For the first time, four living U.S. Presidents came together for the Civil Rights Summit held last week from April 8 to April 10 in UT Austin’s LBJ Library.
The summit involved a host of prestigious speakers such as President Obama, David Robinson, and former Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton and Carter.
The speakers at the summit focused on the accomplishments of President Lyndon B. Johnson – specifically his accomplishment in spearheading the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Speakers also addressed diversity, immigration, gender inequality, racism, voter I.D. Laws and many other important issues.
The keynote speaker for Tuesday was former President Jimmy Carter. Carter focused on issues such as unfair prostitution laws in the U.S. and unequal pay based on gender. He gave examples of progressive prostitution policies in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden.
Carter also criticized the Obama administration for taking so long to address the gender inequality pay gap. He also discussed a White House report that revealed that unequal pay exists even in the White House.
On Wednesday, the summit included a speech by UT Austin President Bill Powers, in which he discussed the benefits of diversity on college campuses. He stressed that college affordability is the key to diversity.
“We do need to make sure that not a single person won’t come to the university because of economics,” stated Powers. Other speakers — such as Ben Barnes — former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and keynote Speaker Bill Clinton spoke against restrictive voter laws that have been passed in some southern states.
Bill Clinton and former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young both proposed the idea of putting a photo on Social Security cards and using that as form of voter I.D.
Other speakers from Wednesday included University of California Berkeley Professor Harry Edwards, who discussed institutionalized racism and ignorance.
When asked about the benefits of academic courses such as gender studies and African American studies, he stated “Anytime that you can educate a population that is fundamentally ignorant of their own history… you’re making a step in the right direction.” Edwards also told the press that education without diversity is often not education, but people being propagandized.
Speaker Joseph Califano, former Special Assistant to President Johnson, explained that the Voting Rights Act helped change the legal profession by giving lawyers a law they could use to fight discrimination. Califano also explained that the law showed people they could be their own lawyers “and really do something to make this country better.”
The keynote speakers on the final day were President Obama and former president George W. Bush.
Before and during President Obama’s speech, there was a protest of young activists who marched towards the Johnson Presidential Library; they demanded that President Obama stop deporting undocumented workers. They demanded that President Obama should give an executive order to stop deportations and family separation. Though the protest was peaceful, three people were arrested for sitting in the middle of a road and refusing to leave.
Despite the protests, the Summit ran as planned. After President Obama’s speech, Jesse Jackson discussed the importance of voter rights at a press conference. He argued that leaving states with the power to control voting laws can create too much discrepancy and that, as a fundamental right, voting should be handled by the federal government. One of the harms Jackson mentioned is that voting is becoming more difficult for college students by not allowing a college I.D. to be used as a valid photo ID.
The last speaker was former President George W. Bush. He touched on the benefits of the Voting Rights Act and education. Bush, as well as his former secretary, Margaret Spellings, discussed the importance of No Child Left Behind. Both argued that the legislation has been helpful by creating accountability through testing.
Bush ended his speech on a light note, joking, “Former presidents compare their presidential library the way other men compare their, well…”