ABSTRACT

C-SPAN’s 2009 ratings by historians of American presidents rank only Abraham Lincoln ahead of Democrats Lyndon B. Johnson and Harry S. Truman as chief executives who “pursued equal justice for all.”1 Ironically, both Truman

and Johnson came from backgrounds that would make them extremely unlikely to play central roles in the advancement of African American prospects in the mid-twentieth century. Yet Harry Truman has been called an “unsung civil rights hero,” and Lyndon Johnson is well-remembered for adopting the words of the best-known Civil Rights anthem of his era and emphatically declaring “and we shall overcome” in his famous 1965 speech urging Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act.2 The leadership of these two presidents on issues affecting African Americans reflects, among other things, major upheavals in the alignment of the two major political parties in the United States on matters of race and equally dramatic changes in their own moral development.