Lot 697

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A superlative Presidential bill-signing pen, the pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 6 1/4" long Esterbrook 2668 steel-nibbed bears a black and clear plastic grip engraved in white lettering: "THE PRESIDENT - THE WHITE HOUSE". The pen is affixed within a shadowbox frame with the label which is always presented with such pens. This one reads: "One of the pens used by the President, August 6, 1965, in signing S. 1564, An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes." This pen was presented by Johnson to Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. (1911-1984) for decades waged in the halls of Congress a stubborn, resourceful and historic campaign for social justice, earning him the nickname "The 101st Senator". He was a leader in efforts for the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 CIVIL WAR Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and all of their strengthening provisions. In 1980 Mitchell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. Obtained by our consignor directly from Mitchell's son, with letter of provenance. The 1965 Voting Rights Act naturally followed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Ironically, the 1964 Act had resulted in an outbreak of violence in the South. White racists had launched a campaign against the success that Martin Luther King had had in getting African Americans to register to vote. The violence obliged Johnson to undertake further efforts to strengthen civil rights legislation. He introduced to Congress the idea of a Voting Rights Act in what is considered to be one of his best speeches: "Rarely are we met with a challenge...to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such as an issue...the command of the Constitution is plain. It is wrong - deadly wrong - to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country." With his commitment to the cause, Congress realized that Johnson would not back down on this issue and if they hindered or failed to back it, Americans would view the failure to be one by Congress alone. The Act was passed. It outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes as a way of assessing whether anyone was fit or unfit to vote. As far as Johnson was concerned, all you needed to vote was American citizenship and the registration of your name on an electoral list. No form of hindrance to this would be tolerated by the law courts. The impact of this act was dramatic. By the end of 1966, only four out of the traditional 13 Southern states had less than 50% of African Americans registered to vote. By 1968, even hard-line Mississippi had 59% of African Americans registered. In the longer term, far more African Americans were elected into public office.

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May 13, 2009 10:00 AM EDT
Stamford, CT, US

Alexander Historical Auctions LLC

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