Civil Rights Summit: A roundup of Texas Bar Blog coverage

Pictured: Attorneys David Boies, center, and Theodore Olson, right, discuss their joint effort in arguing against California's Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court during "Gay Marriage: A Civil Right?", a panel moderated by John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, at the Civil Rights Summit on Tuesday. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly, courtesy of LBJ Foundation)

The LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit wrapped up Thursday after three days of panel discussions and speeches about the history and future of civil rights.

The Texas Bar Blog covered many of the activities, and you can find links to the stories below.

The event was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June, the State Bar of Texas 2014 Annual Meeting will also commemorate the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with speeches from Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the legislation, and LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove, among others.

Visit texasbar.com/annualmeeting for more information.

Texas Bar Blog coverage of Civil Rights Summit (listed from newest to oldest)

President Obama remembers LBJ's gifts and flaws, says office of presidency is meant for improving American lives 

Education: 'The Ultimate Civil Right'

Making America better: a look back at the movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 

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

Former President Jimmy Carter discusses civil rights at summit  

LBJ, MLK, and the push for civil rights

Immigration reform discussed during LBJ Civil Rights Summit

Boies & Olson: Gay marriage latest fight in civil rights movement

LBJ Civil Rights Summit starts today in Austin

 

President Obama remembers LBJ's gifts and flaws, says office of presidency is meant for improving American lives

President Barack Obama, delivering the keynote address of the Civil Rights Summit in Austin on Thursday, steered away from current civil rights concerns and legislative solutions and instead explored the man that was Lyndon Baines Johnson. While the president fell silent on gay marriage, equal pay for women, and immigration reform, he delved into LBJ’s childhood, time in the U.S. Senate, and characteristics as a “master of politics and the legislative process” who made possible the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Going back to LBJ’s early life in the Texas Hill Country, Obama explained that poverty was so common for LBJ’s family that they did not even know it had a name. “President Johnson had known the metallic taste of hunger; the feel of a mother’s calloused hands, rubbed raw from washing and cleaning and holding a household together,” said Obama. “His cousin Ava remembered sweltering days spent on her hands and knees in the cotton fields, with Lyndon whispering beside her, ‘Boy, there’s got to be a better way to make a living than this. There’s got to be a better way.’” LBJ used his determination and ambition to make a better life for himself, and, Obama said, it was this tenacity that benefited him later in life when trying to get Congress to pass the Civil Rights Bill.

Obama reminded the audience that LBJ had moral shortcomings and “was not perfect,” having opposed every single civil rights bill during his first 20 years in Congress. But when LBJ stood in the Oval Office, “and asked himself what the true purpose of his office was for, what was the endpoint of his ambitions, he would reach back in his own memory and he’d remember his own experience with want. And he knew that he had a unique capacity, as the most powerful white politician from the South, to not merely challenge the convention that had crushed the dreams of so many, but to ultimately dismantle for good the structures of legal segregation.” LBJ, Obama said, embodied America, “with all our gifts and all our flaws. Making their lives better was what the hell the presidency was for.”

Moved by those leaders and participants of the civil rights movement who were willing to sacrifice everything for their own liberation—and despite warnings from his own advisers—Obama said LBJ used his iron will and skills honed in Congress and “fought for and argued and horse traded and bullied and persuaded until ultimately he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.… And he didn’t stop there…. ‘The meat in the coconut,’ as President Johnson would put it, was the Voting Rights Act, so he fought for and passed that as well. Immigration reform came shortly after. And then, a Fair Housing Act. And then, a health care law that opponents described as ‘socialized medicine’ that would curtail America’s freedom, but ultimately freed millions of seniors from the fear that illness could rob them of dignity and security in their golden years, which we now know today as Medicare.”

Obama said that progress in America can be hard and slow and stymied, and a president can feel as if he is just a relay swimmer in the currents of history. Still, these currents can be bended, he said, calling on the young people who will follow him to fulfill the goals of a great society. “And that means we’ve got a debt to pay. That means we can’t afford to be cynical.… We are here today because we know we cannot be complacent.”

Education: 'The Ultimate Civil Right'

A conversation on education wrapped up the panel sessions Thursday during the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. education secretary and president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, answered questions on the state and potential future of the American education system from CBS News reporter Bob Schieffer.

A clip of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, once a Texas teacher, discussing his views on education opened the conversation, much of which focused on policies related to education reform. Both Miller and Spellings assisted with the national implementation of No Child Left Behind, a reauthorization and revision of Johnson’s 1965 Elementary and Secondary Act, under the George W. Bush administration.

 

“This is a bill that passed because it was cooperation between Republicans and Democrats,” said Schieffer, referring to the difference in political leanings of those involved in No Child Left Behind.

“It was a common cause,” Spellings said. “We shared a belief that we could and should do this work.”

The Common Core and Race to the Top initiatives soon came into the discussion.

“The Common Core, I think, takes us to a new iteration,” Miller said. “We recognize that students in America are not going to thrive in an advanced economy if they’re just filling in bubbles, if they can’t explain the concepts that they learned in class or they learned in a particular course. That analytical thinking is part of education.”

Spellings said she has no quarrel with the Common Core, but is concerned about its application and accountability.

“It’s the standard,” she said. “But equally important is how many students can meet that standard?”

“Just because you’ve developed a new assessment, a new test, you cannot forget the accountability pieces,” agreed Miller.

Schieffer also read statistics comparing students in the U.S. with students of other nations, which largely implied that the U.S. education system is falling behind. Miller said the U.S. evaluates a broader range of students than other countries, while Spellings argued “the rest of the world is leaping ahead” while the U.S. stands still.

Both parties agreed that equal access to excellent teachers and resources is essential to closing the nation’s education gap and shared excitement for successful charter schools. The pair also stressed the importance of using technology in classrooms to customize teaching plans and make test results immediate for quicker adjustments to learning needs. Miller said he has witnessed many young educators who are working to be innovative in their teaching.

“We need an effective teacher with all of our children, not some of our children. That’s part of the civil rights legacy,” Miller said.

Footage of the “Education: The Ultimate Civil Right” conversation and other panels from the Civil Rights Summit can be found at civilrightssummit.org. The three-day summit, which ended Thursday, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Find links to other Texas Bar Blog coverage below.

Making America better: a look back at the movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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

Former President Jimmy Carter discusses civil rights at summit 

LBJ, MLK, and the push for civil rights

Immigration reform discussed during LBJ Civil Rights Summit

Boies & Olson: Gay marriage latest fight in civil rights movement

Photo credit: Margaret Spellings, center, president of the George W. Bush Center and former education secretary, and U.S. Rep. George Miller, right, discuss the state of education with Bob Schieffer, CBS News reporter. Photo by Lauren Gerson, courtesy of the LBJ Foundation.

Making America better: a look back at the movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Speakers for the Civil Rights Summit panel titled “Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement: Views From the Front Line” stressed the importance of looking to the future. But their recounted experiences of the 1950s and 1960s served as an instrumental reminder to inform the present. Julian Bond, former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, and UN Ambassador Andrew Young—who all played important roles in the civil rights movement—spent the panel reflecting on their past despairs, fears, and victories, as well as their hopes for today’s generations.

Each of the panelists told their story of what it was like as active members of the civil rights movement. Lewis, who grew up in rural Alabama, said that his sharecropper parents had told him not to get into any trouble. But then he heard about the actions of Rosa Parks and listened to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “I saw signs and I didn’t like the signs I saw,” he said. “I got in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Lewis went on to help form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and lead the Bloody Sunday demonstration, all the while maintaining a philosophy of nonviolence, love, and peace. “When I got arrested the first time, I felt free. I felt liberated,” he said, noting that it was the civil rights movement that created the necessary environment to make the Civil Rights Act of 1964 possible. “The March on Washington, I think, was one of the finest hours. It was a sea of humanity.”

Bond was a student at Morehouse College when he became involved with the movement. After hearing about sit-ins happening around the country, he staged a student sit-in at Atlanta City Hall. “One thing was certain—being arrested would follow,” he said. Bond would soon help found SNCC, lead protests, found the Southern Poverty Law Center, and serve in the George House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate.

Young, meanwhile, was growing up in New Orleans, where his father told him, "'White supremacy is a sickness. And you don’t get mad at sick people. You help them. Don’t get mad—get smart.’” He said that the March on Washington never would have happened without the South. Young went on to help King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinate desegregation efforts.

All three of the men shared their proudest moments of the civil rights movement. Bond’s was when he was arrested in the Atlanta City Hall, while Lewis’s was marching from Selma to Montgomery for what turned into Bloody Sunday. Young’s was when he was beat by KKK members for marching in St. Augustine, Florida. “That night I felt good,” said Young. “I felt like playing football.”

Still they had moments of deep sadness. When King was assassinated, Bond said he felt like one of his family members had died. “I felt everything we’ve worked for is over.” But Lewis and Young explained that King had so prepared them for the event that they knew how to move on. “The philosophy of nonviolence tells us not to get lost in a sea of despair,” said Lewis. Young added, “We came right back from the hospital and we sat down and we said, ‘they can kill the dreamer, but they cannot kill the dream.’”

In the face of such violence, how did these men do what they thought had to be done? “If it took our death to redeem the soul of America,” said Lewis. “I think some of us were prepared.” Bond added, “Generally it was to say, ‘well he’s doing it, and he’s doing it, and she’s doing it—so why can’t I do it?’”

Bond’s comment led the panel to discuss the role of women in the movement. Although history remembers leaders such as King and Malcolm X, women—with the exception of Rosa Parks—are less well known. “Without young women, middle aged women, old women, there wouldn’t have been a modern day civil rights movement,” said Lewis, noting that women were instrumental in the movement being peaceful as many men initially thought they would have trouble being nonviolent.

Moving on to the future, the panelists told the audience what they think are the civil rights issues of today and of the future. In his response, Young focused on the importance of addressing economic issues to help remedy world hunger and homelessness, as well as lowering the cost of college tuition to make education and resulting student loan debt less prohibitive and punitive. Bond cited concerns for education and segregated housing, in which “white people live over here and black people live over here.”

Lewis said he was tired of ignoring the people “in the shadows,” and encouraged a movement for immigration reform. “The most pressing need for young people is to move with a more deliberate speed to create a truly multicultural, multiracial, democratic society,” he said. “I don’t accept this idea that there are individuals that are illegal. There’s no such thing as an illegal human being. I think we’ve been too quiet.”

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

LBJ, MLK, and the push for civil rights

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared a deep, personal, and practical relationship that helped in passing 1960s civil rights legislation, panelists said Wednesday as part of the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit.

“I think it was very warm and personal,” said former Rep. Andrew Young, a close King aide, describing the relationship between King and Johnson. “Whenever I was with them there was never an argument or tension; there was gentlemen’s disagreement. Dr. King saw himself as having to keep the pressure on.”

Pressure created by the March on Washington and nonviolent civil rights demonstrations in the South—and authorities’ often brutal crackdowns on them—began to open the door to major civil rights legislation in 1963, but it took leadership from Johnson and congressional leaders to push it through the following year, speakers said.

That legislation, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, is the focus of the three-day summit, which is bringing four of the five living U.S. presidents and numerous other leaders to Austin to discuss past and current civil rights issues.

The “LBJ and MLK” panel featured speakers who either worked with or extensively studied Johnson, including historian Taylor Branch; author Doris Kearns Goodwin, a former LBJ aide; Joseph Califano Jr., former U.S. Army general counsel who was Johnson’s top domestic aide; and moderator Todd Purdum, a journalist and author of “An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” a new book about the Civil Rights Act. Young, who went on to serve as a United Nations ambassador and Atlanta mayor, offered perspective from the movement’s front lines.

The speakers agreed that although Johnson initially called for passage of the Civil Rights Act in honor of the recently slain President John F. Kennedy, he quickly made the issue his own and did everything in his power to see it through Congress, even at the risk of alienating fellow Southern Democrats.

“Within a month after Johnson became president, the government changed,” Califano said. “The pressure to do civil rights…it was in his gut.”

Johnson’s later civil rights achievements, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were his proudest, Goodwin said.

“And he knew it would stand the test of time,” she said.

The session began with the playing of a recorded phone conversation between King and Johnson in which they pledged cooperation, although their relationship was not without conflict. Goodwin said tension is inevitable when an outside movement is pushing a president to act more quickly than the government is prepared to act.

“The same tension existed between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass,” said Goodwin, author of the 2005 Lincoln biography "Team of Rivals." “Douglass was constantly telling him, ‘You’re not doing everything I want you to do,’ and eventually they became really good friends. And Lincoln understood he needed Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists, just as LBJ needed the civil rights movement. And together Martin Luther King and LBJ produced something—thank God they were there at that moment of history—that changed our country forever.”

The Civil Rights Act was the gateway to broader freedoms for many other Americans, including women and the disabled, Branch said.

“All those doors opened in the wake of going through the gate of race,” Branch said, adding that he viewed civil rights leaders as akin to founding fathers. “They were confronting subjugation and they were setting in motion equal citizenship.”

 

Immigration reform discussed during LBJ Civil Rights Summit

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved a law that changed the quota system for immigration, signing the Immigration and Nationality Act on New York’s Liberty Island. During the first day of the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor, discussed immigration reform in the 21st century, touching on the history and current state of immigration in the U.S. and examining opportunities for future updates.

Overall, the two leaders shared the belief that there is a need for realistic modifications in immigration policy, calling on government leaders to set aside politics for change.

“Pure and simple, it is in the best interest of America, economically and for other reasons, that we have immigration reform and that we take the 11 million people that are here and give them the opportunity to be here legally so that they, as the term is, ‘get out of the shadows,’” Barbour said.

The two discussed financial issues of immigration reform, acknowledged border issues and a current challenge of defining “border security,” and tackled the topic of people who overstay their visas.

“I can usually tell the people that are serious about the policy and the folks who are just using it as a political wedge issue because the people who are serious about the policy and actually care about the issue always speak to the issue of overstay or give a full picture of the problem,” Castro said.

Prompted by moderator Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, Barbour and Castro also touched on the GOP’s tone surrounding immigration laws, namely Jeb Bush’s recent comments that some illegal immigration is the result of an “act of love.” Barbour said that more candidates should express how they actually feel about the subject of immigration—not just how they think voters want them to respond. Castro noted that candidates will likely feel more comfortable expressing honest opinions following the primaries and predicted that more 2016 Republican candidates than not will hold views closer to Bush’s position. Additionally, the DREAM Act came into the conversation when a woman in the audience, identified by the AP as a “DREAMer,” shouted to Castro to urge Obama to stop deportations of families.

As the panel came to a close, Castro used the opportunity to remind the audience that throughout history, groups of immigrants that were once seen as bothersome were finally welcomed, and America was strengthened for it. “We need them as much as they need us,” he said.

The three-day summit, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continues today. Visit www.civilrightssummit.org for more information.

 

 

Boies & Olson: Gay marriage latest fight in civil rights movement

The fight for same-sex marriage is part of a continuum of the civil rights movement and one that has only one valid legal outcome, attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson said Tuesday in Austin during the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The two high-profile attorneys, who successfully represented the plaintiffs challenging California’s gay marriage ban in 2013, opened the three-day summit with an hourlong discussion that touched on their work on the landmark Supreme Court case, their views on the public’s shifting attitudes toward gay rights, and their relationship as a legal “odd couple” who put aside partisanship to work together. (The attorneys hold different political philosophies and argued opposing sides of Bush v. Gore in 2000.)

“I thought it was extremely important that we present this not as a left-or-right issue but as a constitutional issue,” said Olson, who is currently working with Boies in challenging Virginia’s gay marriage ban.

The attorneys acknowledged that some people hold religious objections to same-sex marriage. But as a legal matter, there should be no question about what is right, Boies said.

 

“As a matter of legal principle, there simply are not two arguments,” said Boies, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, along with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, establish a right to same-sex marriage.

The session, moderated by Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon, did not include an opponent of same-sex marriage.

Momentum is strong in the wake of the court’s June 2013 decisions in United States v. Windsor, striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that refused to recognize same-sex marriages, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, invalidating California’s same-sex marriage ban, the attorneys said.

Since then, federal district court judges across the country, including in Texas, have cited the Supreme Court rulings in striking down same-sex marriage bans in their states, although the rulings in Texas and elsewhere are being appealed. (In announcing he would appeal the Texas ruling, Attorney General Greg Abbott said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that states have the power to define and regulate marriage and that the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.)

The district court rulings, along with rapidly changing public views in favor of gay rights, make it clear that the U.S. is on course to legalize same-sex marriage, Boies and Olson said.

“The Supreme Court has said we do not tolerate putting classes of our citizens into boxes and groups in which we deny them rights to equal dignity,” Olson said. “And that’s what we have done with our gay and lesbian citizens.”