Making a Connection to LBJ and the Fight for Civil Rights in 1963-64

 By Tim Glynn-Burke


The expansion of presidential power threatens our democracy’s compact between the chief executive, Congress, the courts… and We the People. One salient example of this challenge is in navigating between civil liberties and national security, between secrecy and transparency. While President Lyndon Baines Johnson is often remembered for his role in escalating Vietnam and associated debates over civil liberties, his administration’s first year belonged to Civil Rights—the subject of Robert Schenkkan’s play All The Way.

Presented though October 12 at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), All The Way reminds audiences that while our protector-in-chief, the President also has the potential to be a true changemaker. “We have already waited a hundred years,” LBJ argued, “and the time for waiting is gone.”

The Ash Center is delighted to partner with the A.R.T. on the second major event in its Challenges to Democracy series. Read the description of All The Way from A.R.T.:

1963. An assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon B. Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, this charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into the Civil Rights Act, a tinderbox issue emblematic of a divided America. In the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright’s vivid dramatization of LBJ’s first year in office, means versus ends plays out on the precipice of modern America. This searing, enthralling exploration of the morality of power, premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012.

Or view the trailer:

Following the performance will be a discussion between Alex Keyssar and Ryan McKittrick, Director of Artistic Programs/Dramaturg at A.R.T., on the play, LBJ and Civil Rights. Keyssar is an esteemed Harvard Kennedy School professor and historian as well as a dynamic speaker whose 2000 book The Right to Vote, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, includes an in-depth exploration of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Bringing the Challenges to Democracy series to the A.R.T.’s audience is almost as thrilling as the opportunity to see Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in the role of Lyndon Baines Johnson! And in that same spirit of public dialogue, A.R.T. is inviting its community to participate in a unique dialogue of its own. My Story invites you to share personal stories and memories from the tumultuous time of LBJ’s first years in office, 1963 and 1964.

Below are a few examples:

 William ‘Smitty’ Smith
“Lyndon Johnson, had he not been president, this stuff would not have happened. He was the right guy at the right time, who knew all the buttons to push”


Steve Matthews
“In 63, 64, it was somewhat of an ugly situation. You almost had to tippy toe around in order to get by, in order to get around.”


Molly Lynn Watt
“The intruders rave, ‘Blood’s gonna flow tonight. Negro blood will roll down this mighty mountain.’”

The October 6 performance of All The Way has sold out, but you can view more “My Story” contributions and perhaps contribute your own here. Also feel free to share your memories and ideas in the comments section below.

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Filed under All The Way, Expansion of Presidential Power

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