LBJ backers plan major civil rights summit to honor legacy
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The family and friends of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson will sponsor a major three-day civil rights summit to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act he signed – and hope this can help them broaden the image many have of the 36th president.
Some allies of Johnson feel the Vietnam War is the only prism through which the public now sees Johnson and his presidency and are working to make sure some of his major domestic achievements receive more recognition.
The Civil Rights Summit, to be held April 8-10 in Austin, Texas, is one part of that effort. It will “provide a definitive forum on the civil rights movement and the civil rights issues we face” today, Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library, told CNN Sunday.
The signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 is considered the nation’s most important civil rights legislation as it prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Following that law, Johnson signed landmark civil rights bills including the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1966 Fair Housing Act.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will attend the event, and organizers are confident former President George W. Bush, will come. President Barack Obama has been invited and hope he will put it on his calendar because having four Presidents there “would be a powerful moment,” as Updegrove put it.
Also speaking will be LBJ’s daughter Luci Baines Johnson and civil rights activists and icons, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Rep. John Lewis and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.
“We want to show the seminal nature of the Civil Rights Act and its transformational nature while carefully looking at those issues that affect America and the world today,” Updegrove said.
During the summit, events will also highlight how LBJ and his administration dealt with education and immigration which helped minorities and how he interacted with Martin Luther King.
Also those close to LBJ can be expected to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year of such landmark measures as Medicare, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act and the Highway Beautification Act.
“We want people to know what this President did – what he got done and how it continues to affect us,” Updegrove said.
As to how her father might be ultimately regarded, “I think that’s something the historians will look at. But can you think of where we would be without Lyndon Johnson? If we had not passed a civil rights bill? Before Daddy, we didn’t have any federal aid to education. The immigration bill. Think of what we would be like if Daddy hadn’t signed that bill,” his daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, told the New York Times, which first reported details of the civil rights summit.
Regarding the Vietnam War, Baines Johnson told The Times “no matter how hard he tried, he didn’t to be able to get out of that quagmire. Not only did he not get out of it in his lifetime, but his legacy indeed has that weight of the world on it.”
After he took over as President following John Kennedy’s assassination, the U.S. dramatically increased the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam from 16,000 in 1963 to over 500,000 in 1968. But that increase could not stop the conflict from being a stalemate – and prompting major anti-war protests to erupt across the nation. LBJ saw his popularity plummet and surprised the nation when he announced he would not seek another term as president.
By Kevin Bohn