The Story: Civil Rights Movement

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1963 March on Washington

Following his landslide victory in the 1964 presidential election, Johnson initiated an ambitious domestic agenda known as the Great Society. It consisted of a set of social reform programs targeted at ending poverty and racial injustice. The nation’s War on Poverty, Medicaid, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act all owed their establishment to Johnson’s Great Society initiatives.  While the programs were a welcome relief to many disenfranchised Americans, they were unpopular with two important voter groups – labor unionists and white southerners. Dislike for Johnson’s domestic policies would cause many members of both groups to view his presidency unfavorably.

Unfortunately for President Johnson, his popularity eroded on two additional fronts. First, Johnson was responsible for greatly escalating the Vietnam War. By late 1967, over half a million American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, and as the casualties mounted, the President’s approval rating plummeted. He became extremely unpopular among many college students and other citizens who opposed the war. Second, throughout his administration, racial violence plagued major U.S. cities, leaving hundreds dead or injured and destroying millions of dollars in property. An early example of this violence occurred in Selma, Alabama, during the spring of 1965.