President Barack Obama delivered the keynote speech at the Civil Rights Summit on Thursday, April 10, 2014, which was held at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Tex. His remarks followed former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and preceded George W. Bush who was speaking later in the day.
The high profile event commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964 in the East Room of the White House with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his side, along with a host of civil rights activists and supporters.
In his address, President Obama praised late President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was thrust into presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “Four days into his sudden presidency,” Obama opens, “and the night before he would address a joint session of the Congress in which he once served — Lyndon Johnson sat around a table with his closest advisors, preparing his remarks to a shattered and grieving nation.
“He wanted to call on senators and representatives to pass a civil rights bill — the most sweeping since Reconstruction. And most of his staff counseled him against it. They said it was hopeless; that it would anger powerful Southern Democrats and committee chairmen; that it risked derailing the rest of his domestic agenda. And one particularly bold aide 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?’ What the hell’s the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?”
Obama continues amid head nods, laughter and applause throughout his speech, “And those children were on his mind when he strode to the podium that night in the House Chamber, when he called for the vote on the Civil Rights law. ‘It never occurred to me,’ he said, ‘in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students’ that he had taught so many years ago, ‘and to help people like them all over this country. But now I do have that chance. And I’ll let you in on a secret – I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.'”
The 3-day summit, which kicked off on Tuesday shined a bight light on the significant role Johnson played in the Civil Rights Movement, which along with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, made it possible for three of the living presidents to hold the highest office: Carter, Clinton and Obama.
The GM Foundation, which donates hundreds of millions of dollars to American charities, educational organizations and disaster relief worldwide, was the first corporation to support the LBJ Civil Rights Summit.
“The GM Foundation is committed to helping the LBJ Library and Foundation shine a spotlight on the importance of the Civil Rights Act and the heroic actions by President Johnson to bring this bill to law in America 50 years ago,” GM Foundation Vivian Pickard announces to press. “We are proud to stand alongside significant figures from American history and culture to recognize the importance of this milestone.”