OPINION COLUMNS

LBJ School hosts civil rights summit

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, April 16, 2014

President Barack Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spoke at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library’s Civil Rights Summit, held April 8-10 in Austin.

The summit marked the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s efforts culminating in Congress’ passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Johnson’s signing the bill into law on July 2, 1964.

“As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we honor the men and women who made it possible,” President Obama said in his address. “We recall the countless unheralded Americans, black and white, students and scholars, preachers and housekeepers whose names are etched not on monuments, but in the hearts of their loved ones and in the fabric of the country they helped to change.

“But we also gather here deep in the heart of the state that shaped (President Johnson), to recall one giant man’s remarkable efforts to make real the promise of our founding: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

Obama and the past presidents each uttered words to the effect that while Johnson’s accomplishments serve as durable bridges to a better America, every generation has civil rights challenges that must be recognized and addressed, and the value of teaching and learning about the work of predecessors is critical to the health of the nation.

Panels composed of historians, scholars, current and former public officials and noted personalities addressed a range of topics, including: LBJ and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., heroes of the civil rights movement, social justice in the 21st century, immigration policy, education, gay marriage, music and social consciousness and professional sports.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said, and others agreed, that LBJ’s mastery of the legislative process and effective use of the power of the White House proved keys to the success of the civil rights law, the voting rights law, the fair housing law, Medicaid, Medicare and other laws and federal programs that have been the legacy of the Johnson presidency and central to American life over the last half-century.

In their panel discussion, former NAACP President Julian Bond; U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; and former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young – associates of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – recounted their personal involvement in the movement. Each of the three credited many others and acknowledged the work of the ranks of the unnamed who struggled in the 1950s and 1960s to unravel racial segregation across the South, and pushed for equal protection and equal access, while generating worldwide awareness and spurring changes in hearts and minds across the United States.

Hall of fame professional athletes Jim Brown and Bill Russell traded anecdotes on breaking the color line in sports, opening doors after their retirement as players, and dealing with the day-to-day realities of life in America.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians Mavis Staples and Graham Nash performed songs and participated as panelists.

GOVERNOR LOOKS FOR MIAS

Gov. Rick Perry and first lady Anita Perry traveled to the Republic of Palau in the Western Pacific Ocean to participate in the BentProp Project, April 5 to April 17.

BentProp is an ongoing effort to find the remains of U.S. soldiers and sailors listed as “Missing in Action” in World War II battles fought in the South Pacific. Joining the Perrys on the island of Peleliu were former U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Romus Valton Burgin, a veteran of the September 1944 Battle of Peleliu.

According to the governor’s office, the Perrys “are traveling as guests of the BentStar Project, which assists in funding the BentProp Project and Pursuit Productions, which is filming a documentary on the 2014 expedition.”

REVENUES GROW IN MARCH

State Comptroller Susan Combs on April 9 announced state sales tax revenue in March was $2.09 billion, up 5.6 percent compared to March of the previous year.

“The growth in sales tax revenues was led by business spending in the oil and natural gas mining, wholesale trade and construction sectors,” Texas chief revenue officer explained. “Collections from restaurants were also strong. This marks 48 consecutive months of growth in state sales tax collections.”

Combs said her office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their April local sales tax allocations totaling $554.5 million, up 6.2 percent compared to April 2013.

Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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