Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America.
Judgment Days chronicles how Johnson and King seemed fated to lead the collapse of America's segregation views. The reader is first introduced to Johnson, the master politician soon after President Kennedy’s catastrophic assassination. Kotz shows how LBJ makes his way through this crisis to seize the moment and take the reins of the nation. He then focuses on the agony King and his family felt upon hearing the news of Kennedy's premature death. Abruptly, Kotz shifts back in time to study the early lives of the two crucial figures and provides a broad perspective of the civil rights movement and the complex relationship between Johnson and King and how these two individuals were swept up in a time of monumental change. These astounding men were complete opposites tied only by their experience with southern culture and their need to help those who were on the margins of society in regard to wealth and opportunity. Their relationship was complex and difficult for many to understand, a fragile mix of professionalism and interdependence. This relationship would help to proliferate one of the greatest movements of social change in U.S. history.
Kotz discusses how Johnson's memories of the depravation of his poverty-stricken farm life with his father in the western hill country of Texas and the impoverished Mexican Americans in his home region influenced his later decisions. Kotz reveals how a feeling of inadequacy gripped LBJ's psyche. This feeling of inadequacy sometimes drove Johnson into periods of dark depression. Yet it also encouraged him to ignore the intellectual shackles of southern traditions of racial prejudice and Jim Crow laws and fight to pass legislation that provided equality to all disenfranchised Americans. In trying to explain Johnson's enthusiasm in pushing this landmark legislation, Kotz observes that the president was significantly influenced by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and wanted to leave a mark on U.S. legislative history like his mentor FDR.
Despite Johnson's southern roots, he was never known as a white supremacist or an outspoken believer of segregation, the author suggests, however, that Johnson played "politics" until he achieved the freedom from the pork barrel compromises that had become vital in getting legislation through Congress prior to his presidency. Kotz notes that Johnson stated "that he never felt so free as when he became president," most likely because he did not have to "politic" and remain quiet about racial matters, nor did he have to worry about any longer pleasing racist citizens any longer. Even with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, many African-American leaders doubted Johnson until they saw him in action exhibiting his complex knowledge of the inner workings of Congress and his renowned persuasive...