State Bar of Texas Blog

Clinton praises 'political genius,' 'martyrs' who made civil rights laws a reality

Former President Bill Clinton took the stage Wednesday during the second evening of the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Following a series of inspiring readings on civil rights presented in part by the families of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Clinton reflected on the accomplishments of civil rights leaders in the 1960s and how the nation should work to honor and continue their efforts.

“These laws were bargained for shrewdly by a political genius,” Clinton said in reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. “They were championed with great purpose by distinguished citizens. But they were also paid for with the blood of martyrs.”

Citizens owe it to them to continue to move forward together, Clinton said, noting that there are “no final victories in politics” and that “thank you is not good enough.”

After referencing the leadership style of Nelson Mandela, Clinton stressed the importance of practicing the “politics of inclusion.” He also touched on the current state of the Voting Rights Act and voter ID issues from state to state, specifically criticizing Texas for its laws.

“We’re laughing, but it’s dead serious,” Clinton said after making a comment that he was at one point considering coming to Texas for additional schooling, but can’t because he doesn’t have the proper ID. “This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it.”

He further emphasized the importance of disagreements, so long as the purpose is to move forward, not paralyze and divide the country.

“We have too many current challenges to waste today trying to recreate a yesterday that we’re better off done with,” he said. “We have too many challenges to waste any opportunity to work together to deal with them.”

The three-day summit concludes today following conversations with President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush. Former President Jimmy Carter spoke at the event on Tuesday. 

Live stream the summit here

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