AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s all just sinking in, that Austin, indeed Texas, may never have seen a historical summit quite like it. One president honored for his courageous stand on civil rights by hundreds of historical figures, including four living presidents.
The civil rights summit this week honored President Lyndon Johnson’s signature achievement, the landmark legislation of 1964.
“I never had a chance to meet him, I was just a peanut farmer,” Jimmy Carter recalled. “But I wrote him to praise his courage for what he had done.”
Bill Clinton reminded everyone LBJ’s top aides opposed his push for the legislation, but that “he sensed opportunity, and felt obligation.”
“He made one principle clear for all time, a segregated society can never be a successful society,” George W. Bush said.
And Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president, also recalled that LBJ resisted his reluctant staff. “President Johnson replied to them, ‘What the hell is the presidency for?'”
The half-century perspective on LBJ’s landmark legislation attracted all manner of people and opinions to town. It would have pleased the old man, who loved to twist the arms in a crowded room.
“I think (Johnson would) be proud,” said Bruce Todd, Travis County Commissioner and former Austin mayor. “I spoke to his daughters and they think so too, and they would would know. I think he’d say, ‘That risk I took 50 years ago was all worth it.'”
“It may be the most historic occasion this state has ever had,” said Larry Temple, chairman of the LBJ Foundation. “You had four presidents here on a major, major issue of civil rights. Looking back, looking where we are now, and looking forward ahead.”
Planners say this won’t be the last summit about LBJ’s legislative legacy.
Still to come, gatherings about breakthroughs in voting rights, medicare and medicaid, clean air and water, and the arts and education.
Quite a list.