AUSTIN — At least a hundred protesters gathered outside the LBJ Library at the University of Texas campus Thursday for the Civil Rights Summit, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Singing “We Shall Overcome,” the group representing several UT student organizations was protesting President Barack Obama’s immigration policy, which has continued to deport undocumented nonviolent offenders, said Amelia Fischer, one of the protesters.
“It’s a lot of pretty words at the top level and then nothing actually changes, it doesn’t trickle down,” she said. “Nationally, the deportation machine has got to stop.”
As protesters held signs outside, Obama took the stage to give the summit’s keynote address.
Recalling Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidential legacy, Obama noted the country’s atmosphere after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the many people who stood up for human rights that were not yet protected by law.
“A lot of Americans needed the law’s most basic protections at that time,” Obama said. “And passing laws is what LBJ knew how to do. No one knew politics and no one loved legislating more than Johnson. He was charming when he needed to be and ruthless when required.”
A poor boy from the Texas Hill Country, Johnson’s presidential legacy included the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other landmark legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, Obama said. He also began the “Great Society,” which was a series of governmental programs that started the “War on Poverty,” as well as Medicaid and Medicare, he said.
“Because of the civil rights movement and the laws LBJ passed, new doors of opportunity swung open for everybody, not all at once, but they swung open,” he said.
Obama said that like the debate still going on today, Johnson understood that equality was not only freedom from oppression but also equal opportunity. Johnson understood the role of government in ensuring each, he said.
Securing the gains this country has made requires the vigilance of its citizens, Obama said, and the country’s rights and freedoms must be won.
“With enough effort, enough perseverance and enough courage, people who love their country can change it,” Obama said. “In his final year, President Johnson stood on stage, wrapped in pain and battered by the controversies of Vietnam and delivered what would be his final public speech, ‘We have proved that progress is possible, we know how much still remains to be done. And if our efforts continue, and if our will is strong, and if our hearts are right and if courage remains our constant companion, then my fellow Americans we shall overcome.’”
Meanwhile, grouped with a cluster of young college students holding signs outside, David Barrios stretched up his sign, which reads “Bring Them Home,” and then lists his father’s name.
Daniel Barrios was deported from Travis County after getting pulled over for an expired registration sticker on his vehicle.
“It doesn’t feel right that they are doing this to us. We aren’t any different from anyone else, and they are taking part of me away,” Barrios said.
Contact Courtney Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7559