Marking The 50th Anniversary Of The Civil Rights Act

Apr 10, 2014

This week, U.S. presidents are heading to Austin, Texas, to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are all scheduled to speak in addition to President Obama at the Civil Rights Summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

The anniversary not only honors the legislation, but the president behind it, Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson is often remembered as the presidential force behind the Vietnam War, but with anniversaries like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which has its 50th anniversary next year, Johnson is being reintroduced as the civil rights president.

Ben Philpott, senior political reporter KUT, Austin speaks with Here & Now’s Robin Young about the Civil Rights Summit.


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President Obama is in Austin, Texas today at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library taking part in the 50th anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Act. The president opened his remarks at the even with a story about the 36th president. Obama saying that the night before Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress, calling on them to pass the Civil Rights Bill, LBJ's staff counseled him against the move.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And one particularly bold aid said he did not believe a president should spend his time and power on lost causes however worthy they might be. To which it is said, President Johnson replied, well, what the hell's the presidency for?


YOUNG: And president Obama today went on to reiterate what is the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in. His speech is part of a three-day Civil Rights Summit being held at the Presidential Library in honor of the president who signed the legislation into law in 1964. LBJ long known as the Vietnam War president, but this week being applauded as the Civil Rights president.

Ben Philpott is senior political reporter for KUT Austin, part of the HERE AND NOW contributor's network. And he's been covering the summit. So, Ben, what's been the response to the president - President Obama - today?

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Well, you know, this is just kind of the pinnacle of the summit. We've got four presidents speaking. Not just Obama, but President Carter, President Clinton and President George W. Bush. He's speaking today also. You know, so this has just been kind of - in a nutshell, this is the rebirth or the reimagining - not reimagining - but this is the rebirth of the Johnson presidency from that idea of the Vietnam War president to the Civil Rights president. Several people have said that he is - that Johnson is the single most important Civil Rights president outside of Abraham Lincoln.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, and you were looking for the word there, but a phrase that's been used was used by Ben Barnes. He's the LBJ protege, but also ex-Texas Lieutenant Governor. He calls it the reintroduction of Johnson.

PHILPOTT: There you go.

YOUNG: Let's listen to more of President Obama. Today, he also stressed the importance of laws to make change and protect the people.


OBAMA: He understood laws couldn't accomplish everything. But he also knew that only the law could anchor change and set hearts and minds on a different course. And a lot of Americans needed the law's most basic protections at that time. As Dr. Kind said at the time, it may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me. And I think that's pretty important.


YOUNG: Ben Philpott, obviously, talking about Civil Rights there. But the president - the current president is also trying to get some laws passed. Were there - was there mention of other issues that have to do with Civil Rights?

PHILPOTT: You know, not so much in his speech today. You know, I thought that maybe he would talk some about the recent executive order that he signed in terms of equal pay with female staff at the federal level. That has not only been in a panel - that's going to be in a panel at the summit, the idea of, you know, the glass ceiling I guess is the way they're describing it in the panel. But, you know, that's a big deal in Texas at the moment in the governor's race where you've got a female Democrat, State Senator Wendy Davis, running against male Greg Abbott on the Republican side, the attorney general. And the issue of equal pay has been something that, you know, got vetoed in the last legislative session. So thought maybe something there might come up. But he really did stick to the idea of Johnson's importance pushing this kind of legislation through and then just continuing to move it forward.

>>YOUNG; Ben Philpott, senior political reporter for KUT in Austin as President Obama addresses the summit today at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library there. Ben, thanks so much.

PHILPOTT: Thank you.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.