Capitol Hill in Black and White


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Lyndon Johnson is the principal character in Parker’s story. Theirs was a dramatic love-hate

relationship. These memoirs are filled with anecdotes—sad, shocking, funny—about

other powerful Washington personalities as well: Estes Kefauver, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy,

Adam Clayton Powell, Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, James Eastland, and others.



Books on or by Lyndon Baines Johnson

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson / Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson  / Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Wheeling and Dealing / LBJ: Architect of American Ambition  / Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President

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Lyndon Johnson, Robert Parker, and Robert Cato

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Capitol Hill in Black and White By Robert Parker with Richard Rashke

New York :Dodd, Mead,  1986 / ix, 261 pages, [8] p. of plates: pictures


For thirty-five years, Robert Parker had a uniquely intimate view of wheeling, dealing, (and sometimes sinning) on power-hungry Capitol Hill. Born a sharecropper’s son, he was befriended by Lyndon Johnson in Washington in the early 1940’s. Helped by Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, Parker became maitre d’ of the Senate Dining Room in 1964, a post he held until his retirement in 1975. He moonlighted as a waiter for some of Washington’s most influential people at their private parties. He saw and heard a lot (and a lot of what he wasn’t supposed to) and it’s all in this remarkable book.

Lyndon Johnson is the principal character in Parker’s story. Theirs was a dramatic love-hate relationship. These memoirs are filled with anecdotes—sad, shocking, funny—about other powerful Washington personalities as well: Estes Kefauver, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Adam Clayton Powell, Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, James Eastland, and others.

These pages capture the drama of the civil rights movement from Harry Truman and the Freedom Train to Richard Nixon. It is also the powerful story of Robert Parker’s growing commitment to that movement. Parker was privy to important secrets as he arranged private meetings between Dr. Martin Luther King and senators afraid to be seen in public with him. Parker personally integrated the Senate dining rooms and Staff Club. Full of surprises, often moving, Robert Parker’s memoirs are the illuminating recollections of a shrewd observant black man in an unusual, fascinating white world.—PaperbackSwap

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Parker, the son of a black sharecropper, grew up in East Texas during the 1930s. In the early 1940s, following a brief stint in the army, he came to Washington, D.C., where he worked as chauffeur and messenger for Lyndon Johnson and then, for 13 years, as headwaiter in the Senate dining room. This account of the behind-the-scenes Washington world he observed for over 30 years provides fascinating insights into such topics as the complex personality of Johnson (who struggled hard for the civil rights legislation of the late 1950s and early 1960s at the same time that he often referred to Parker privately as “boy” or “nigger”), the sexual exploits of Congressmen (in their secret hideaways deep within the Capitol building), and the major events of the postwar civil rights movement. Well- written and absorbing, this is highly recommended for most libraries.—Scott Wright, History Dept., Coll. of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.—Library Journal

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In Capitol Hill in Black and White, Johnson’s Negro chauffeur, Robert Parker, wrote that the “tall Texan, who was warmhearted and caring, and vulgar and mean,” often complained that these colored folk “are worrying the hell out of me.” Oh, and we were.

According to Parker, Johnson got so frustrated at times that Parker would drive him out to the far end of the LBJ Ranch in the Texas hill country, where Johnson would get out of the car and scream at the top of his voice, “Ni-i-igger-r-rs!”—George Davis. UntilWeGoThere

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Revelations of the inside and underside of power politics by the black former maître d’ of the Senate dining room”—Jacket.

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Though the title makes this seem like a gossip-y expose about Washington scandals, it is more a biography of an incredible man. Heroes like Martin Luther King get a lot of attention, but there were thousands of people who worked to gain civil rights in smaller ways. I’m really glad Robert Parker wrote this book. The only reason I gave it four stars is because it wasn’t especially focused and didn’t cite sources for its historical data.—Valerie

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This is a very informative and enlightening read about some of the goings on in our government from way back in the 60’s…or I should say in Washington DC at that time.—Donna

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According to Robert Parker’s memoir, Capitol Hill in Black and White, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson frequently turned his secret office into a “love nest. He would invite a woman there at the end of the day to ‘take dictation.’”—FindingDulcinea

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Hideaway “spaces were highly coveted by the powerful, and particularly by the playful,” Bobby Baker, an aide to Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote in his book, Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator. Johnson served in the Senate from 1949 until he was sworn in as vice president in 1961.

Johnson—and others—used their hideaways for more than legislative affairs, said another former LBJ aide.

“He frequently turned his hideaway into a love nest,” Robert Parker said in his memoir, Capitol Hill in Black and White. “He would invite a woman there at the end of the day to ‘take dictation’.”

Parker, who eventually became the Senate Dining Room’s head waiter, had keys to all the hideaways in use at the time. He would check the “escape rooms” before lunch to make sure they were stocked with wine and cocktail glasses, ice, fresh flowers and whatever else he thought senators wanted or needed.

Parker said senators’ wives often asked him where their husband’s hideaways were. He said he would smile politely and feign ignorance. But “we both knew her husband was using his hideaway for more than lunch. So were a lot of other senators.”—Pantagraph

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Robert Parker quoted in Robert A. Caro’s Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert Parker, a native of Wichita Falls Texas, “was one of Johnson’s ‘patronage’ employees, holding down a Johnson-arranged job as District of Columbia postman and being paid by the Post Office Department while earning his patronage by serving without pay as bartender and waiter at Johnson’s parties, and, after Johnson acquitted the use of the Democratic Leader’s limousine, filling in as his chauffer when Johnson’s regular driver, Norman Edward’s, had a day off.”

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Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

By Robert A. Caro

Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate examines in meticulous detail Lyndon Johnson’s career in that body, from his arrival in 1950 (after 12 years in the House of Representatives) until his election as JFK’s vice president in 1960. This, the third in a projected four-volume series, studies not only the pragmatic, ruthless, ambitious Johnson, who wielded influence with both consummate skill and “raw, elemental brutality,” but also the Senate itself, which Caro describes (pre-1957) as a “cruel joke” and an “impregnable stronghold” against social change. The milestone of Johnson’s Senate years was the 1957 Civil Rights Act, whose passage he single-handedly engineered.

As important as the bill was—both in and of itself and as a precursor to wider-reaching civil rights legislation—it was only close to Johnson’s Southern “anti-civil rights” heart as a means to his dream: the presidency. Caro writes that not only does power corrupt, it “reveals,” and that’s exactly what this massive, scrupulously researched book does. A model of social, psychological, and political insight, it is not just masterful; it is a masterpiece.—H. O’Billovich

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As a genre, Senate biography tends not to excite. The Senate is a genteel establishment engaged in a legislative process that often appears arcane to outsiders. Nevertheless, there is something uniquely mesmerizing about the wily, combative Lyndon Johnson as portrayed by Caro. In this, the third installment of his projected four-volume life of Johnson (following The Path to Power and Means of Ascent), Caro traces the Texan’s career from his days as a newly elected junior senator in 1949 up to his fight for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In 1953, Johnson became the youngest minority leader in Senate history, and the following year, when the Democrats won control, the youngest majority leader.

Throughout the book, Caro portrays an uncompromisingly ambitious man at the height of his political and rhetorical powers: a furtive, relentless operator who routinely played both sides of the street to his advantage in a range of disputes. “He would tell us [segregationists],” recalled Herman Talmadge, “I’m one of you, but I can help you more if I don’t meet with you.”

At the same time, Johnson worked behind the scenes to cultivate NAACP leaders. Though it emerges here that he was perhaps not instinctively on the side of the angels in this or other controversies, the pragmatic Senator Johnson nevertheless understood the drift of history well, and invariably chose to swim with the tide, rather than against. The same would not be said later of the Johnson who dwelled so glumly in the White House, expanding a war that even he, eventually, came to loathe. But that is another volume: one that we shall await eagerly. Photos.—Publishers Weekly

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Content and Legacy of the 1957 Civil Rights Act

The goal of the 1957 Civil Rights Act was to ensure that all African Americans could exercise their right to vote. By 1957, only about 20% of African Americans had registered to vote. The Democratic Senate leader, Lyndon Baines Johnson, realized that the bill and its journey through Congress could tear apart his party, which was at the time made up of anti-civil rights and pro-civil rights members. Johnson sent the bill to the judiciary committee led by Senator James Eastland, an anti-civil rights senator from Mississippi. Eastland changed and altered the bill almost beyond recognition after the very public outburst by Senator Richard Russell from Georgia who claimed that it was an example of the Federal government wanting to impose its laws on states. Johnson sought recognition from the civil rights advocates for passing the bill while also receiving recognition from the mostly southern anti-civil rights Democrats for “killing the bill.”

Because of opposition and amendment of The Civil Rights Act of 1957, it was largely ineffective in its enforcement and its scope. By 1960, slightly fewer blacks were voting in the South than had been in 1956. It did however open the door to later legislation that was effective in securing voting rights as well as ending legal segregation and providing housing rights. In particular, it established both the Commission on Civil Rights and the office of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Subsequently, on December 9, 1957, the Civil Rights Division was established within the Justice Department by order of U.S. Attorney General William P. Rogers, giving the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights a distinct division to command. Previously, civil rights lawyers enforced Reconstruction-era laws from within the Criminal Division.

Many segregationists wanted to delay the vote of the bill. These actions infuriated many people who supported the bill including William F. Knowland who complained calling it “Democratic footdragging”. He stated that the democrats had an “Apparent determination to keep this subject off the floor until mid May.” This complaint was significant because if time ran out as it had on different occasions no bill could be passed. The passage of the bill was almost practically guaranteed and they were just delaying the inevitable.

Though only 28 at the time Martin Luther King Jr. would not remain silent about this bill or the issue of white supremacists. There had been several hate crimes around this time with African American churches being burned down, many African Americans, women included, being beaten and stoned. He stated that Eisenhower needed to make a speech to the south and use “the weight of your great office to point out to the people of the South the moral nature of the problem.” Eisenhower was dismissive of Martin Luther King Jr. claiming to have made many speeches in the North as well as the South. He stated “I don’t know what another speech would do about the thing right now.”

Disappointed by this Martin Luther King sent another telegram to the President this time stating that those comments were “a profound disappointment to the millions of Americans of goodwill, north and south, who earnestly are looking to you for leadership and guidance in this period of inevitable social change.” He then tried to set up a meeting with President Eisenhower but instead he got to speak with Vice President Richard Nixon for two hours. Nixon was reported to have been impressed with Reverend King and even told the president that he might enjoy meeting with him in the future.

The Civil Rights Act of 1960 addressed some of the shortcomings of the 1957 act by expanding the authority of federal judges to protect voting rights and requiring local authorities to maintain comprehensive voting records. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made racial discrimination and segregation illegal.

Much more effective in terms of ensuring equality at the polls was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which abolished the poll tax and other means of keeping blacks from the voting booths.—Wikipedia

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James O. Eastland: Views on civil rights and race

Eastland did not mince words when it came to his feelings about the races mingling. He testified to the Senate 10 days after the Brown decision came down:

The Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination… Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire.

While patently offensive today, at that time many white southerners held such views.

When three civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman went missing in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, he reportedly told President Lyndon Johnson that the incident was a hoax and there was no Ku Klux Klan in the state, surmising that the three had gone to Chicago:

Johnson: Jim, we’ve got three kids missing down there. What can I do about it?

Eastland: Well, I don’t know. I don’t believe there’s . . . I don’t believe there’s three missing.

Johnson: We’ve got their parents down here.

Eastland: I believe it’s a publicity stunt…

Johnson once said that, “Jim Eastland could be standing right in the middle of the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he’d say the niggers caused it, helped out by the Communists.”

Eastland, along with Senators Robert Byrd, John McClellan, Olin D. Johnston, Sam Ervin, and Strom Thurmond, made unsuccessful attempts to block Thurgood Marshall‘s confirmation to the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Often, offensive statements related to race were attributed to Eastland during this period even though they may have been made by other speakers. Although Eastland was a staunch segregationist, he refrained from the most extreme rhetoric that characterized other civil rights opponents.

Eastland opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage caused many Mississippi Democrats to openly support Barry Goldwater‘s presidential bid that year, but Eastland did not publicly oppose the election of Lyndon Johnson. In fact, four years earlier he had quietly supported John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Although Goldwater was heavily defeated by incumbent Lyndon Johnson, he carried Mississippi with 87% of the popular vote (his best showing in any state due to his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Eastland was often at odds with Johnson’s policy on civil rights, but their friendship remained close and Johnson often sought Eastland’s support and guidance on other issues, such as the failed Chief Justice nomination of Abe Fortas in 1969. In the 1950s, Johnson was one of three Senators from the South who didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto, as did Eastland and most Southern Senators.—Wikipedia

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Q&A with Robert Caro

Lyndon Baines Johnson Signs 1964 Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

was passed after increasing political pressure and violence against African-Americans. The drive for its passage was boosted by the assassination of JFK. This was the most far-reaching legislation of its kind since Reconstruction. It included 11 titles which dealt with voting practices, segregation, provided financial aid to desegregating schools, extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission for four more years, outlawed federal funds for educations institutions or programs practicing discrimination, outlawed employment and union discrimination, required gathering census data by race in some areas, prevented federal courts from sending a civil rights case back to state or local courts, established the Community Relations Service (CRS) to arbitrate local race problems and provided right of jury trial in any case that arose from any section of the act.

—Civil Rights Acts and Other Remedies

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (“public accommodations”).

Powers given to enforce the act were initially weak, but were supplemented during later years. Congress asserted its authority to legislate under several different parts of the United States Constitution, principally its power to regulate interstate commerce under Article One (section 8), its duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and its duty to protect voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would later sign the landmark Voting Rights Act into law.—


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Jerusalem: The Biography

By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgment Day and the battlefield of today’s clash of civilizations. From King David to Barack Obama, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism and coexistence. How did this small, remote town become the Holy City, the “center of the world” and now the key to peace in the Middle East? In a gripping narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals this ever-changing city in its many incarnations, bringing every epoch and character blazingly to life. Jerusalem’s biography is told through the wars, love affairs and revelations of the men and women—kings, empresses, prophets, poets, saints, conquerors and whores—who created, destroyed, chronicled and believed in Jerusalem. As well as the many ordinary Jerusalemites who have left their mark on the city, its cast varies from Solomon, Saladin and Suleiman the Magnificent to Cleopatra, Caligula and Churchill . . .

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The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power

By Robert Caro

A breathtakingly dramatic story [told] with consummate artistry and ardor . . . It showcases Mr. Caro’s masterly gifts as a writer: his propulsive sense of narrative, his talent for enabling readers to see and feel history in the making and his ability to situate his subjects’ actions within the context of their times . . Johnson emerges as both a larger-than-life, Shakespearean personage –with epic ambition and epic flaws—and a more human-scale puzzle . . . Taken together the installments of Mr. Caro’s monumental life of Johnson so far not only create a minutely detailed picture of an immensely complicated and conflicted individual, but they also form a revealing prism by which to view the better part of a century in American life and politics.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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posted 10 October 2010




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Related files:  To Fulfill These Rights  

Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves? 

Civil Rights Acts and Other Remedies 

The Civil Rights Act of March 1875

The Autobiography of Medgar Evers  The Political Thought of James Forman  A Tribute to Kwame Toure  Martin and Malcolm on Nonviolence 

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