JFK & LBJ: A Time for Greatness on PBS

Category: Television

60-8-12Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “JFK & LBJ: A Time for Greatness” documents the passage of two very important and critical laws ever passed by the U.S. Congress. With the passage of time these laws have blurred into our collective memory, but the actual events involved in their creation are worth revisiting.


While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is credited to JFK, it was LBJ who took up the torch after Kennedy’s assassination and spearheaded the law through congress. Kennedy had sent the bill to Capitol Hill on June 19, 1963, however it was Johnson who knew how to artfully get the bill passed, due to his extensive background working on “the hill.”


LBJ was dedicated to Civil Rights long before the Kennedy administration took up the cause. As his daughter Luci says, “His commitment to the civil rights movement was bound to his compassion to those who were impoverished, …” Johnson’s relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. helped ensure the issue would stay at the forefront of the Johnson administration.


Johnson biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin explains about JFK and LBJ, “Together they formed an important moment in our history …” She added neither of them could have achieved this alone. It took Kennedy’s initial push to get the ball rolling and Johnson’s know-how to get the laws enacted.


LBJ used the presidency to subtly – or not quite so subtly – desegregate the oval office by hiring the first black secretary to the president (Geraldine Whittington) and then taking her to an all-white club in Texas where in that one night managed to change the club’s policy forever.


For people who aren’t fully versed in how the congress acts and reacts, filibusters are one tool used to run out the clock and wear down the members of the houses of congress. A filibuster was attempted to derail the Civil Rights Act, but it was LBJ who came out on top by standing firm and outlasting the filibuster, which, as viewers will learn, lasted nearly 534 hours. On June 19, 1964, one year to the day after JFK sent the bill to Capitol Hill, the Civil Rights Act was passed by a vote of 73-27.


This historic law did not end discrimination policies and the march from Selma to Montgomery showed the country and LBJ that more work was needed. The events at Selma are examined in this film. Those events led to the passage of the Johnson administration’s second historic bill, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The documentary examines the history of the country in the 1960s, the two important laws passed by congress, as well as JFK and LBJ. With interviews (Luci Johnson, Goodwin, presidential aides and others), footage from the past and reenactments from actual phone transcripts, this is an informative and important look at this turbulent time in American history.


While many people only remember LBJ as the president who waged the war in Vietnam, his legacy includes these two historic laws as well as other social issues that formed the country in the 1960s. For those who were not alive during this difficult time, the film is a good lesson about our history and the intentness of JFK and LBJ to move the country forward.


“JFK & LBJ: A Time for Greatness” premiers Tuesday, August 4, 2015 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS.



About the Author

Francine Brokaw has been covering all aspects of the entertainment business for 20 years. She also writes about technology and has been a travel writer for the past 12 years. She has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines as well as internet websites. She has written her own book, Beyond the Red Carpet The World of Entertainment Journalists, from Sourced Media Books.

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