Lyndon Johnson, brought with him to the Presidency a vision of a country no longer divided into rich and poor, black and white, the powerless and the wielders of power. Out of the despair following JFK's assassination, Johnson inaugurated programs that aimed at closing the gap between rich and poor, and concomitantly between black and white Americans by launching an all out "War on Poverty." His American Opportunity Act included such programs as "Upward Bound," and "Headstart," that remain fixtures in American education even today.
Part of Johnson's plan focused on the empowerment of local action initiatives, or CAP's (Community Action Programs), to combat poverty in individual communities. Placing local black leaders (supported by federal stipends) in charge of implementing such programs sometimes drew the resentment of local white politicians and members of the law enforcement community. This resentment often resulted in official toleration of acts of uniformed brutality on black people, behavior that too often went unpunished. As animosities continued to fester, an already frustrated and angry black population in America's cities violently took that sense of unfairness to the streets in the form of demonstrations, looting, and the destruction of property.
Ironically all Johnson's plans and the "Great Society" legislation were making some progress toward allaying some of the conditions impeding economic advancement and educational opportunities, when cities turned to violence. Tolerance for the federal programs had been limited on both sides of the color spectrum because of white prejudice on one hand, and delayed realization of hopes on the other.
Major race riots have occurred in the United States at least since the Harlem Riots of 1948, but the 60's surpassed anything previously experienced. The five day Watts riot in August, 1965 saw 34 people die and a thousand injured; and the 1966 Detroit riot, 43 deaths. Following Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, rioting broke out in over 120 cities including Chicago and Washington. We still had miles to go before we could sleep.