Ceremonial Speech by L. B. Johnson
Published 27 Sep 2017
‘I speak tonight for the dignity of men and the destiny of democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every sections of this country, to join me in that cause.’ Ladies and gentlemen, these are words spoken by our president Lyndon B. Johnson in his quest to make America a nation free of discrimination by race and color of the skin. He went on ahead to say ‘there is no cause for self satisfaction in the denial of equal rights of millions of Americans, but there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy…for the cries of pain, the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government. Our mission is at once the oldest and most basic of this country: to right wrong, do justice to serve man. In our time, we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself.’ The issue he was referring to was that of equal rights for all Americans regardless of ethnicity, color or race.
Lyndon B Johnson was the then president of the United States of America having just being elected after the assassination of J. F. Kennedy. He had called on Americans to eliminate from the nation all and any traces of prejudice against other fellow Americans. In doing so, he adopted the slogan as used by black Americans civil rights activists at the time. In his speech, addressed to congress, he urged them to realize the fact that all men were created equally and that should apply to their rights in this case, the right to vote. He went ahead to appeal to them by saying that the right to vote was rooted in democracy with no excuse, delay, hesitation or compromise for denial of the right irrespective of color or race of an individual. He called on congress to overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice that plagued the nation. This he delivered in front of a joint session of congress
Lyndon B. Johnson was one of the greatest presidents of our country. As the 36th president, he was in office from November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969 and during his tenure, he signed the bill which has enabled black Americans to vote without discrimination. By the time he passed on, this great man had left behind a legacy that ensured he would live on in the hearts of all self respecting Americans. He served a long time in both houses of the congress. He was well versed in public speaking having taught public speaking, Johnson was obviously well prepared for the task ahead. After graduation, he was elected Congressman Richard M. Kleberg’s legislative secretary and thus began his political career and worked his way up congress. He was known to be a workaholic who demanded the same from his subordinates. When he became the majority leader of congress in 1954’s re-election, he was responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 thus considered by historians like Dallek as the most effective Senate majority leader in America’s history. He had a way of getting to people.
He appealed to their emotions in a way that only he could, He was notorious for discovering senators’ philosophies in life, their prejudices, strengths and weakness and inevitably winning them over to his perspective. He had been appointed by Kennedy as head of
the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities where he worked with most minority groups in the US with his speech at Gettysburg catalyzing the activists. In collaboration with the civil Rights movement, Johnson overcame the resistance and got through to congress and eventually passed the Civil rights Act of 1964 that outlawed all forms of prejudice based on race.
He appeals to a number of values; dignity, human rights, patriotism, democracy. Johnson’s speech had to be well formulated if he was going to achieve his goal. He was facing a tough crowd with an even tougher topic that is of racism which was an accepted behavior at the time. In this scenario he had to choose carefully his diction and thus exemplified the situation by generalizing it. He was out to fight for the rights of all the minority groups in the country. He appealed to their patriotism by saying, ‘There is no Negro problem, and there is no southern problem. There is no problem. There is only an American problem and we have met here tonight as Americans not as democrats or republicans, we are…here to solve this problem. He pressed on it further by adding that as a country they should look at the oppression of one particular group of people by another.
He appealed to their basic human nature by saying ‘This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions, it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests in his right to be treated as a man, equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, he shall provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being. These are things that every man wants to be able to do with no one hindering him/her from performing them. Johnson saw no reason for man to be denied his human rights based on the color of his skin, the most basic right of all being to choose leaders. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There being no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. He went on to appeal to them for the sake of democracy by adding that ‘the constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. He urged them to open their polling places to all people. Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin. They are all citizens of this country and this is what it means to have democracy.
In conclusion, Although the 15th amendment had clearly assured the right to vote for all citizens of the united states of America, African Americans were however not allowed to exercise that right and It was common place for a black American to be given a literacy test and pay poll taxes so as to be granted the right but even with that, only about 20% of black Americans were able to vote due to this sort of discrimination. In his speech, Johnson says this about the situation ‘To apply any other test-to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth-is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for freedom.’ He went on further to say, ‘All of us have to overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.’
In his speech, Johnson condemned the injustice that was meted out to people based on their color and appealed to the congress through his public speaking skills to reconsider the situation as it is and as how it should be.
- Caro, R. A. (1982). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. New York: Alfred a Knopf Inc
- Reedy, G. (1982). Lyndon B Johnson: A Memoir. Woods: Randall