4 of 5 living presidents to attend Austin Civil Rights Summit - FOX 35 News Orlando

4 of 5 living presidents to attend Austin Civil Rights Summit

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Four of the five living U.S. presidents are headed to Austin this week for a civil rights summit.

The event is in honor of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will all address attendees at the summit. Carter is set to speak on Tuesday, followed by Clinton on Wednesday and Bush on Thursday.

President Obama will deliver the keynote address Thursday morning.

The summit will also feature panel discussions on a range of topics, including civil rights, diversity, education, same-sex rights, immigration, women's rights and poverty. The summit is part of the "Cornerstones of Civil Rights" exhibit currently on display at the LBJ Library and Museum.

"These documents provide Americans with the freedoms that they enjoy today. Freedom from discrimination, freedom from being enslaved. It's a way to remind all Americans that people had to suffer and fought for the freedoms they enjoy today," said Michael McDonald, Registrar with the LBJ Library and Museum.

Some of the other speakers at the summit include U.T. President Bill Powers, former NFL running back Jim Brown, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, LBJ's daughters Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb, and Congressman John Lewis.

LBJ library Director Mark Updegrove said he hopes the summit will mark a turning point in Johnson's legacy, which has been dominated by the Vietnam War.

"When president Johnson first left the white house the dark cloud of Vietnam hung over his presidency and later his legacy, and I think as we get further and further from those years, that cloud begins to dissipates and we get a cleared perspective on what what President Johnson's domestic legacy looks like and how it impacts us today," Updegrove said.

The seeds that would grow into President's Johnson's dream of a Great Society were planted in the hard limestone of the Texas Hill Country and at a small school in San Marcos.

At Texas State University, in an area known as the Quad, there is a statute dedicated to one its most notable students, Lyndon Baines Johnson; Class of 1930.

"It was actually, it seems to me, absolutely critical in Johnson's political development to come here," said the President of the LBJ Museum in San Marcos, Ed Mihalkanin.

The focus of the Museum, located on the San Marcos town square, is on formative years of the man who would become the 36th President of the United States.

"For me, he is a tragic figure," said Mihalkanin.

While attending what was then Southwest Texas State Teachers College, Johnson majored in History. His most influential professor, Harold Greene, who was also his debate coach, was part of the Populist movement.

"What Professor Greene instilled in Johnson was a belief that government had a positive role to play in bettering the lives of the vast majority of American people," said Mihalkanin.

After his first semester, Johnson thought of dropping out. After a friend convinced him to stay, Johnson got a job as a janitor. He would eventually get a part-time job working as an aide to college President Cecil Evans. The young LBJ, who had the nickname of "Bull", would gain the trust of Evans and at times would join the College President lobbying lawmakers during trips to the state legislature.

"Dr. Evans was absolutely convinced that he was going to make a name for himself," said Mihalkanin.

In 1928, Johnson took a job teaching at a Mexican-American grade school in the south Texas town of Cotulla. He became principal, even though, at the time, he was still a college student. While in Cotulla, LBJ not only pushed academics, he also organized a school band and sports teams. His time with the children would later factor into Johnson's effort to build what would be called the Great Society.

LBJ launched his first campaign for Congress from the porch of his boyhood home in Johnson City. The steps that began there would eventually lead to the White House. Tour groups get an up close look at Johnson's modest beginnings. Surrounded by poverty, he was raised by progressive parents. His mother was a journalist and his father a long serving state lawmaker. For Kenneth Brunell, a Vietnam War veteran, the homestead provides a unique glimpse into the man who sent him to war.

"So yes, it does make me understand the man a little bit better and you can think better of him. Even though I didn't really think bad of him, now that I see how he lived, and the type of man he really was," said Brunell.

Johnson's drive to achieve was as hard as the Hill Country limestone he stood on. Images of that toughness were captured in a series of pictures taken by photographer George Tames, during his years in the U.S. Senate. Johnson is seen leaning in on a fellow Senator who was trapped against a desk. It was a style that would continue in the Oval Office.

"People described the White House as the War Room when it came to strategizing for the Civil Rights Act of 1964," said Mihalkanin.

President Johnson would again flex his political muscle, and draw on his days as a south Texas teacher, when he pushed for the 1965 Voting's Rights Act.

"Somehow you can never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child," Johnson told Congress.

Those images from south Texas, and the lessons he learned in San Marcos were seeds that had now grown into a political cause. During his address to Congress, Johnson said he would embrace the power of the Office in order to bring about change.

"And I'll let you in on a secret ... I mean to use it," said President Johnson.

His Promise, in '65, was made good, and for Mihalkanin is an example of more than Johnson's driving ambition.

"He was also a man with driving compassion, and I really do think everything he was doing, as a student, as a Congressman and as a Senator he was trying to prepare himself for the moment when and if he became President."

Tickets for the event are no longer available.

Austin residents should expect a lot of extra traffic and security around the University of Texas campus.

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