LYNDON B. JOHNSON, "WE SHALL OVERCOME" (15 MARCH 1965)
Garth E. Pauley
Lyndon Johnson's voting rights speech of March 15, 1965, is considered a
While it is
true that Johnson was not a gifted public speaker in general and that the
Born and raised in the Texas Hill Country during the early twentieth century, Lyndon Johnson's childhood experiences did not predispose him to become an advocate of racial justice. Rather, his upbringing included the forms of socialization that typically lead to racial prejudice: ethnocentrism, a lack of meaningful interracial contact, and racial stereotyping. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Johnson carried some of this prejudice with him into adulthood, and even as president he sometimes referred to African Americans with derogatory terminology when speaking behind closed doors. Yet Johnson also inherited sympathy for the downtrodden from his family, and a personal identification with the disadvantaged was a distinguishing element of his personality from an early age. Although these convictions shaped his attitudes toward civil rights issues, Johnson did not possess a keen appreciation of the uniquely racial dimensions of African Americans' oppression.
lack of racial consciousness, as such, during his early political career hardly
was inconsistent with the outlook of many white liberals. In his formative political experiences during
the 1930s and 1940s, Johnson demonstrated a commitment to equal opportunity and
fairness that earned him a reputation as a friend of the poor--white or
civil rights bills Johnson supported were ones he helped usher in through the
U.S. Congress as Senate majority leader.
As he fixed his sights on the presidency, Johnson believed he needed to
guide a civil rights bill to passage in order to demonstrate to
Johnson's presidential hopes were dashed during the 1960 campaign, but this personal setback ultimately led to a deepening of his commitment to civil rights. As vice president, he was appointed chairman of a committee that investigated and attempted to rectify cases of employment discrimination. Through this position, Johnson came into regular contact with blatant forms of racial discrimination and also learned that existing laws gave the federal government little power to make things right. As a result, he developed a stronger, more immediate understanding of bigotry that led him to become a firm supporter of civil rights. He began to speak out publicly against racial prejudice and was a strong advocate of President John F. Kennedy's comprehensive civil rights bill. By the time Johnson ultimately guided the bill to passage, following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, even those civil rights leaders who were formerly skeptical praised his deep understanding and conviction on civil rights. And the liberal critics who derided Johnson for weakening civil rights measures as Senate majority leader had to admit he kept his word: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a meaningful law that contained the provisions excised from the 1957 bill, including ones that prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodation and created a permanent FEPC.
to wait for further action on civil rights, Johnson immediately turned to the
issue of voting rights, on which he had developed a deep-seated
commitment. He believed voting was the
fundamental right in a democracy, one guaranteed to be free from racial
discrimination by the U.S. Constitution.
And he came to believe that the only way to help African Americans
achieve genuine equality was through equal access to the ballot box. When voting rights demonstrations in
politicians, Johnson's commitment to civil rights--including equal voting
rights--was not unadulterated. Though
often heralded as the greatest civil rights president in
Johnson used his legislative acumen to shape
Despite a general lack of skill, Johnson spoke a great deal as president, delivering more than sixteen-hundred speeches during his five years in the White House--very nearly as many as delivered by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy combined during the previous twelve years. Many, perhaps most, of these speeches were stilted and forgettable, but Johnson was capable of delivering successful speeches. Indeed, he delivered one of the most significant presidential speeches in U.S. history when, in the spring of 1965, he urged Americans to fulfill their nation's promise by guaranteeing that all of its citizens have an equal right to vote and to share in the benefits of democracy. This speech, often referred to as the "We Shall Overcome" speech, was Johnson's greatest oratorical triumph.
During the mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, African American leaders and their white allies expended significant political energy on attempting to secure equal access to the ballot box, especially following the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (in 1868 and 1870, respectively). The amendments declared that African Americans were citizens and forbade depriving them of the vote on account of their "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Southern states attempted to keep them from voting, however, through methods that were not racially discriminatory at face value but that clearly aimed to keep African Americans away from the polls. Civil rights advocates won significant victories against many of these methods in the U.S. Supreme Court, but success through litigation was slow, costly, and incomplete. There was significant African American political mobilization after an especially important legal victory against a persistent method of voter discrimination in Smith v. Allwright: Registration, education, and get-out-the vote campaigns were organized throughout the South. But their foes quickly developed new methods to prevent African Americans from voting, including gerrymandering, literacy and understanding tests, slow processing of voter registration applications, relocation of polling places, delay tactics, threats, and physical intimidation. Exhausted, frustrated, and a little demoralized, advocates of equal voting rights came to believe that a genuine victory would come only through federal legislation, and thus focused their crusade on the Congress and--especially--the president. By 1964, civil rights advocates had achieved significant victories against discrimination in education, places of public accommodation, and employment. Because of persistent prejudice and the shortcomings of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1963, though, the ballot box remained inaccessible to many African Americans, especially in the South. Thus, civil rights leaders focused nearly all of their energies on one goal--the right to vote.
At nearly the same time that African American leaders were gearing up for an assault on voter discrimination, President Johnson was directing his Justice Department to draft a new law to ensure the guarantees of the Fifteenth Amendment. During the summer of 1964, a presidential task force on civil rights identified voter discrimination as the nation's chief civil rights problem and advised the administration to advance measures "to insure the speediest possible accession of Negroes to voting rolls, especially in the South." In the fall, partisan advisers suggested that in addition to upholding the promises of the Constitution, a new voting rights law that brought more African Americans to the polls might help compensate for the loss of support for Democrats in the South brought on by the administration's civil rights initiatives. Most of the president's advisers, however, counseled a cooling off period on civil rights legislation following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and party politics were not a significant factor motivating the pursuit of a new voting rights law.
Rather, Johnson was motivated by his convictions, his desire to pass his own civil rights law, his vision of a "Great Society," and his aspiration to be a great presidential reformer. In mid-December 1964, he directed the attorney general to burn the midnight oil and develop a voting rights measure within a few days so that it would be ready for the 1965 legislative agenda. In his State of the Union address on January 4, 1965, President Johnson urged members of Congress to "eliminate every remaining obstacle to the right and opportunity to vote" and announced he would send them a detailed proposal on voting rights within six weeks. Aware that guiding a new voting rights law to passage would be a significant political challenge, Johnson aimed to rally public support in addition to persuading legislators. On January 15, he called Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged him to publicize the worst cases of voting prejudice to get Americans behind a federal voting rights act, a law Johnson said was a priority for his elected term as president. He told King that if citizens were to see a dramatic example of the voter discrimination and intimidation in the South, they would demand action to make things right, to make the electoral system fair.
the extreme opposition to African American voting Johnson believed would get
the public's attention,
the attack, journalists who were on the scene disseminated pictures and
accounts of the brutality to a stunned nation.
ABC TV even interrupted its evening movie with a special news bulletin
that included fifteen minutes of video footage from the assault in
Although Johnson had
After Johnson had declared in
January his intention to submit a voting rights bill, the Washington Post reported that passing legislation "may require
all the persuasion the President can muster." Clearly, the demonstrations in
Initially, Johnson planned only to deliver a written message to Congress to accompany his legislative proposal but came to believe that such communication would be insufficient for advancing his legislative goal and for enacting his duties as chief spokesman for the nation. Presidents rarely deliver special messages to Congress in person to advocate for a specific bill, especially on domestic policy; Harry Truman had been the last president to do so. Such speeches are risky, as they put the president's credibility on the line and chance making members of Congress resentful, feeling they are being coerced into action and having their law-making duties usurped. Johnson did not decide for certain to make a public speech until nearly the last minute, following a meeting with members of his administration and congressional leaders on the evening of March 14. The meeting reinforced his belief that a public speech was needed to calm the public and assure them that the federal government was working to solve the problem of voter discrimination. Moreover, Johnson believed he needed to use "every ounce of moral persuasion the Presidency held" to ensure passage of the voting rights bill.
Unlike the bill, the address was prepared in haste by White House speechwriters, as they first received the assignment during the late hours of March 14. The final text was a synthesis of multiple speech drafts, previous press conference statements, and speeches Johnson had delivered as vice president. Presidential aides finalized and edited the address throughout the day on March 15, completing their task just moments before Johnson headed over to the capitol. As was usual practice, the president was not involved directly in the speechwriting process despite his later claim that he "penciled in changes and rewrote sections" of the address. Johnson took full credit for the speech, however, as his press secretary successfully coordinated a plan to communicate the following falsehood to the press: "The President wrote the speech. He talked out what he wanted to say--and as drafts were prepared in response to his dictation, the President personally edited and revised." In fact, Johnson's only direct contributions to the speech came during its delivery, as he personalized some of the language and inserted a few phrases and short sentences. Given his detachment from the speechwriting process, there simply was no time to make changes before speaking; President Johnson received the reading copy just prior to delivering the message, and he was forced to speak from the manuscript for the first several minutes, as it had not yet been loaded onto the TelePrompTer.
At some point during the speechwriting process, someone at the White House titled the speech "The American Promise." And although usually known by its most memorable line ("We shall overcome"), the official title better encapsulates Johnson's message. His speech used the word "promise" in both its meanings, referring to the nation's vow and its potential. Both senses of the word imply a story. Though making a vow is a stand-alone act, it beckons further action: The vow must be kept or broken. Having potential is a state of being but also signals future action: The potential must be fulfilled or neglected. Stories are an especially significant form of communication, as they can help us make sense of the world and often contain moral lessons that point to an appropriate course of action. They contain a logic, or narrative reasoning, that frames our decision-making in situations similar to those depicted in story. They reinforce our cultural values. In the political sphere, stories shape a people's collective sense of self, their national identity, by telling and retelling their past, present, and future. Such stories invite identification among citizens and between citizens and their government. Understanding the power of narrative, Lyndon Johnson attempted to persuade his listeners to act in order to guarantee equal voting rights--and more--by depicting contemporary exigencies and decisions as part of the story of the American Promise. That story is the central rhetorical feature of his speech.
Johnson began his address in a
manner that suggested his message would transcend the current exigency facing
the nation: He asserted that he spoke for "the destiny of democracy"
(2). Indeed, the current crisis was critical, he
claimed, because it constituted a "turning point in man's unending search
for freedom" (4) and "equal rights" (6). It is an episode in the story of the American
Promise, Johnson reasoned, which is a guarantee of freedom and equality--and
the potential to be "the greatest nation on Earth" (7). Johnson suggested that denying equal rights
to African Americans, exemplified by the violence in Selma, represented a
threat to "the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved
nation" (9). He claimed that to
keep African Americans from enjoying the freedom and equality assured by the
Declaration of Independence and the battle cries of the Revolution would be to
break our nation's promise and neglect our potential to "fail as a people
and as a nation" (10). Of course,
none of the dictums quoted by the president ("All men are created
equal"; "Government by consent of the governed"; "Give me
liberty or give me death") constituted a direct promise to African
Americans regarding political freedom or equality. Yet Johnson interpreted them to have an
expansive meaning that applied to the present problem. And since the story of the forward march of
freedom and equality is perhaps the
At the same moment President Johnson argued that the issue confronting the county was of historic significance, he also emphasized the importance of time. He suggested that although the United States long had kept African Americans from enjoying the benefits of freedom and equality, it had not broken its promise--yet. But since destiny had crossed our path at this particular time, he claimed, the decisive point in time had arrived. The president asserted that as such a moment came along "rarely in any time," (9) the nation must seize the opportunity. Articulating a similar theme about midway through the speech, he described the country's promise as "unkept," (51) not broken, and urged immediate action by stressing that the "time of justice has now come" (52). Johnson claimed, "This time, on this issue, there must be no delay or no hesitation or no compromise with our purpose," (42) adding that "the time for waiting has gone" (43).
The themes of promise and urgency
established in the beginning of Johnson's speech were central to the message's
overall rhetorical power, as they transformed the political problem of voter
discrimination into something even grander: a threat to
By imbuing his narrative of the
American Promise with a religious dimension, Johnson tapped into the cultural
tradition scholars usually refer to as civil religion--the collection of
symbols, beliefs, values, and rituals that give sacred meaning to political
life; the transcendent sense of reality through which a people interpret their
historical experiences. His message
articulated three key myths in American civil religion: that the
At the end of the first section of
his speech, Johnson related the issue of voting rights to the American Promise
directly. Whereas earlier he had
described the issue confronting the nation in abstract terms of freedom and
equal rights, he now made it clear that ensuring African Americans equal access
to the franchise was central to the nation's promise and purpose. He claimed that the nation's Founding Fathers
established "the right to choose your own leaders" as "the most
basic right of all," and that the history of
To a great extent, Johnson's speech
is persuasive to the extent it invested events with deep meaning for its
listeners. His story of the American
Promise aimed to help his audience make sense of a disturbing crisis in a
particular way, to see it as part of a larger context of events. By emphasizing the idea of a promise, he
provided a logic that framed his listeners' decision-making: They should act to
keep their promise. His story reinforced
the values to which the nation must recommit itself through action. It reaffirmed
It is difficult to know whether
President Johnson's speech converted many opponents of equal voting rights to
his side, but this was not his only persuasive aim. Even so, as evidenced by his legislative
strategies during his tenure as Senate majority leader, Johnson understood that
voting was a weak spot in many Southerners' opposition to civil rights. He believed that although segregationists
wanted to maintain white supremacy through voter discrimination, many still
felt--in spite of themselves--their actions were wrong. The president may not have converted them to
active supporters of voting rights legislation, but he likely persuaded some to
accept it passively. His speech helped
demoralize the Southern opposition to equal voting rights by making racial
discrimination at the ballot box seem fundamentally un-American, at odds with
what the nation was all about. It squarely
put segregationists on the losing side of an issue of principle: None could
argue convincingly that voter discrimination was consistent with American
values. Cultivating even passive
acceptance was a significant rhetorical accomplishment for Johnson, as it had
the potential to help Congress pass his voting rights bill more quickly and to
encourage compliance with its provisions once it became law. In addition to weakening his opposition, the
address encouraged the uncommitted to identify themselves with a hallowed
cause. Moreover, it bolstered voting
rights supporters. Johnson further
justified their outrage over the violence in
To appreciate the rhetorical
ingenuity of the voting rights address, it is helpful to consider alternate
persuasive strategies Johnson might have employed. The address is impressive precisely because
he and his speechwriters made discerning choices among the available means of
persuasion. For example, the president could have made a strong case for equal
voting rights grounded in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, an early draft of the speech, based
on the written message sent to Congress with the legislation, focused on the
mandate of the Constitution. After all,
the Fifteenth Amendment prohibits racial discrimination at the ballot box and
gives Congress the authority to pass legislation in order to secure that
guarantee. Johnson simply could have
demanded that the Congress do its constitutional duty (a claim he in fact made,
albeit very briefly). However, making
that the centerpiece of his speech would have entered him into a tedious legal
argument with Southern opponents of voting rights, who in the past had demonstrated
they were game for a protracted argument of exactly that sort. A plea for Congress to do its constitutional
duty also would have put the American people on the margins of the
decision-making process by focusing on the responsibilities of the federal
government. And though possessed of a
reasonable appeal, such a plea would have been less inspiring than his appeal
to the American Promise: Johnson presented a stirring definition of the meaning
Rather than grounding his argument
in the American promise, Johnson also could have made an explicitly moral
argument decrying racial prejudice, including its expression through voter
discrimination. Indeed, in 1963 he had
advised President Kennedy to deliver a civil rights speech that would make
Southerners feel they were on the wrong side of an issue of conscience. Perhaps Johnson believed in 1965 that the
Above all, instead of focusing his
rhetoric on constitutional or moralistic appeals, President Johnson simply
assumed those issues to be resolved: "There is no constitutional
issue. The command of the Constitution
is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong--deadly wrong to deny any of your
fellow Americans the right to vote" (37-39). By focusing on what he described to be the
unresolved issue of
Other rhetorical features of the president's speech were important. For instance, his claim that existing civil rights laws could not solve the problem of voter discrimination helped head off a counterargument by Southerner legislators who counseled delay following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which contained worthless provisions on equal voting rights.
It was Johnson's transcendent appeal
to the American Promise, however, that was most persuasive and that cultivated
overwhelming support for the voting rights bill. In their coverage of his speech, many
journalists lauded the president for invoking and affirming "the most
sacred and deeply held convictions of a nation," which brought "the
present chapter of the struggle for human rights into proper perspective." Citizens echoed these sentiments in their
letters and telegrams to the White House.
And when editorialists urged swift passage of the president's bill,
their appeals employed the language of Johnson's narrative: The New York Times even suggested passage
was a foregone conclusion because a "people that has responded
unflinchingly to every trial of national purpose . . . will not fail this
test." Moreover, following President Johnson's
speech, members of Congress deliberated voting rights legislation using the
Political rhetoric that finds a way
to transcend conflicts of belief and sentiment is uncommon, especially when it
involves issues of right and wrong.
Johnson's speech helped transcend those conflicts by focusing on civic
virtue and civic duty. By appealing to
and reinforcing a shared language of moral consensus--the narrative of the
American Promise--Johnson made a lasting contribution to
Johnson's speech also has enduring
significance on the issue of civil rights because it represented an effort to
modify the meaning of two key ideas in American history while incorporating
them into a more expansive vision of the nation's promise. His narrative of the American Promise was
mainly a story of the nation's commitment to freedom and equality. The speech began by identifying these two
ideas in a conventional way: Freedom is discussed in terms of political
liberties, and equality is discussed in terms of equal rights or equal
opportunity. The contemporary struggle
for civil rights, he suggested, was about guaranteeing those principles. But as the president's speech continued, he
emphasized how that struggle for civil rights was not just a struggle for
freedom itself but rather for the "the fruits of freedom," (56) not
just a struggle for equal rights or equal opportunity but rather to help ensure
equality as an actual characteristic of American life. Johnson emphasized the exercise of freedom
and equality, which he claimed "takes much more than just legal
right" (75). Rather than only guaranteeing
equal rights and opportunities (opening the gates of equality), he suggested
that to "make good on the promise of
Studying President Johnson's speech is significant as a reminder that the language of the American Promise has been a site of struggle throughout the nation's history. Though they are universal terms in American political rhetoric, freedom and equality are part of an ongoing process of definition and redefinition, of ongoing debates about their meaning. Neither freedom nor equality embodies a single idea; rather each symbolizes a mixture of values and meanings. For example, freedom has meant--at various times--the right to political self-determination, the right to make individual choices free from coercion, the capacity for ethical action, and more. The meanings of equality have included equal rights, equal treatment, and actual parity. Though their meanings change, freedom and equality remain authoritative terms in political discourse: To seize control of them in a political debate is to acquire significant rhetorical power. One of the very terms Johnson sought to redefine to gain support for his civil rights program is in the process of being redefined. Participants in recent debates about affirmative action, including court cases about college and university admissions policies, seek to define and control the meaning of equality. Even the meaning of civil rights--a term whose meaning has been identified strongly with the civil rights movement--is now contested, as the advocates of state ballot proposals to outlaw affirmative action programs refer to them as "civil rights initiatives."
Since Johnson's speech helped establish the meaning of freedom and equality as employed during the congressional deliberations over the Voting Rights Act, his message may continue to have significant influence. The law requires that the Congress must periodically review and, if deemed appropriate, renew some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act: The most recent renewal came in 2006. Federal legislators often look to the intent of former Congresses when renewing previously enacted laws, and in 1965 the 89th Congress described its intent in the president's terms of fulfilling the American Promise of freedom and equality. Despite some wrangling during the 2006 deliberations, members of Congress ultimately seemed to agree that "'the liberties and freedom embedded in the right to vote must remain sacred.'"
Finally, studying Johnson's speech should encourage reflection on the nature of presidential rhetoric, especially on matters perceived to have a moral dimension. That presidents will use their office as a bully pulpit to serve as the nation's moral leader and spokesperson is a common assumption of the modern presidency. Like all orators, presidents are susceptible to misusing of the power of moral leadership: They may reduce complex problems to simple questions of right or wrong, demonize those who oppose them, assert moral consensus when none exists, appeal to listeners' base motives in the language of virtue, or enact the role of moral spokesperson with arrogance rather than humility. Even so, the nation sometimes needs its president to ascend to the bully pulpit to exhort it toward a public good that would not be realized without moving, inspiring oratory. But finding a shared moral language out of which a president can fashion a persuasive appeal is difficult. President Johnson effectively grounded his appeals in a potent narrative that focused on public morality--his listeners' civic duty to keep and fulfill the sacred American Promise. But as the citizenry continues to become more religiously and culturally diverse, less schooled in the narratives of the nation's history, more aware of how such narratives can be used to justify depraved causes as well as honorable ones, and perhaps less influenced by the moral authority of the presidency, presidents may find it especially tricky to build moral consensus through oratory. Consider this problem from a perspective afforded by studying Johnson's speech. He used oratory to help secure the significant public good of equal voting rights, primarily by appealing to the American Promise--of which the Constitution is one expression--rather than the Constitution itself. But could Johnson have crafted such a stirring, persuasive appeal on the basis of constitutional guarantees alone? Would his listeners have found it as moving, meaningful, and motivational? Would we find it as eloquent today?
Garth E. Pauley (Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University)
is associate professor of rhetoric in the Department of Communication Arts
& Sciences at
Stephen E. Lucas and Martin J. Medhurst, Words
of a Century: The Top 100 American Speeches, 1900-1999 (
 David Zarefsky, "Lyndon B. Johnson," in American Orators of the Twentieth Century: Critical Studies and Sources, ed., Bernard K. Duffy and Halford R. Ryan (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987), 224; Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1992, rev. ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 182-183.
 Robert Dallek, Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 113-114.
 Dallek, Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 367-370.
Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon
Johnson, vol. 3, Master of the Senate
 See Robert Mann, The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996), 318; and Steven F. Lawson, "Civil Rights," in Exploring the Johnson Years, ed., Robert A. Divine (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 97.
Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The
Contested History of Democracy in the
 Task Force Issue Paper: Civil Rights, June 17, 1964, Office Files of Bill Moyers, Box 94, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
 Louis Martin to John Bailey, November 17, 1964, Legislative Background: Voting Rights Act of 1965, Box 1, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Matthew Reese Jr. to Lyndon Johnson, December 1964, Office Files of Lee White, Box 3, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Lyndon Johnson to Nicholas Katzenbach, December 14, 1964, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, WH 6412.02, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Lyndon Johnson, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon Johnson, 1965, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 5; Lyndon B. Johnson to Martin Luther King Jr., January 15, 1965, WH 6501.04, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
 David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 1986), 378-395; "Negro Voting Rights," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 23.8 (1965), 269.
Testimony from Hosea Williams, John Lewis
et al. v. George Wallace, Governor of Alabama et al.,
 Eric Sevareid script, "Walter Cronkite and the News," Legislative Background: Voting Rights Act of 1965, Box 1, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Lyndon B. Johnson to Nicholas Katzenbach, March 11, 1965, WH 6503.06, Recordings of Telephone Conversations, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
Baker, "Johnson May Ask Ban on Voter Literacy Tests,"
 Lyndon B. Johnson, Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969 (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), 164.
 Speech drafts, President's Remarks to Accompany Voting Message, March 15, 1965, Statements of LBJ, Box 141, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Johnson, Vantage Point, 164-165; Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970), 252-253; Jack Valenti to Lyndon Johnson, March 16, 1965, Legislative Background: Voting Rights Act of 1965, Box 1, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.
 Lyndon B. Johnson, President Johnson's Voting Rights Address, March 15, 1965, WHCA 269/70, Audio Collection, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. All of the remaining passages from Johnson's March, 15, 1965, speech before the U.S. Congress are cited with reference to paragraph numbers in the speech that accompanies this essay.
 Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), xvi.
 See Robert N. Bellah, Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in a Time of Trial, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 3; Roderick P. Hart, The Political Pulpit (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1977), 12; and Russell B. Nye, This Almost Chosen People: Essays in the History of American Ideas (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966), 165.
 "We Shall Overcome," New York Times, March 17, 1965, 44.
 U.S. Congress, Senate, 89th Congress, 1st session, Congressional Record, 111, pt. 4, 5105, 5223, 5163, pt. 11, 11025, 11076, pt. 12, 16280, 16267, pt. 14, 19200; Lyndon B. Johnson, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 811-815.
See Lyndon B. Johnson, Public Papers of
the Presidents of the
 Foner, Story of American Freedom, xiv-xviii.
 Laurie Kellman, "House Renews Voting Rights Act Unchanged," July 14, 2006, CBS News.com, August 13, 2007, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/07/14/ap/politics/mainD8IRNHO85.shtml.