AUSTIN — Jack Andrews has only been on the University of Texas campus for a few months, but he couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass him by.
The freshman from Dallas was a winner of a student lottery to watch former President Bill Clinton’s speech during the second day of the Civil Rights Summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on campus.
“I’ve never seen a living president before and I’m a huge fan of President Clinton,” Andrews said. “I’m really excited.”
Andrews was the third person in the line that started hours before the activities began.
The LBJ Library is hosting the summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Johnson signed the act into law on July 2, 1964.
It prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities and made employment discrimination illegal.
The act is considered the most important civil rights legislation since Civil War reconstruction.
Former President Jimmy Carter addressed the summit Tuesday and former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama will speak today.
Bruce Elfant, 55, of Houston, was first in line.
Once he heard about the summit, he knew he had to attend, not just for himself, but also for his parents, who were active in the civil rights movement.
One of his favorite memories was when his father gave boxing legend Muhammad Ali, then called Cassius Clay, a ride to the airport because the white taxis in Houston wouldn’t pick him up.
“In 50 years, we went from that to Muhammad Ali not being able to get a ride from anybody, and to Barack Obama being president,” Elfant said. “It’s a remarkable time. It took too long, but we’re here and we should celebrate.”
Although the act was signed into law a half-century ago, Elfant said its
significance shouldn’t become lost as
time goes on because there is still a struggle with gender equality as well as gay rights.
The second person in line — 45-year-old Socar Chatmon-Thomas of Houston — agreed that more needs to be done to achieve equality in the U.S.
“We have to work on equal pay, gay marriage,” Chatmon-Thomas said. “Who cares who marries whom? As long as they care for one another and not being a blight to society, who cares?”
According to a report from the National Partnership for Women and Families released this month, American women working full time earn 77 cents to every $1 earned by men, amounting to a total of $11,607 less per year.
In Texas, women earn 78 to 82 cents for every $1 that men do, but black and Hispanic women earn 45 to 59 cents for every $1 men do.
Chatmon-Thomas said her parents and grandparents emphasized the importance of voting and being politically conscious and passing those lessons to others to ensure no group is excluded again.