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Calvin Professor Studies Famous Speech

December 15, 2006

A Calvin College communication professor has a new book coming out next month on the history of voting rights in the U.S., the civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, and the efforts of President Lyndon B. Johnson to create a more just society.

Texas A&M University Press will publish Garth Pauley's "LBJ's American Promise" sometime in January 2007, but Pauley received his first copies of the book this week.

The book focuses on Johnson's famous "We Shall Overcome" speech of March 15, 1965, in which he urged passage of legislation that ultimately became the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The book is grounded in primary research conducted at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and interviews with members of Johnson's staff.

Says Pauley:  "At a crucial moment in civil rights history, Johnson delivered an address to Congress that moved Martin Luther King Jr. to tears and earned praise from the media as the best presidential speech in American history."

Pauley's book begins with an examination of Johnson's speech as connected to the escalating protests in Selma, tracing the development of the speech in light of the question of whether or not Johnson would have made the speech without Selma.  He also carefully analyzes the text itself and also gauges the effectiveness of the speech, including responses in the media, among civil rights leader and in the general population.

The topic of civil rights and the U.S. presidency is one that Pauley has studied for over a decade.

Just three years ago he won one of the top awards in his field - the Karl R.
Wallace Memorial Award - for his work on civil rights rhetoric.  Pauley won the Wallace Award for his ongoing work on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a pivotal point in the Civil Rights movement that was held on August 28, 1963.

Pauley's primary research interest is the civil rights movement and its rhetoric.

He wrote an award-winning dissertation called "The Modern Presidency and Civil
Rights: Discourse on Race from Roosevelt to Nixon," now a book, and has written such articles as "W.E.B. Du Bois on Woman Suffrage: A Critical Analysis of His Crisis Writings" and "Harry Truman and the NAACP: A Case Study in Presidential Persuasion on Civil Rights."