Obama’s journey to Guantánamo
Our journey is not complete,” says President Obama, “until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law” (Obama puts gay equality centre stage, 22 January). In similarly stirring terms, Obama mentioned several uncompleted journeys in his inaugural speech, but overlooked the “journey” toward closing Guantánamo. This is especially strange as Obama made this a key priority immediately after taking office in 2009. It now seems the president has abandoned this journey. Which is bad news for its 166 detainees – including the former UK resident Shaker Aamer, who remains uncharged, untried and apparently forgotten.
Campaigns director, Amnesty International UK
• Gary Younge (A date to echo King’s dream, 21 January) omits an important name, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The election and re-election of an African-American president could never have occurred without the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Prior to that legislation black voters in southern states faced formidable obstacles preventing them from even registering to vote. In 1962, for instance, less than 30% of black voters in the south were registered to vote, whereas that figure leapt to 67% by 1970 as a direct result of the 1965 Act. Credit for that massively important legislation is, of course, partly due to the bravery of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders who organised sit-ins, marches and other forms of peaceful protest, thereby provoking often violent responses from local officials.
But these efforts would have counted for little without Johnson’s masterly leadership from the White House. It was his drive and legislative skill that made the act possible. And on this occasion at least LBJ was not content to simply pass a bill. He took a keen interest in its implementation, checking on the appointment of registrars, encouraging civil rights groups to put forward black candidates and monitoring the improvement in black registration figures.
Johnson’s standing as president has been profoundly marred by the tragedy of Vietnam, but his important contribution to the civil rights cause in the United States should not be forgotten.
Dr David Mervin
Emeritus reader in politics, University of Warwick