um, have the power of the federal government behind them insofar as money from the federal treasury going only to those who did not discriminate on grounds of race, ah, there were many things, many legal rights that were achieved by those statutes. What they did not do was to, ah, change the conditions of Negro life in the cities or in the rural areas quickly. And, you had in the White House at that time, a, ah, Texas liberal who was for many reasons, desirous of achieving, um, both, um, political and legal justice and social justice for Black Americans, partly politically--he wanted to be President of all the United States. He wanted to be President of North and South, Black and White, to be perceived as a, ah, leader of all the people and not just a Texas White leader. He had been put into the senate majority leadership earlier by a southern White group of politicians, he had grown into national stature as majority leader. President Kennedy had been assassinated in his state and suddenly, mistrusted by many, unknown to many, as a national figure, he was suddenly President and one of the avenues he chose to establish his national leadership was to bring Civil Rights to fruition. That was part of his political purpose as well as something that squared with his nature as a can-do, um, big-government man.