Civil rights and civil conflict

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The advent of race riots each summer between 1964 and 1967 confronted President Johnson with a serious rhetorical problem: how to make clear his condemnation of the riots while also sympathizing with some of their causes and recognizing the need for significantly more and faster progress for American blacks. In his public discourse, Johnson tried to carefully balance four themes: declaration that the riots were unconscionable, insistence that the country must remain committed to civil rights, emphasis on local responsibilities, and the stress on the need for studying the riots to understand their causes and prevention. Pragmatically, this approach was not successful. Every one of his carefully balanced positions could be outflanked by opponents taking a harder-line position. Yet it is not clear that Johnson had any available alternatives that could have resolved his problem.


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