And we shall overcome

I went to A Play! last night, and Tuesday night. It’s a two-part play about the presidency of LBJ, All the Way With LBJ and The Great Society. It was pretty damn good. He was an interesting guy but his interestingness was overshadowed by at one end the (much exaggerated) “charisma” of the Kennedys and at the other end the misbegotten war in Vietnam.

Accidental president. Brilliant politician. Flawed man. It’s 1963 and an assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon Baines Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, the charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into Civil Rights legislation, throwing the country into turmoil. But in faraway Vietnam, a troublesome conflict looms. The Huffington Post calls Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s dramatization of LBJ’s first year in office “a vivid profile of one of the most complicated men to occupy the presidency.”

Here’s the last 5 minutes of Johnson’s March 1965 address to Congress urging passage of the Voting Rights Bill, also known as the We shall overcome speech.


  1. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    I would love to see it. Johnson interests me.

    I distinctly remember my (Democrat) mother telling me a joke that captures the Times pretty succinctly (I would have been maybe 8 years old):

    “What’s the difference between LSD and LBJ? One’s a drug and the other’s a dope.”

    Time to learn more about the man and his actions.

  2. says

    He actually wasn’t a dope. I’m ashamed to say I thought he was at the time, because he came across as a hick. What a fucking stupid connection to make…I was very young and a complete dope. I was fooled by the Halo Effect.

  3. Decker says

    I was fooled by the Halo Effect.

    So was I. I’ve revised my opinion of the Kennedys. They’re no longer way up high on that pedestal.

    An anecdote about LBJs relations with Canada ( you’re all just itching to know…). When Prime Minister Lester B.Pearson, a man of short stature, went to visit him at his ranch in Texas, LBJ grabbed him by the shirt collar and picked him right off the ground. Despite the humiliation the two actually got on quite well.

  4. luzclara says

    Thank you for posting this! I remember him as a big huge loud talking kind of guy, but his voice in that segment is so soft and so serious. Part of his political power I am sure but still, it sounds like he actually means what he says. And it is not hard to detect the opposite in many politicians. Thanks again for linking to it.
    I didn’t take him for a hick at the time, I took him for a warmonger and killer. But I’m planning to read up on the Vietnam quagmire. Last night I read that US involvement in S. Vietnam started in the Eisenhower administration, back to the frontier of my memory of the world.
    Those plays are good and instructive. And they are Shakespearean b/c the events and personalities are Shakespearean, although a bit easier for me to grasp than real Shakespeare King plays. It is a long sad tragedy. And over the last few days I have been wondering what if? What if LBJ hadn’t got sucked into the fog of war? What if MLK had not been killed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *