It’s over. The President is just not going to do anything more. That’s it. He’s through with domestic problems, with the cities… He’s not going to do anything. And he’s the only man who can.
July 27, 1967. LBJ speaks to the nation a second time about the violence in Detroit:
"So, my fellow citizens, let us go about our work. Let us clear the streets of rubble and quench the fires that hatred set. Let us feed and care for those who have suffered at the rioters’ hands—but let there be no bonus or reward or salutes for those who have inflicted that suffering.
"Let us resolve that this violence is going to stop and there will be no bonus to flow from it. We can stop it. We must stop it. We will stop it."
Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh offers a slightly different interpretation of the issues around of sending federal troops to his city:
Cavanagh: “By the time really that the Army came in, which was a day or two later, it naturally was starting to burn down. These things all are the same. They’re like a fire. They slowly will extinguish themselves even if you leave them alone, which you can’t do obviously. I’m not derogating the Army’s role in it; they were very vital. It continued for many more nights. But it was mainly their presence, and their professionalism I think, that helped.”
Interviewer: “This matter of the delay in sending in the federal troops because of almost the semantic argument over whether or not you had an insurrection, was this a political maneuver in your feeling either on the part of Governor Romney or of the administration in Washington? Is this real and legal?”
Cavanagh: “I thought there was a genuine concern on the part of the federal officials, the President, the Attorney General, and others, a genuine legal concern about the commitment of federal troops for this kind of a domestic outbreak. On the other hand I’m not so naive as to assume that politics didn’t play a part. I don’t think though that politics was the paramount consideration. I think, as I believe I mentioned, that the President probably saw some slight political advantage in the whole situation and proceeded to use it. And I’m not saying that the Governor didn’t use what political advantages he might have, or that I would not have . After all, we are political people . That’s not to say though that politics was the paramount consideration and we were making decisions on the basis of what would be good politics.”
July 25, 1967. 2:30 AM. The first paratroopers arrive in Detroit. 43 people are already dead, 324 injured, 7,231 arrested. The riots will continue for several more days, and there will be troops on the ground through July 30th.
Detroit troop strength map, 7/23/67, Ex HU 2, WHCF, Box 26, LBJ Library.
July 24, 1967. 10:45 PM. LBJ speaks to the nation about the situation in Detroit:
"In the early morning today, Governor Romney communicated with Attorney General Ramsey Clark and told him of the extreme disorder in Detroit, Michigan. The Attorney General kept me advised throughout the morning.
"At 10:56 this morning, I received a wire from Governor Romney officially requesting that Federal troops be dispatched to Michigan. This wire had been sent at 10:46 a.m.
"At 11:02 a.m. this morning, I instructed the Secretary of Defense, Mr. McNamara, to initiate the movement of the troops which the Governor had requested."
July 24, 1967. LBJ receives word from Cyrus Vance, a trusted observer he sent to Detroit earlier in the day, that Governor Romney has declared a state of emergency and that the local and state forces are overwhelmed. He reports that 1200 people are currently detained in felony court.
Vance recommends that LBJ sign the Executive Order to federalize the Michigan National Guard. LBJ is still concerned about constitutional issues, and as the memo above indicates, he must not issue his Executive Order too quickly.
Memo, William J. Hopkins to the President, 7/24/67, Ex HU 2, WHCF, Box 26, LBJ Library.
July 24, 1967. 10:56 AM. LBJ receives this request for assistance from the Governor of Michigan, George Romney. But there’s a problem:
“He requested troops but failed to certify that the disturbances amounted to a state of insurrection…His request, in short, did not meet constitutional requirements. Later that morning Governor Romney said he was not yet prepared to state that there was a condition of insurrection or domestic violence, because he had been told that such a statement might result in the voiding of insurance policies within the state.”
However, LBJ can order troops from one military base to another, and and he uses this authority to send units from North Carolina and Kentucky to Michigan. He does this, and makes his telegram notification to Gov. Romney a public statement.
Telegram, Governor Romney to the President, 7/23/67, Ex HU 2, WHCF, Box 26, LBJ Library. Quote from Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives on the Presidency, 1963-1969, New York: 1971, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, p. 168.
July 12, 1967. Newark explodes in riots that will last 5 days. Three days later, in a telephone call with his ambassador to the UN, LBJ frets: "What’s happening in Newark, isn’t that hell?"
Ambassador Goldberg worries about the international reaction to the violence, which will leave 26 people dead. LBJ explains what he plans to do, and why. Listen to the whole conversation here, or just the part related to Newark, here.
Photo from the Newark Public Library. Lots of other great images from the Newark Star-Ledger.
July 29, 1967. During the first meeting of the Kerner Commission, President Johnson signs Executive Order 11365 “Establishing a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.”
Foreground L-R: Roy Wilkins, Governor Otto Kerner, and President Johnson. LBJ Presidential Library photo A4526-16; image is in the public domain.
July 27, 1967. President Johnson appoints the Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission, named after the Chairman Otto Kerner of Illinois). The task of the Kerner Commission is to investigate the recent eruptions of civil disorders in the nation and make recommendations on ways to prevent such violence in the future.
“So, my fellow citizens, let us go about our work. Let us clear the streets of rubble and quench the fires that hatred set. Let us feed and care for those who have suffered at the rioters’ hands—but let there be no bonus or reward or salutes for those who have inflicted that suffering.
Let us resolve that this violence is going to stop and there will be no bonus to flow from it. We can stop it. We must stop it. We will stop it.
And let us build something much more lasting: faith between man and man, faith between race and race. Faith in each other and faith in the promise of beautiful America.
Let us pray for the day when “mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Let us pray-and let us work for better jobs and better housing and better education that so many millions of our own fellow Americans need so much tonight.
Let us then act in the Congress, in the city halls, and in every community, so that this great land of ours may truly be “one nation under God—with liberty and justice for all.” Good night and thank you.”
—The President’s Address to the Nation on Civil Disorders. Read the rest of the speech at the American Presidency Project.
LBJ Presidential Library photos A6106-3, A6109-17, and A6108-8; images are in the public domain.
The middle-class community epitomizes the manner in which people resist change. Suburbia is particularly complacent when faced with rising expectations of the Negro ghetto and the riots only serve to shatter that complacency and therefore to frighten the MCS [middle-class suburbanite]. To a certain extent this violence will serve a healthy purpose in suburbia in that it will enable them to see clearly that changes is needed for the future to be more secure.
…We must keep in mind that we are not out to change attitudes but to minimize the effect of the backlash reaction, this is different from opinion molding: it is ‘fear-removing’ and ‘anxiety-smothering’ rather than ‘opinion-forming.’
Memo, Albert Mark to Sherwin Markman, 6/5/67, HU 6/16/67-6/30/67 EX, White House Central File, Subject File, Box 5, LBJ Library.
June 14, 1967. LBJ’s aide Marvin Watson receives this memo about Stokely Carmichael’s trip to the USSR.
Memo, “HU 2 6/16/67-6/30/67,” White House Central File, Subject File HU, Box 5, LBJ Library.
September 27, 1966. Hunters Point, a predominantly black section of San Francisco, erupts in a riot. Compared to Watts, or, especially, the riots to come in 1967 and 1968, the violence is relatively mild: it only lasts 128 hours, and no one is killed.
Two days later, however, LBJ tells Robert McNamara that he has received a frantic 2AM phone call from San Francisco’s mayor asking for help in finding work for the city’s young black men. (Listen to the LBJ-McNamara conversation here: this discussion begins at about 5:45.) LBJ has asked his staff to see if there might be work available around the defense industry, such as in the Navy Yards.
Then, at about 6:46, LBJ describes the impact the riots are having on support for civil rights: “These people are…these old dogs won’t hunt any more.” LBJ blames rioters for “a great revulsion taking place” against civil rights. While this is especially true in the south, LBJ adds that “the Daleys are awfully bitter” and that places like Chicago and New York are also becoming less hospitable to federal civil rights actions. LBJ refers to “my Demonstration Cities bill,” which was a bill currently before Congress that proposed an ambitious plan to partner with local governments in tackling urban problems. The fight over model cities is heated, but the bill becomes law in November.
Photo via FoundSF.
September 5, 1966. The march on Cicero, Illinois, proceeds despite Dr. King’s withdrawal. This eight-minute video from the Chicago Film Archives shows the 250 marchers, including many white supporters, flanked by several thousand members of the National Guard and Cook County police. Around the 5:20 mark, the tensions between the marchers and angry protesters flare up: this rage is what city and state officials were afraid of—and the reason Cook County Sheriff Ogilvie called marching in Cicero “awfully close to a suicidal act.” The tenor of the marchers, as well, some of whom can be seen to be gesturing to and interacting with the crowd, indicates the shift from Dr. King’s vision of nonviolence.