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President Johnson's Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on LBJ, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and Vietnam 1963-1968
President Johnson's Blues illustrates how African Americans experienced the Johnson presidency. This is achieved by an analysis of blues and gospel lyrics of the period containing more or less direct social and political comment. The lyrics of these often very rare records, which have never been systematically transcribed before, are vital and hitherto neglected sources of oral history.
When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded the assassinated President Kennedy he was hailed enthusiastically by the blues and gospel singers, most of whom had been born in the southern states and saw an ally in the new Texas president. Johnson’s acute political skills ensured that the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was approved by Congress. However, the President was not allowed to reap the benefits of the Act for long. The violent clash in Selma, Alabama, sped up the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Next, the plight of the black ghettoes led to nationwide riots and the president and Rev. King drifted apart. Military build-up in Vietnam rose dramatically in the Johnson era. Proportionally there were not more African Americans in Vietnam, but their death rate was thirty percent higher. Johnson was forced to launch operation “Rolling Thunder” to intensify air attacks, but felt trapped by the consequences of his decisions and became severely depressed. People began burning their draft cards, and criticism of the once popular president became quite outspoken in blues and gospel lyrics. When Martin Luther King lashed out against the war in 1967, the president felt betrayed by his former civil rights ally. After the 1968 Tet offensive, Johnson’s approval rating dropped to 36%. The book also analyzes in depth the profound effect the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had on the African-American community. The resultant awakening of black self-consciousness is dealt with in a final chapter.
Publication Date: October 2009
Publisher: Agram Blues Books
Forty-five of the songs discussed in the text are available on two different CDs produced by Agram Blues to accompany this book. Digitally remastered and featuring full liner notes by the author, the CDs are unique historical documents of the Johnson presidency.