As Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination tonight, author Robert A. Caro will be remembering another speech: Lyndon Johnson's 1965 address to Congress urging the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In that speech, which reduced Martin Luther King to tears, LBJ "adopted the great anthem of the civil rights movement," calling on legislators to give blacks full enfranchisement and insisting, "We shall overcome."
Many African-American leaders distrusted Johnson, his biographer writes in a New York Times op-ed; he had blocked civil rights legislation during his Senate career, and as president progress was slow. But the Voting Rights Act, which ended the literacy tests and gerrymandering that kept blacks from the ballot box, made Johnson a civil rights hero. And it laid the path for Obama to approach the presidency only 43 years later, "a mere blink in history’s eye."