It was today that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed in Memphis in 1968. The world lost a special person on that day. Dr. King became the conscience of our nation and he was the single most driving force behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, both of which are now under attack by those on right.

It was Dr. King more than any other person who gave Lyndon Johnson, a Deep South White Southerner the push he needed to take the bull by the horns and start his patented arm twisting to get both of those bills enacted into law. It was certainly a different day and age since passage of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act required Republican support. It is arguable that no other man or president would have been able to pull off that double feat short of LBJ. Whose long tenure in the House of Representatives and in the Senate as the Senate Majority Leader gave him the ability, knowledge and yes (pardon my French) the balls to step up and get the job done.

LBJ and Dr. King were not friends but they understood that the time had come for a comprehensive Civil Rights Act and that something needed to be done to make it easier (not harder) for all of our citizens to be able to vote. In the south many of the states still had poll tax laws on the books and the Voting Rights Act was sorely needed to do away with such onerous laws that were only meant to keep minorities and the poorest among us from voting.

It is to LBJ’s everlasting credit that despite misgivings he did the right thing and pushed both bills through a congress that was divided more along north south than party lines in those days. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act needed Republican support because a lot of southern Democrats were poised to filibuster both bills and even though the Democrats had a solid majority in both houses of congress due to the fact that a lot of southern Democrats were not in favor of the passage of either bill, their passages were far from assured.

Into the breach stepped one Everitt Dirksen erstwhile Republican Senate Minority Leader from Illinois. Dirksen at first was opposed to both bills but it was his friendship with LBJ and a little judicious arm twisting on LBJ’s part that turned the tide and Dirksen stepped into the breach and his impassioned speech in favor of the bills on the Senate floor saved the day and gave LBJ enough votes to ensure passage.

No chance of any Republican ever showing that kind of courage or fortitude theses days.

With the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act the first part of Dr. King’s dream for America (and that included all Americans by the way) at been brought to fruition by an improbable team of essentially three men who were as diverse in nature as could possibly be and who probably should have been diamentrically opposed as three men could have possibly been.

They gave us a lasting legacy of what we as Americans could accomplish by working together. Congress could do well to remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that of Lyndon Bains Johnson and Everitt Dirksen. Three men who came from totally different backgrounds who stood together to make this nation as good as it could be during a time of great upheaval and great change amid the horrors of a war that should not have been.

It was Dr. King and Dr. King alone who should be given the credit for making that possible. Let us honor his legacy by remembering what he gave our nation and its people. He by his actions made things better for all Americans and what he was able to accomplish in the short span of his life is nothing short of a miracle.

Rembering The Legacy
Armed with just his Bible,
And a knowledge of what was right,
He stepped into the breach as needed,
And he never shirked from the fight.

He stood up for those less fortunate,
Whose rights had been abused,
He never once lost sight of his goal,
And he would not be refused.

From his dream for America,
A lot of things were made right,
He had a vision that he held true,
And he never went gentle into that good night.

Dr. King was a visionary,
Who fixed things that were wrong,
Let us all remember his legacy,
And continue to sing for him his song!

Bob Bearden