WSW: Book Explores Powerful Congressman Now a "Footnote to History"

Nov 24, 2014

Credit Bob Duke/Texas A&M Press

Retired Eastern Michigan University Professor Bob Duke says a key ally of President Lyndon Johnson has "slipped through the cracks" of history.

Duke, who has a PhD from Western Michigan University is the author of LBJ and Grassroots Federalism: Congressman Bob Poage, Race and Change in Texas.  Duke says he wanted to write about how Johnson made things happen by working with member of Congress. 

Duke says he focused on one place, Waco, Texas, to see how Johnson and Poage worked together to make government work for the citizens. Duke says both Johnson and Poage were products of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal." He says those programs were a partnership between federal and local governments. Duke says Johnson continued to operate that way in Congress and as President. 

Poage long served as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and President Kennedy considered appointing him Secretary of Agriculture. But Duke says Poage remained a segregationist even as the country was changing, and Johnson was seeking support for civil rights legislation. Duke says the split over segregation caused divisions between Johnson and Poage.  

Bob Duke
Credit Bob Duke/Texas A&M Press

Despite Johnson's reputation for persuading members of Congress, he never asked Poage to vote for the Civil Rights Act. Duke says as far as he can tell, Johnson didn't need Poage's vote in the House. So the President spent his time working on getting the votes needed in the Senate. 

In addition to his book, Duke also wrote a song about Johnson and Poage. He performed it in our studio when he came in for his interview.