The Historical Journal


Research Article

THE 1966 WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS fn1


KEVIN L. YUILL a1
a1 University of Nottingham

Abstract

Lyndon B. Johnson fails to mention the 1966 White House Conference on Civil Rights in his autobiography and the conference has been equally ignored by historians. Yet this conference, promised in Johnson's famous Howard University speech in 1965, was to be the high point of Johnson's already considerable efforts on civil rights. Underlying the confusion and rancour that characterized the conference held in June 1966 (but more especially the ‘planning conference’, held in November 1965) was a struggle to maintain the integrative impetus of the ‘American Creed’ against the realization that integration was unlikely to take place except in the very long term. The conference transcripts, recorded verbatim, provide a useful reminder of the very different mood of the mid-1960s, suggesting that the extent of panic after the Watts riot went beyond racial issues into fears for the survival of political and governmental institutions. Especially evident is the fragmentation of Johnson's liberal civil rights coalition before dissent on the Vietnam War ensured his downfall.


fn1 I am grateful to Professor A. Badger of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Dr John Thompson of Queens' College, Cambridge, Professor Richard King of Nottingham University, and Professor Dan T. Carter of Emory University for their valuable comments and advice.