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Lyndon Johnson and 1960s Political Culture

August 25, 1964 — 4:32 P.M.

Carl Sanders[1]

President Johnson: This is a pure Johnson move to try—try—not to call the roll in that convention. I don’t see how it could hurt a human being. Mississippi’s got every vote they’ve got. They didn’t allow anybody to go in the primary. They wouldn’t allow the Negroes to come into the convention. Nevertheless, we’re going ahead and seating them. We’re giving them every vote they’ve got. And all we’re doing is saying that the protest group—protest of education, protest of housing—which you’ve already recognized in Georgia, and appointed four on it, which we’ve already recognized, and put some on it.

But they have not put anybody on it. And we’re just saying on a national basis we’re going to recognize two of them when we’re not going to vote. It’s a pure symbolic thing—

Sanders: Well, why don’t you make them recognize two people outside of the damn Mississippi Freedom Party?

President Johnson: Well, if I could do that, and get my job done, it would be fine. If I were dictator, I wouldn’t even be discussing it. But I can’t! And I can’t even get them to do it this way. But I can get the bosses to go with me this way, and Imay be able to get 1,100 to 900, something like that, assuming I could hold the South. If I can’t, why, it’s all off again, and we just have to go start something else.


President Johnson: But what they ought to be, now, honestly, between you and me, with their population 50 percent [of the state], they ought to be delegates to the Mississippi group.

Sanders: Not unless they’re Democrats, Mr. President.

President Johnson: [forcefully] They’re Democrats! And by God, they tried to attend the convention, and pistols kept them out! These people went in and begged to go and participate in the conventions. They’ve got half the population. They won’t let them. They lock them out!

Sanders: They aren’t registered. They’ve got half the population—

President Johnson: Well, some of them are registered.

Sanders: Some of them.

President Johnson: Well—that’s enough to get two delegates on here. I mean, you recognized them. John Connally recognizes them.

Sanders: Suppose this would have happened—

President Johnson: [passionately] I think you’ve got a good, legitimate case to say that the state of Mississippi wouldn’t let a Negro come into their damn convention, and therefore they violated the law and wouldn’t let them vote. Wouldn’t let them register. Intimidated them. And, by God, they oughtn’t to be seated. I think there’s a legitimate case to be made there, but I don’t want to make it.

But I don’t see how they can raise hell—have their cake and eat it too—and just say, “By God, I’m going to be a dog in the manger. I’m going to have all I got, every vote that the state of Mississippi’s got, and then, by God, I’m going to bark if somebody across the hall get a couple.”


President Johnson: What’s happening is we’re doing four or five things. Number one: we’re coming in there and seating the state of Mississippi. Every damn one of them. Now, they oughtn’t to be, Carl. They oughtn’t . . .

Sanders: I don’t—

President Johnson: You and I just can’t survive our political modern life with these goddamned fellows down there that are eating them for breakfast every morning. They’ve got to quit that. And they’ve got to let them vote. And they’ve got to let them shave. And they’ve got to let them eat, and things like that. And they don’t do it.

However much we love Jim Eastland and John Stennis, they get a governor like Ross Barnett, and he’s messing around there with [George] Wallace, and they won’t let one [black] man go in a precinct convention. We’ve got to put a stop to that, because that’s just like the old days, by God, when they wouldn’t let them go in and cast a vote of any kind.

You’ve put a stop to it in your state. But we’re going to ignore that. We’re going to say, “Hell, yes, you did it. You’re wrong. You violated the ’57 law, and you violated the ’60 law, and you violated the ’64 law, but we’re going to seat you—every damn one of you. [dripping with sarcasm] You lily white babies, we’re going to salute you.”


President Johnson: You and John—you get with John and you-all suggest that. Both of you are young and modern and effective, and I’m a poor old man here that’s got a government falling on me.

In Vietnam today, I just walked out of the [National] Security Council. I’ve got McNamara coming in here at 6:00 tonight. I’m bringing General [Maxwell] Taylor back. I’ve got Cyprus in a hell of a war.

I can’t go up there and tell those damn fellows, and argue with Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King and the fellow from Alabama—Bull Connor.[2] They ought to try to make it as easy on me as they can, because they’ve all been in these things in their own state conventions. They’ve got problems, and they’re going to have them.

Now, this doesn’t hurt anybody. I’m for everybody taking the oath. Nobody claims they won’t do it except Mississippi and Alabama.

Sanders: That’s right, and now they say they’ll do it. They just don’t want to be singled out in writing.

President Johnson: Just tell them that every national committeeman has taken it, from every state, speaking for his state.

Sanders: Well, I agree with you. I—

President Johnson: Every one of them have already done it. But I don’t object. I’d come up there myself, walk out naked and take it, if it would ease Bull Connor’s pressure any.

You and John get together and try to talk to this group, and . . .

[1] Tape WH6408.37, Citation #5183, Recordings of Telephone Conversations—White House Series, Recordings and Transcripts of Conversations and Meetings, Lyndon B. Johnson Library.

[2] Adam Clayton Powell, an African-American congressman from Harlem, chaired the House Education and Labor Committee; Bull Connor, famous nationally for his role as Birmingham Police Chief in turning dogs and hoses on unarmed civil rights demonstrators, chaired the Alabama delegation to the convention.

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