Literature Study GuidesCommencement Address At Howard University

Commencement Address at Howard University | Study Guide

Lyndon Johnson

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Lyndon Johnson

Year Delivered



Primary Source


History, Speech

At a Glance

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–73) gave the commencement address at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 1965.
  • In his speech he remarked on the successes of the civil rights movement, which fought to outlaw racial discrimination in many areas of American life, such as education, employment, and job training, and in public spaces.
  • Key among these successes was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbade many such types of discrimination. As president, Johnson had helped to secure the passage of the act in the U.S. Congress.
  • In his speech Johnson also looked ahead to the social and economic reforms that would be needed not only to end discrimination but to ensure "true equality" for African Americans.
  • Many students who heard the speech felt that for the first time, a president had honestly acknowledged how African American citizens had been treated in the past.
  • Johnson's address underscores his role in shaping the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It also sheds light on the relationship between Johnson's "Great Society" welfare programs and the fight against racial inequality. It is generally considered to be the first articulation and endorsement of affirmative action, or policies meant to favor those who have suffered from discrimination.


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