President Obama delivered a speech today at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum at the Civil Rights Summit celebrating 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.
Obama paid tribute to Johnson's tenacity and vision in fostering the passage of the Civil Rights Act — as well as other landmark legislation including the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Fair Housing Act. He characterized the Texan president as strong-willed -- but flawed, despite his successes -- and said that the fight for equality isn't over.
He began his remarks with an anecdote about Johnson's push to pass the Civil Rights Act and its potentially negative effect on his legacy in the early days of his presidency. He admitted Johnson initially voted against the legislation during his time in the U.S. Senate, but that the "winds of change blew" and that LBJ used his power as President to pass the legislation.
“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," Obama said. "To which it is said President Johnson replied, ‘Well, what the hell is the presidency for?’”
Obama commented he was a product of Johnson's legislation, and that some of LBJ's legislation regulated issues with which the country still struggles, including fair housing, immigration and healthcare.
Obama recalled “a healthcare 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 that we know today as Medicare.”
President Obama closed his speech by arguing the march to equality in the Civil Rights era is not over, but that "the story of America is a story of progress."
The Civil Rights Summit also included remarks from former President Carter on Tuesday and former President Clinton last night.
Former President George W. Bush is the summit’s concluding speaker this evening.