1965 June 4

President Johnson Outlines New Civil Rights Challenges


In an important but largely forgotten speech at Howard University, “To Fulfill These Rights,” President Lyndon Johnson described the new challenges facing the nation following passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (July 2, 1964). It was not sufficient, he argued, to grant people freedom and expect them to succeed without taking the steps necessary to ensure equality as a result.

The speech led to his promulgation of affirmative action in employment as U.S. policy on September 24, 1965. It also set the stage for a decades-long controversy over affirmative action and other race-based remedies for discrimination. See, for example, the landmark Supreme Court case of Regents v. Bakke, decided on June 28, 1978, in which the Court upheld the use of race in college admissions but found rigid quotas to be unconstitutional.

Over three decades of litigation followed Bakke on the contentious issue of affirmative action. The Roberts Supreme Court (2005-present) has been hostile to the idea of racial preferences, in both employment and education, and has limited affirmative action as a result. See, for example, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action on April 22, 2014, which upheld a state of Michigan constitutional ban on affirmative action.

President Johnson: “But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”

Read the speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=27021

Learn more about President Johnson, civil rights, and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Watch the speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIcCn3kroU8

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