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A key adviser for President Lyndon Baines Johnson, told the USA TODAY that their effort pushed through historic legislation that continues to impact society fifty years later.
Joseph Califano, who served as domestic policy adviser for the Johnson Administration, discussed several topics including current politics in a wide-ranging interview.
He said the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made an enormous difference in history.
“Remember, before the ’64 Civil Rights Act, hotels were segregated. Restaurants, all public places were segregated, all over the South and there was a lot of segregation in the North.
“It was Step One followed by the Voting Rights Act, which opened voting to African Americans, and followed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968, which opened housing to everybody, and the bail reform, the Fair Jury reform. A whole host of pieces of legislation changed the whole landscape for African Americans in this country,” he said.
Califano said that these historic civil rights bills paved the way for an Obama presidency on many levels, from civil rights to education bills the Obama’s used to food stamps that helped his mother.
“I think the Great Society touched him from the time Barack Obama was a child until today,” he said.
Califano said the crass, southern president from Texas actually had a very “tight” relationship with the iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. He described conversations between the two men strategizing about how to draw attention to the need for the Voting Act bill prior to the Congressional vote.
Johnson, he said, told King to find places in the south where the voting rules were especially restrictive and draw attention to it, Califano said. King picked Selma, which led to a signature civil rights battleground that turned the nation’s attention to the plight of blacks in the South.
Califano said passing legislation during that time was difficult, just as it is today.
“These were all tough hauls. Some passed by very close votes,” he said.
Andrew Scot Bolsinger won more than two dozen press awards during his journalism career. He is a freelance writer, author and operates www.criminalu.co, which is focused on prison reform. He can reached at Andrew.Bolsinger@gmail.com
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