This summer, the civil rights movement has again captured the conscience of the country. For me, it has always been so very personal. Its promise of a just world is the prayer of generations of my family, too.
My father, President Lyndon Johnson, signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act on my 17th birthday. This law opened our public accommodations to all people regardless of the color of their skin. It banned forever the “whites only” signs so painfully prevalent in my childhood. No one will ever get a better birthday present.
A year later, on Aug. 6, 1965, in the rotunda of the Capitol, I stood behind my father as he signed the Voting Rights Act into law. Great civil rights leaders and members of both parties stood in support. I stood there in awe of this life changing law.
Slowly marching toward liberty, justice
The Voting Rights Act opened doors of opportunity to vote for people of all colors, religions and ethnicities. It also ensured that access would be maintained. It was made possible because Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen enlisted the support of other Republicans and joined hands with devoted Democrats to do the right thing for all Americans.
My father told me he must sign the voting rights bill into law in the rotunda of the Capitol. We would go there to honor the members who would not be returning because of their brave vote. We needed to go to the Congress and thank them all — Democrats and Republicans — for coming together to do the right thing for all of us.
While “liberty and justice for all” has been our nation’s aspiration, it has never been our nation’s reality. Black Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans, gay Americans, transgendered Americans and immigrant Americans from around the globe have too often been denied the promise of liberty and justice. Yet, they have all built so much of the bounty of our nation.
This past week, the eyes of the nation returned to the rotunda to honor the late Congressman John Lewis’ nearly 34 years of service. In March of 1965, he was bloodied and beaten marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in peaceful pursuit of voting rights. Later, he was one of those able to be elected to Congress because those rights had been secured.
One of the honors of my life was marching across that bridge with John Lewis five decades later. He held my hand and my heart as he taught me about his lifelong struggle for civil rights for all.
By then, both political parties had come to acknowledge him as the “conscience of the Congress.” Now his memory is that conscience for eternity.
Grieve — and act
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi memorialized her friend in the Capitol rotunda last week, she wisely and lovingly gave him the last word. There, Lewis’ masterful recorded voice rang out, “We all live in the same house. And it doesn’t matter whether we are Black or white, Latino, Asian American or Native American. … We all live in the same house. ... Speak out, and find a way to create the beloved community. … Never become bitter, never become hostile, never hate.”
I saw my father and the Congress take the tragedy of President John F. Kennedy’s death and pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Kennedy’s honor. I saw my father and the Congress take the tragedy of “Bloody Sunday” to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act in honor of those who marched and died for it.
Recently, the U.S. House renamed a voting rights bill the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Painfully, it has yet to be considered by our U.S. Senate.
Our nation is once more grieving. I entreat the Senate to show the courage it did in 1965 and support the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Let us do it in honor of John Lewis. Let us deliver on our pledge with “liberty and justice for all.” I promise — I’ve been there — our children and history are watching.
Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, is a businesswoman and philanthropist.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting Rights Act: Let's finish what my dad, Lyndon Johnson, started