Page 23


his tongue, and he claimed, “I never had a drop of bigotry in me.” But his own diaries, as well as conversations he didn’t know were being taped, show that he considered blacks and Mexicans to be dumb, lazy, pushy, and prone to drunkenness and violence. Of course it’s true that actions speak louder than words and perhaps one shouldn’t attach too much importance to the racist expressions that Southerners used two generations ago, but they do have some significance. Johnson’s backers, who told Caro that Johnson talked about “niggers” the same way they did when they were together, felt no need to hide their own feelings. When Caro interviewed Ed Clark, he was immediately subjected to a joke about a black man climbing a tree in Africa and being shat on by a monkey. As for Wirtz, his “racism was so virulent that he could not restrain himself even at a Georgetown dinner party at which Virginia Durr began advocating giving Negroes the vote. Wirtz responded, ‘Look, I like mules, but you don’t bring mules into the parlor.”‘ Johnson said Wirtz “was like a daddy to me,” which didn’t mean much because Johnson claimed the same imaginary relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, Sam Rayburn, Ed Clark, Richard Russell, and others, as he rode their coattails. Wirtz’s assistance began when he helped Johnson, only 29, get appointed director of the Texas branch of the National Youth Administration, established in the Great Depression to hire young people for various tasks. His boss at NYA’s Washington headquarters told Johnson that because Texas had such a large black populationabout 850,000there should be at least one black member of the State Advisory Board. Either because of personal bias or out of deference to Wirtz, whom Johnson had already made chairman of the board, he refused to add a black. Ten other southern states, even Mississippi and Alabama, did have blacks on their advisory boards, but not Texas. Giving assistance to students in high school and college was the NYA’s major program. During Johnson’s 19-month tenure as Texas’ director, black youths comprised 27.8 percent of the state’s total youth population, but they received only 9.8 percent of the school aidthe worst record in the country. Mexican Americans got the same kind of treatment. Although they comprised almost 12 percent of the state’s population, “there was not a single individual with a Spanish surname on a list of the top 37 Texas NYA staff.” p resident Truman was the first president to seek full entry of the federal government into the civil rights fields with a comprehensive program. Fifteen years before Johnson reached the White House, Truman presented Congress with a package of legislation that would have made lynching a federal crime, would have outlawed the poll tax and discrimination in interstate transportation, and would have barred discrimination in the armed services, in federal Civil Service jobs, and in work done under government contract. The Southern Mafia in the Senate, using the filibuster, killed all those bills. But Truman outfoxed the bastards to some extent, by using executive orders to desegregate the military and Civil Service and federal contract employment. Truman also ordered the Federal Housing Administration to deny financial assistance to any new housing project that had racial or religious restrictions.That was 1948, the year Truman won re-election to the White House, although his civil rights program prompted a huge hunk of the normally Democratic South to desert him. Lyndon Johnson was also running that year. It was his first bid for a U.S. Senate seat. And Truman’s program was a key part of his campaign, too, but in quite a different way. During his 11 years in the House of Representatives, he had always votedyes, 100 percent of the timeagainst civil rights legislation. Now, on May 22, 1948, in Austin’s Woolridge Park, he opened his campaign by telling the rally that Truman’s “Fair Deal” program \(more housing, higher “a farce and a sham.” He also asserted his opposition to “an effort to set up a police state in the name of liberty,” by which he meant, “I have voted AGAINST the so-called poll tax repeal bill; the poll tax should be repealed by those states which enacted them. I have voted AGAINST the so-called anti-lynching bill; the state can, and DOES, enforce the law against murder. I have voted AGAINST the FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Commission]; if a man can tell you whom you hire, he can tell you whom you can’t hire.” We know that those capitalized words were written into Johnson’s speech for emphasis because Caro, that fiendish researcher who apparently has turned over every sheet of paper in the Lyndon Johnson Library, uncovered the original manuscript, and found, well, let him tell it: After he became president, Johnson wanted his image to be that of a man who had ‘never had any bigotry,’ who had been a longtime supporter of civil rights. The memory of the Woolridge Park speech would blur that image, so he did his best to make sure it wouldn’t be remembered. Stapled to the text of the speech in the White House file was the following admonition. DO NOT RELEASE THIS SPEECHNOT EVEN TO STAFF, WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION OF BILL MOYERS. As background, both Walter Jenkins and George Reedy have instructed this is not EVER TO BE RELEASED. Wirtz again contributed to Johnson’s advance in 1949, almost as soon as he moved into the U.S. Senate. I say “advance” only because it solidified the confidence, and more importantly the financial support, that the oil and gas men of Houston would invest in Johnson from then on. Otherwise, what happened in 1949 was ethically the low point in Johnson’s career. After it was over, even Tommy Corcoran, one of Washington’s most notorious political fixers, was moved to tell Johnson to his face, 812102 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5